How to clean curtains – wash dirty drapes in situ with a steam cleaner or by hand

How to clean curtains successfully without taking them down, whether you have a steam cleaner or not

billowing white curtains
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It would be very easy to never clean curtains right? They simply hang there looking lovely, but if they are printed or a little darker in color then all the dust and dirt that they accumulate on a daily basis may not be so visible... Dangerous. On the other hand, you could have gorgeous light colored drapes that billow lightly when you open the window – what a great visual – but oh my, if they are dusty or worse, covered in pet hair, that dreamy scene is ruined. 

You'll be well aware that at Real Homes not only do we like to take the most natural route to cleaning our homes, but we also like to keep it quick, simple and cost-effective. So, we're going to share how we clean curtains properly at home to rid the need of hiring a professional cleaner or dry cleaning altogether. From whipping out your steam cleaner to wash curtains in situ, to taking them off and giving them a vinegar bath, this is a super easy job that you will not regret doing.

Should you wash your curtains?

Yes! Weekly vacuuming is one thing, but you should look to wash your curtains a few times a year – we like to do it when the season's change – for a deep and thorough clean. The frequency of cleaning your drapes also depends on your household. If you have kids that play hide and seek with sticky fingers behind your curtains, or if your cat likes to sit on the windowsill and rub its fur-coat all up in your drapes, very cute, you're going to have to both lint roll/vacuum and wash yours more frequently.

How to clean curtains without taking them down

These are by far our methods of choice, as they are great if you're stuck for time or if your curtains simply aren't that dirty because you keep up with your care – well done. Clean them in situ, naturally and in a hurry.

1. Vacuum your curtains

Vacuuming as mentioned is how to clean curtains weekly, but ahead of deep cleaning curtains, you should vacuum or lint roll them to start with so that you remove any dust and debris, rather than just move it around. As recommended by UK-favorite cleaning duo Kim and Aggie 'Get the upholstery brush for your vacuum cleaner and be amazed at the dust that comes out.'

If you have a vacuum with a long upholstery or soft brush attachment, great. If not, try and get hold of a step ladder and a handheld, and go carefully. Keep the suction low on lace, net or other delicate curtain types, and try to get around the curtain rings and pole with you're up there.

2. Clean curtains with a steam cleaner

Using a steam cleaner will not only clean and sanitize your curtains but it will also iron out any creases – two jobs in one. Start up your best steam cleaner and starting at the top near the rod, blast the steam into the fabric working your way down and across. Open the windows for better ventilation so that they can air dry completely. 

Have blinds elsewhere? This is how to clean blinds properly. 

3. Shake and lint roll your curtains

Vacuum out of whack or need a quick dust fix? Shake your curtain fabric from the top to loosen the debris, then sweep up the dust that falls around the area. Treat any stray pet hair with a lint roller.

clean green curtains

(Image credit: Getty)

How to deep clean curtains

Perhaps your curtains are stained, a little stinky or dismal looking, and if that's the case, then you will need to take them down for a deep clean post- dust removal. 

How to wash curtains

Check the care label and if they are machine washable, you can put them in the washer on cold, with a gentle detergent and take them out before the spin cycle. Let them air dry in the sun for added sanitizing. 

Stained? Add 1/2 cup baking of bicarbonate of soda to the cold wash then one cup white vinegar when it reaches the rinse cycle. 

Cleaning curtains by hand

If yours are not washer-friendly or if you prefer to clean your curtains by hand using (mostly) natural ingredients, you can try one of the following.

How to clean curtains with baking soda 

Baking soda is an ideal cleaning agent to remove stains, lift yellow discoloration in white curtains and to treat odors too. Make up a mixture of hot water, with 1 cup baking soda and ½ cup salt. Soak the stained area for a few hours and then rinse in warm water and air dry.

How to remove mold stains and more 

Spraying the area with white vinegar will sort out any mold stains, you should follow this with a wash using dish soap and warm water. If not lifted, add a little dish soap directly to the area before blotting with hot water and a sponge. Work it into the fabric then continue to machine or hand wash in the tub. Air dry completely. This should work for oil and other curtain stains also if baking soda wasn't potent enough.

How to clean net curtains

To whiten and brighten net curtains, make up a solution of warm water with half a cup of lemon juice and a cup of white vinegar. Fold your net curtain into a square so that it can fit into your bowl or bucket and fully submerge it. For best results, leave it oven night, if you are stuck for time, a few hours will do. Air dry them completely and then hang them up in all their glory.

Shop Heinz All-Natural Distilled White Vinegar -1 Gallon Bottle (Pack of 2) with By The Cup Swivel Spoons
Our favorite produ...

Shop Heinz All-Natural Distilled White Vinegar -1 Gallon Bottle (Pack of 2) with By The Cup Swivel Spoons

A must for natural cleaning around the home!

Let them billow away!

Camille Dubuis-Welch
Former Deputy Editor

I'm Cam, the former deputy editor of Real Homes who worked on the site from 2020 to 2023. As a renter myself, sharing a home with two friends (and my cat) in London, I know all too well the challenges that this can pose when it comes to creating your perfect setup. As someone who has always loved everything interior design-related, I cannot rest until a home feels right and I am really passionate about helping others get there too, no matter what their living situation, style, or budget may be. It’s not always the easiest to figure out, but the journey is fun and the results are so worth it.

After interior design, travel, art, and photography are my next big passions. When I’m not writing or editing homes content, I’m usually tapping into other creative outlets, exploring galleries in London or further afield, taking photos, scribbling, or drawing!