When was the last time you cleaned those things covering the windows in your house? They might be curtains, or they could be drapes. Here’s how to tell the difference. While most of us might use the words interchangeably, curtains and drapes are two different types of window coverings.

Curtains often are made of a lighter fabric. They tend to be thin or sheer. Curtains aren’t lined and will not block out light. They’re not really made for privacy, and it’s likely that their interaction with the light from outside adds to their décor. Drapes are lined and made of heavier fabrics. They create privacy, and they’re often used both to block light, as well as to act as a barrier for cold and heat. Unlike curtains, they often hang from the top of a window and touch the floor.

When It’s Time to Clean Them

The average person might have to give it some thought if you ask them how often they clean their drapes or curtains. Typically, the answer is when you notice that dust has collected on them. If that’s the case, it’s time to do a bit of sleuthing to find the care instructions. It’s usually a tag sewn into one of the seams or hems.

It’s extremely important to read and understand the cleaning instructions. Decorative and sheer curtain fabrics usually need to be cleaned by your neighborhood dry cleaners. It’s not a racket set up between professional laundry services and curtain manufacturers. Sending them through a home washer may permanently damage the material or even drastically shrink it. The window covering may also simply be too big to fit in your washing machine.

Experts—including Consumer Reports—recommend having your curtains or drapes dry-cleaned even if they are made of a washable fabric. This is mainly because the fabric may be washable, but the lining may not. Thread used to sew seams and hems may also shrink when exposed to water.

It’s wise to have your window coverings dry-cleaned if the material has stitched pleats and other elaborate ornamentations that might not stand up to the spin cycle of your washing machine.

After a Professional Cleaning

It’ll be easier to keep your curtains and drapes clean if you spend just a bit of time maintaining them on a regular basis after you’ve sent them to be professionally cleaned. You can freshen up most drapes and curtains without washing or dry-cleaning them. Dip a chamois cloth in hot water and thoroughly wring it out. Then just lightly brush the fabrics.

Take care to make sure you have installed a liner if your curtains require it. The constant exposure to sunlight can destroy the fabric over time. The lining protects it from becoming faded or brittle. Even professional cleaners may not be able to help you if your window covering has received excessive sun damage.

Do you have sheer curtains? Don’t wait until they look dirty before you decide to clean them. By that time, the delicate fabric may have been permanently discolored by the accumulated dust.

Schedule a regular date between your curtains or drapes and the vacuum cleaner’s upholstery soft-brush attachment. Set your vacuum cleaner for reduced suction so you don’t pull the fabric into the nozzle.

Not sure if your curtains need to be professionally cleaned? Snap a pic, then stop by and see us. We’ll take a look, and we might have a question or two. We promise not to ask you when you cleaned them last! Learn more about our services here.