Chintz is one of those fabrics that only a niche set of people can identify. It was once popular in the 80s and 90s and has gradually decreased in use.
But brands like Lee Jofa still produce it because it’s still in demand by a subset of people. Decorators and interior designers who decorate in traditional and Grandmillennial styles often use chintz in drapery, upholstery, pillows, and more.
And while they are very beautiful fabrics, few seem to know how to care for them.
Here is all that I’ve learned throughout the years on how to wash chintz fabrics. Learn from my mistakes so you can preserve your fabric finishes!
What is Chintz?
Chintz is a glazed fabric, generally cotton or linen. It has a very strong sheen that is meant to prevent the fabric from wrinkling and reduce soiling and spotting. But a glaze alone does not make a chintz fabric. Chintz fabrics must also have block-printed floral designs.
Glazed finishes on chintz are often made of starch or wax. This is especially true of vintage fabrics from the 80s and 90s. Some contemporary chintz manufacturers may also offer permanent glazes.
How to Identify Chintz
We all know what a floral pattern looks like. But for the inexperienced, a glaze upon a fabric is a little more difficult to imagine.
What does a glaze look like on fabric? Is a sheen enough to identify chintz? Vinyls are shiny too, is that glazed?
As previously stated, chintz fabric is often made from lightweight cotton and linen fabrics. Anything more substantial than that is less likely to be chintz.
Also, the glaze on these fabrics is not heavy. It does add some weight to the fabric, but not much. And compared to clear vinyl, glazed cotton isn’t as stiff. It can drape around round tabletops without any material jutting out.
The images above show a glazed chintz fabric on the left and a regular cotton fabric on the right.
Despite the dark dyes of the chintz (which absorb light) you can still see highlights where the fabric curves. Those highlights are not present on a lighter cotton fabric.
Chintz Fabric Care
Although chintz fabric is incredibly popular with Grandmillennial decorators, it unfortunately has its issues. Mainly, this fabric type’s greatest flaw is the delicate nature of the finish. This in turn makes it very difficult to wash chintz.
Vintage chintz finishes are generally composed of wax or starch. And these finishes come off very easily when you use wet cleaning methods.
Dry cleaning is the best method when washing chintz. This will help preserve the glaze finish. However, for vintage fabrics, it is crucial to consider that dry cleaning may remove the glaze. The fabric colors will not be affected, but its surface will no longer be lustrous.
TIP: If you take your chintz to the dry cleaners, ask whether they have experience washing glazed fabrics. This finish is not very common, so double-checking may save you from any surprises.
When it comes to contemporary chintz fabrics, care will vary. Some chintz fabrics are made with a permanent glaze, which will be able to handle wet cleaning methods. However, manufacturers like Colefax & Fowler and Lee Jofa still make glazed fabrics that are delicate.
When purchasing chintz, read the specifications on the manufacturer’s website. They often list care instructions for the fabric and the type of glaze finish – whether permanent or not.
If you don’t know what kind of finish is on your fabric, make sure to test the surface with water and a gentle detergent before washing. Additionally, ensure you are testing on an inconspicuous area.
How to Wash Chintz Fabric at Home
If wet washing sounds like too big of a risk for you, consider a dry method.
One way is to clean chintz fabrics with dry-cleaning sponges. This is a dry method of cleaning that will preserve the glaze. However, always test to ensure it will not damage the finish.
This method works best only for lightly soiled fabric that has dust and dirt spotting. You will have to treat heavier staining at the dry cleaners.
When using dry sponges, don’t brush one area for too long. You want to swipe the sponge over the surface of your fabric a couple of times and then confirm that the glaze remains intact. Once confirmed, you may go over the spot again. Repeat until clean.
How to Wash Chintz Upholstery
If you have to wash chintz, then it’s probably upholstery. And the best method to wash chintz upholstery is with a dry-cleaning sponge.
If sponge cleaning does not work, the dirt or stain may be located on the FABRIC and not atop the glaze. Glaze finishes on chair arms and headrests often rub off due to heavy use. If these areas are dirty, you may have to resort to a wet cleaning method.
I like to use the Bissell Little Green machine to treat upholstery. You just want to be careful with where you are placing the detergent. Make sure it is landing directly on the non-glazed area and avoid spots where the glaze remains intact.
This method works best for medium to large areas. It does not work well for very small areas because the liquid detergent is likely to run.
How to Wash Chintz Drapery
Because of the large size of most drapery, it’s best not to wash it in the washing machine. This is because heavy curtains can damage your machine with all of their weight.
If you must wash at home, use a bathtub. Allow the drapes to soak in soapy water for a couple of hours, occasionally swirling them around to lightly agitate them. This method will reduce the likelihood of the glaze dissolving. However, I do recommend doing this with one drape at a time. Otherwise, it may become too much to handle.
However, I will say that this washing method will not be particularly helpful for very dark or old stains. These types of stains come out by agitating the surface of the fabric, but in doing so you may ruin the glaze. A soapy bath is best for removing dust and light spotting.
As always: TEST the fabric before you commit to washing your chintz. If the fabric has dark or bright colors against a light background, you want to make sure that the dyes will not bleed into the lighter areas.
Also, keep in mind that – chintz or not – most drapes have two different fabrics. These include the decorative fabric that we see and the lining. And often these fabrics shrink at varying rates during the drying process. This means that you run the risk of your drapes coming out wonky if you wash and dry them yourself.
When drying, do not use the dryer. You’ll want to drip-dry the drapes to avoid shrinkage. Therefore, plan to wash on a sunny day.
But again, if you really don’t want to mess this up, take a trip to the dry cleaners.
There you go. There’s all my knowledge on how to wash chintz and the best care methods. I know that all this info makes it sound like caring for Chintz is a hassle. That’s because it is.
But even so, you can still use it in your home if you use it strategically in decor pieces and areas that you know are less likely to encounter dirt and wear. And remember: permanent glaze finishes exist! Remember to look for this finish when shopping for your next project.
Until next time!