Vacuuming is probably the safest way to freshen a hanging quilt.
I spent a good part of the day yesterday at the Forest Park Library, vacuuming three quilts that the library has on display.
It's the first time I've packed up my vacuum and hit the road.
I also brought sheets to put on the tables. And my vacuuming screen. That is made from fiberglass window screen, from the hardware store, stapled onto sealed stretcher bars. The screen keeps the quilt from being pulled into the vacuum nozzle.
The vacuuming is done by holding the vacuum nozzle just above the screen. This keeps it from scraping along over the fabric. I usually keep the tip of one finger under the edge of the nozzle as I go.
Do the back of the quilt first, then put down a clean sheet and flip over to do the front.
Methodically move the nozzle back and forth over the whole surface. I sometimes go across the screen side-to-side, and then repeat top-to-bottom or on diagonals. It do this especially on quilts like this one with a relatively thick batting, and deeper ditches made by the quilting stitches.
It's kind of slow going. It takes about 2 hours to vacuum an average-sized bed quilt, roughly 70-something by 80-ish inches.
Vacuuming doesn't make a huge difference in appearance usually. At least, hopefully, a quilt won't be dirty enough to really show a change. You may be able to detect a brightening of colors though. I tried on this swath of white-background fabric on the quilt back. Sometimes when I squint just right, I think I can see that the lefthand, vacuumed side is a bit brighter, the righthand side a bit duller. Or is that just wishful thinking?
I'm pretty sure, though, always, that I can hear the quilt saying "Oh, thank you! That feels much better!"
I only recommend washing quilts when the soil is so bad that it is damaging the fabrics, or so bad that there is no way to use or enjoy the quilt unless it is cleaned. That said, it's a good idea to vacuum the quilt before washing it. This decreases the amount of dust and dirt that goes into the water, and makes clear rinse water much easier to achieve.
Here's a closer look at this log cabin its fabrics.