I'll admit I have a soft spot for the underdogs. To me, worn-out quilts are just that - often passed over because of stains and wear, and no longer desirable to many. And that's a shame. If you have a tiny bit of patience, these quilts can be given new life.
The first thing I do when I bring home vintage quilts is to soak them in OxiClean (I promise this is not an advertisement). It takes out most old stains and and brightens the fabric too. I like to fill my big laundry room sink with burning hot water and then mix in several scoops of OxiClean, stirring with my hands to dissolve. (Rubber gloves work well to protect hands from the hot water). When I fill my sink, I usually add in 3-4 full scoops and after the OxiClean is dissolved, I submerge the quilts, 1-3 at a time, depending on the size of the quilts. The water usually becomes very filthy with the soaking. Eek!
Notice the stains on this quilt top before soaking:
Generally, I soak each batch for anywhere between 2 hours - overnight, depending on the severity of the stains. After soaking, I run them through the washer on warm, with a little laundry detergent and softener.
As for the wear, I like to restitch pieces that have become slightly detached, and to patch little holes when possible. Any repairs I do helps to strengthen the quilts and gives them a longer life span. To me, they're worth saving.
In my experience, OxiClean is best for a long soak stain removal rather than adding it into a load of laundry in the washing machine.
Transferring a heavy, soaking wet quiltt from the sink to the washer can be sort of a pain. If your sink isn't near your washer, I recommend transferring the quilts in a big tub so they don't leave a wet soapy trail from the sink to the washer.
I've never had issues with color transfer on old quilts when I soak them this way.
**Post Edit** If I had a really delicate quilt I was too worried about harming in a soak or washing machine, I'd take it to a professional cleaner I trust.
Note: I was NOT paid to write about OxiClean, it just happens to be a favorite of mine.