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How to wash your embroidery

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Before we start discussing how to wash your embroidery, you need to figure out whether it is washable. Types of embroideries not suitable for regular washing are the following:

–         Needlepoint– the main thread used is wool, and the canvas contains lots of starch keeping the weave together and will wash out during the washing process. It is better to ask your local dry cleaners to do it for you as, in this case, they won’t be using water during the cleaning process.

–         Goldwork embroidery– the gold threads and wires are just too delicate for washing, even handwashing. The water can cause the gold to tarnish, and it is not easy to dry the layers of padding, especially the soft string. It could also cause the shrinkage of the main fabric. In general, goldwork is very difficult to clean, and usually, we use cotton buds, specialist cleaning products and 100 % alcohol. You can get drunk by inhaling the alcohol vapour while cleaning the Goldwork. Therefore, you must be in a room with no live fire sources and excellent ventilation. (Yes, it already happened to me once) Because of these specific cleaning requirements, all the Goldwork on wearable items is either appliqued (it can be removed) or cleaned with alcohol only.

–         Crewel work– is washable under strict rules by using specialist products. Again, it is better to speak with your local dry cleaner about what they can do, or they can recommend a specialist textile conservator who could do it for you.

–         Silk shading or thread painting– this is not difficult to wash. It is more difficult to dry it due to layers of stitched threads on top of each other. If we need to wash our silk-shaded pieces, we usually do it over the hot summer days so they can dry flat on the air without the need to use the hair dryer for a few hours.


Before anything and with any age of embroidery, we must do a colour fastness test on the threads because we can’t sort a run after the event. This is a simple test: if you stitch it and have remaining threads left, you can use them. If not, go to the back and carefully snip off some loose ends to give you a sample of every colour.

Place on blotting paper or some kitchen roll, then add drops of deionised water and leave for a short while; if the thread colour runs, it’s usually obvious, but it can take a while. You may get some dirt leakage, but it won’t be the thread colour.

thread test for colour runnning
Testing the thread for colour fastness
What happens next depends on:

 if no colour runs during the thread test, then washing is an option;

 If the colour runs, we can’t use a water wash.

 If it has metal threads, it can’t get wet.

It also depends on age; if the piece is newly stitched, we can approach it differently  to something 100 years old. 

We also must assess fabric strength; if it is very solid, has no holes, and does not fracture when touched, it may be washed, but with pieces older than 50 years, a vacuum clean may be all we can do. If unsure, seek a specialist’s advice.

Chloe is washing embroidery
Wet washing embroidery with deionised water water and specialist horse shampoo

Washing process

We can use warm tap water and pure or wool soap if we haven’t had a colour run on a newly stitched piece. These aren’t biological and don’t have optical brighteners, which can damage
the colours of the threads and the stitching.

It’s best to wash in a tray large enough for the embroidery to lay flat, as we don’t want to overhandle it. Mix the soap with the water before placing the piece in, and gently agitate the water with your fingers; if you have a specific stain (tea, coffee, wine), you may need to pre-treat the area with a specialist stain remover. You can’t apply these to threads as they can strip the colour. Leave to soak and repeat, then rinse in cool water until no soap comes out into the water.

Stages of dirty water after cleaning nicotine-stained needlepoint


After washing  lay the embroidery  onto a fluffy towel (preferably white) and roll to squeeze out excess water without crushing the stitches. Then leave it air dry flat. Once dry, it can be pressed with an iron with the coolest setting on (not if synthetic threads are used) on a fluffy towel to de-crease the fabric. Do not iron the piece while wet, as you can burn or fry the fibres ( think about straightening your hair while wet).

Cross stitch rug drying after washing
Cross stitch rug drying flat after washing

For an older piece, we must use deionised water, which can be slightly warm and a specialist horse shampoo (designed not to damage delicate natural fibres). Mix the shampoo into the water before adding the fabric, then gently agitate with your fingers and leave to soak for 30 minutes. Then repeat; it can be evident how dirty the piece is; repeat until the water looks almost clean after 30 mins. Then rinse again in deionised water until no soap remains and leave to dry flat (jumper airers are suitable for this).

When the wet washing is not an option

For pieces that can’t be wet washed, we can use a conservation vacuum to clean them (this is not a standard vacuum; it has a very low suction and badger hairbrush attachment) or
a badger hairbrush to dust the surface carefully. If you don’t have access to a conservation vacuum and the embroidery doesn’t have historical value, you can cover the nozzle of your vacuum with a cotton cloth (a piece of white cotton fabric or calico) and use the lowest suction setting. Or we can use a specialised dry-cleaning sponge which lifts the dust from the surface.

Honestly, this isn’t a job to be done at home. It really needs a specialist.

cotton cloth over vacuum cleaner
Dirt collected from needlepoint during the vacuuming process with the cotton cloth over the nozzle



  • Don’t use a washing machine!
  • Don’t use biological washing powder!
  • Don’t tumble dry or put it on a direct radiator or a different heat source!
  • Don’t wash it until you’ve done the thread test, and test your marking pen, too!
  • Don’t use and mix stain-removing chemicals; avoid bleach and vinegar. It is not a stain remover!
  • Don’t use steam cleaners or carpet and upholstery cleaners; these are very aggressive cleaners!


  • Wash in the coldest water possible (tepid or lukewarm). For nicotine stains, consult a specialist.
  • Use a handwash specialist ( natural fibres- for wool and silk fibres) or specialist horse shampoo, as they are not stripping the protein out of the fibres.
  • Dry it flat on a fluffy cotton or microfibre towel.
  • Ask a specialist if you have any doubts.
Remember to test before washing; if you are still in doubt, consult a specialist. Contact us if you need advice.

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