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How To Wash Placemats? A Guide For All The Different Types

Unclean placemats can be one of the worst things at your home. A dirty, grimy, and stained mat is the breeding ground of fungus and bacteria. Therefore, it can easily lead to food poisoning or skin infections for those who sit at that dining table. So, how to wash placemats effectively?

To wash placemats, start by pre-treating any stains before placing them in the washing machine. Use a gentle cycle and mild detergent to ensure a thorough but gentle clean. Finally, air dry or lay them flat to prevent shrinking and help maintain their shape.

The washing method for placemats varies according to their structure and material. For instance, you can machine wash cotton and polyester placemats. 

Meanwhile, braided or woven mats need to be hand-washed. And it's best to wipe when it comes to bamboo, cork, and wicker mats.

You might get quite confused when cleaning your placemats since so many options exist. Don't worry, the following guide can tell you what to do and what not.

How To Wash Placemats?

How To Machine Wash A Placemat?

Most store-bought placemats, such as those made of cotton, poly-cotton, and polyester, are durable and machine washable.

Still, you have to be smart and careful about the process to clean the placemats effectively while preserving their shape and quality. Here's a step-by-step account of washing a placemat in the machine -

Step 1 - Preparation and Pre-cleaning

The results of the washing process are only as good as you prepare beforehand. Start with checking the label of your cotton or polyester placemat.

Maybe, the manufacturer has provided some important instruction that is unique to that product.

For instance, the label might define specific temperatures, wash cycles, and duration. It would also warn you about color bleeding especially when washing the placemat the first time.

Next, get rid of any loose debris that might be clinging to your cotton or poly-cotton placemat. You can use a soft brush for this.

Meanwhile, polyester placemats will require extra attention to the oily stains. You will want to wipe and remove this oiliness as much as possible with soap water or a similar solution.

Pre-cleaning aims to reduce the time your placemat has to spend inside the washing machine. Thus, lesser damage plus better cleaning.

Machine Washable Cotton Placemat

Step 2 - Machine Settings  

Setting the machine to a gentle cycle with cold water (15-25 C) is the best option for both cotton and polyester placemats.

Cotton fibers are susceptible to damage from hot water. In comparison, polyester mats are more tolerant. Still, they are not immune to temperature and might melt if the water is too warm.

As said earlier, you don’t want to wash the placemat in the machine for too long. In this case, a cycle of 30-40 minutes might be good enough. 

This duration will be much shorter if you’re using warm water and a rough cycle.

Step 3 - Detergent Choice

Mild detergents are best for cotton placemats.

Some users might put in bleach or other strong chemicals for big stains. This is a mistake since the chemicals can deteriorate the fabric's color and fibers.

Spot cleaning before putting the mat in the machine is a smart choice to treat serious stains. The washing machine is more suited for general, overall cleaning.

Polyester, being a robust material, can withstand powerful detergents. Still, it’s wise to stick with regular commercial detergents and avoid experimenting.

Step 4 - Drying

Air drying is your safest option with cotton placemats. Either hang the wet placemats or lay them flat on a dry and clean surface.

You risk shrinking the mat or altering its shape when you attempt to machine dry it. Also, don’t put the wet mats in direct sunlight as that might fade the color.

Polyester placemats can withstand the sun but not for an extended time. You can also use a dryer, set to the lowest heat settings, with polyester placemats.

How To Hand Wash a Placemat?

You can't machine wash a placemat if it's woven, braided, or hand-crafted in some other way. The agitation of the spin cycles will fray the fabrics and undo the braids.

Hand washable braided placemat

The preferable option is to handwash the piece. Here, too, you have to take a careful and step-by-step approach for the best results.

Step 1 - Prepare the tub

Select a tub or basin where you’ll wash the placemat. The tub should be spacious enough to properly submerge the mat without crumpling it.

Fill the tub with cool water. Hot water isn't preferable since it can lead to color bleeding, shrinkage, and other issues.

Mix a teaspoon of liquid detergent with the water to prepare the cleaning solution. It’s best to select a mild detergent manufactured specially for delicate fabrics. Plus, it will be better for the skin of your hands too.

Step 2 - Soaking the Mats

Ensure you've cleaned off any loose dirt, debris, or food particles from the mat before soaking it in the water.

Now, fully submerge the mats into the cleaning solution. Ensure it is soaked in the water evenly. You shouldn’t have to force or fold any part of the mat to submerge it.

Allows the placemats to spend at least ten minutes in the tub. This is the minimum duration required for all the stains and dirt to lift off of the mat.

Step 3 - Hand Cleaning and Rinsing

After ten minutes, you can start the hand-washing process. Use a side-to-side motion to gently agitate the placemats. Be careful; you might destroy the weave if you apply too much force.

Use a soft-bristled brush to scrub any stain off the placemat. Remind you again, don’t be too vigorous with the brush. A mild spot or mark might be better than torn fibers.

Thorough rinsing is very important when hand washing since there is a greater chance of detergent residues compared to machine cleaning.

First, drain the tub of all the soapy water and refill with fresh, cold water. Sway the mat around and drain the water. You might’ve to repeat this several times.

Finally, rinse the placemat under running water to rid it of any residual detergent.

Step 4 - Drying Handmade Placemats 

Don't make the mistake of wringing the placemats to remove the excess water. This can permanently distort the shape of the placemats.

Instead, lay a dry towel on a flat clean surface and put the mat on it. Then, roll the two together gently. This will press out the water without damaging the mat. 

You might need two or three dry towels for proper removal of the excess water.

Air drying is the safest option for handmade placemats. Sun or machine drying can lead to issues like fading, warping, etc. 

Ensure the mats are perfectly dried before storing them to prevent mold and mildew.

How To Clean Non-Washable Placemats?

Cleaning your living and dining space and elements like the rug, runner, placemat, etc keep your table's beauty at its best. Bamboo, wicker, cork, vinyl, and plastic placemats are not washable.

Any kind of washing involves soaking the mat in water. Bamboo, wicker, or cork placemats can swell up and warp if you soak them. 

Amazon: Non-washable bamboo placemat

These materials readily absorb water and stubbornly hold onto them long enough for structural damage. Plus, there is mold and mildew to consider.

Plastic and vinyl might not have the same problem. However, these mats can warp due to the water temperature or agitation of the spin cycles.

The preferable option here is to damp a soft cloth with a mild cleaning solution and gently but thoroughly wipe the mat with it. 

You can then keep the wet placemat in a well-ventilated area to allow drying. Sun drying these mats is risky and not recommended.

Here are a few things to keep in mind -

  • Plastic and vinyl surfaces are susceptible to abrasion. So, ensure the cloth is extra soft, or better, use a sponge. Also, apply a gentle motion when wiping.

  • Cork placemats are the quickest to absorb spills. So, you might want to clean them off as soon as possible to avoid stubborn stains.

  • The design and weave of wicker placemats make them hold onto a lot of loose dirt. Therefore, it's necessary to invest some extra time in pre-cleaning. Use a soft brush for this part.

  • Bamboo placemats like water too much. So, try to not wet the wiping cloth more than necessary. Otherwise, it will be difficult to dry the mats.

  • Pat dry the placemat with a clean dry cloth after wiping them and before air-drying them.

Spot Cleaning Methods For Stubborn Placemat Stains

Washing or wiping a placemat is mostly meant for general cleaning. Meanwhile, spot cleaning is the best option when you have to get rid of a stain on an otherwise clean placemat. 

Here are the effective spot cleaning for different materials.

Fabric Mats

You can use this method to spot clean stubborn stains before putting your cotton or poly-cotton placemat in the washer -

● Sprinkle some baking soda on the stain

● Now, add a few drops of lemon juice to it

● You will see a fizzing reaction which breaks the stain and cleans it.

● Afterward, blot the wet area and wash the mat as you will.

You can also use the vinegar and water method. Vinegar’s acidic qualities are excellent for breaking down grime.  

● Create a solution where the vinegar-to-water ratio is 1:1

● Apply the solution to the stained spot and blot it with a fresh cloth.

● Allow a few minutes for the solution to stay on the stain. This is great for cleaning organic (food or wine) stains.   

Vinyl or Plastic Placemats

A mild soap and water solution is best for spot-cleaning stains on plastic placemats. Mix a few drops of the soap with lukewarm water. Don't scratch the spot, instead use a gentle circular motion to scrub off the stain.

Another option is baking soda paste-

● Mix only enough water with the baking soda to create a paste.

● Spread the paste evenly over the stained area. Baking soda is naturally abrasive which helps to scrub off the stain.

● Allow the baking soda paste to rest on the area for 20 minutes, then wipe it off with a damp cloth.

Wicker, Cork, or Bamboo Placemats

The main challenge with cleaning these mats is their porosity. An oil and salt paste can help with that -

● Apply the paste on the stain and let it sit for a while.

● The paste will draw out the stain from the pores due to the absorbent action of the oil. Meanwhile, the salt serves as a mild abrasive.

● When a few minutes have passed gently brush off the paste.

Ink Stains

Those who write notes, list, or do their homework at the dining table must've gotten ink on the placemats at some point. You won't be able to get these stains off with vinegar or baking soda.

In this case, rubbing alcohol is the preferred option. You can damp a cloth with some alcohol and gently dab or rub the ink stain.

The alcohol dissolves the stain and cleans it. However, it also makes it possible for the stain to spread more if you rub it roughly or carelessly.


You must take the label instructions and the material into consideration before cleaning your placemats.

Also, don’t wait for them to get too dirty before you clean them. More frequent cleaning means the sessions will be shorter and less aggressive. Thus, preserving the quality of your valuable placemats for a long time.

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