How to Clean a Down Comforter in a Washing Machine
There is nothing better than a warm and cozy down comforter on a cold winter’s night.....except maybe waking up all snuggled up and toasty warm inside it.
If you've ever owned one, you know exactly why this type of bedding is highly prized. Down comforters are softer, lighter and warmer than other materials which makes for a better nights rest.
Higher end down comforters are filled with the soft and quill "less" feathers of the underbelly of a duck or goose. This is why they are so light and fluffy.
For the most part, down comforters are a nice addition to your bedding and require very little maintenance. In fact, unless your comforter becomes soiled, stained, or develops an odor, the manufacturer recommends only cleaning when absolutely necessary or every 3-5 years.
The manufacturer also recommends using a dry-cleaner as your best option for cleaning. While you should definitely avoid excessive laundering of your comforter, you can launder your down comforter yourself with a little preparation and care.
If you choose to wash your comforter yourself, just follow these simple steps to clean it:
Take care of these points before you wash your comforter. It will take a little extra time, but the steps are necessary to ensure that using the washing machine isn't a mistake, and you get the stains out right the first time.
Repair any Tears or Rips
Closely examine your comforter for any tears or rips in the seams. You will need to sew these up with a fine needle and be sure to use small stitches. If you don’t, the comforter could become further damaged when washed, the down will come out of open or torn seams and the "feathers will fly".
It sounds funny to say, but if the down feathers come out, the comforter has sustained some serious damage... not to mention the mess! So don't skip this step and inspect your seams carefully before washing.
Pre-treat all Fabric Stains
Pre-treat any stains on the comforter to have the best chance of stain removal.
White fabric can treated with a little hydrogen peroxide solution. Lift the fabric away from the feathers and dab on the area. Do not saturate. When the stain has faded, you can go ahead and wash it. Always check the area before drying to make sure the stain is completely gone.
Colored fabric can use Oxyclean or another "oxygenated" laundry product. Again, make a solution and pull the material away from the feathered down. Apply lightly and dab onto the area. You may have to wait a few minutes for the stain to lift. Repeat until the stain is gone.
Any blood or biological material such as sweat or perspiration that has discolored the fabric should be rinsed completely in cold water to remove the stain. If the blood is fresh, cold water with a small dab of laundry soap worked into the fabric will remove the stain completely.
Grease or oil stains will need to be pretreated with mild soap or the regular laundry detergent you will be using to wash the down comforter. Pour a small amount on the stain and let it sit full strength for about 30 minutes so the soap will start to dissolve the grease prior to washing.
Washing the Down Comforter
There are 2 major things to know before you wash.
1. Do Not use a top loading washing machine with an agitator. Agitators wreak havoc with down that is water sodden, and end up breaking internal seams. Use a front loading washing machine to wash your down comforter at home.
2. Most home washers are too small. Make sure your washing machine is large enough to accommodate your comforter without having to stuff it in. If your washer is too small/or the comforter is too big (however you want to look at it), just take it to a local laundromat. They have nice big machines that you can wash sleeping bags and extra large blankets and quilts and comforters! Having a large machine to wash will give you a better cleaning result too. That's the whole point anyway, right?
- Set the washer on the delicate setting
- Use lukewarm water only - hot will shrink your comforter, cold will not clean it well
Monitor the Machine's Load Balance
If you are using your front load extra capacity washer at home, you will want to keep an eye on it and make sure that the load does not become unbalanced. A trick to help it not do this is to place a pair of clean white canvas tennis shoes (minus the laces) in the wash with the comforter. They will help to keep the down evenly dispersed preventing clumping and promote even drying.
There's going to be a very, sodden quilt with clumped together down after the wash cycle - It's a bit of work for the machine to get a good spin going to extract all the water. If it doesn't get all the water out the first time, try another spin to extract more water. Those feathers will soak up a ton of water when being washed. If your machine is not very sturdy, or is otherwise on it's last legs, you should go to the laundromat for those industrial strength washer and dryers.
Choosing your Soap or Detergent
Yes, there is a difference between soap and detergent! You need to wash the comforter without stripping all the natural oils that are in the soft down feathers. The soft downy feathers are naturally water repellent and help wildlife stay warm and dry. If you strip too much of the oil, due to using heavy, harsh, or excess amounts of cleaning agents, then you will have a matted down, lumpy and heavy comforter.
Originally soaps were made with fat and ash and today some still have these ingredients. They also have a high PH level and are very mild. Soaps are the preferred choice to use to clean anything made of down such as a sleeping bag, vest, jacket and of course, down comforters.
Because soaps are very mild, the may not get heavily soiled or greasy oil stains on comforters completely clean. If you think this might be the case, you can also choose a detergent.
In the case of heavy soiling with grease and you are concerned that the stains may not come out, I'd recommended only pre-treating the stain with laundry detergent. (pour it full strength and massage it in with your fingers. Let it sit for about 30 to work on removing the stain) and then washing the down comforter with the mild Woolite or Ivory Soap. It's the best of both worlds....
- Ivory Soap
- Specifically formulated for down cleaners.
Regular Laundry Detergent
You may use Regular laundry detergent—just use very sparingly. Remember to use it only if your comforter needs a thorough cleaning. Add about 1/4 of what is recommended for a normal load. A detergent will strip all the natural oils from the down feathers if you use it as you normally would.
Laundry Boosters, Whiteners and Brighteners
If your comforter is all white, you can add:
- Washing Soda
Be sure to use the dispensers as this will guarantee an even distribution and not cause any clumping of product on your comforter. These products are all natural and allow the soap to do a better job cleaning. In the case of dingy discolored fabric, these products remove stains and provide a general stain removal and brighten and freshen the comforter's appearance.
Rinse Twice! Rinse Twice!
I wanted to stress a second rinse. This is because soap leave a residue and you want to remove the residue completely so your down feathers don't get bogged down with soap residue. You want a clean and fluffy blanket coming out of the dryer.
Before the final spin cycle, you want to give the comforter an extra rinse. Most washing machines have the option for a second rinse in the wash cycle. If not, then just reset the dial to repeat the rinse cycle., then finish up with the final spin.
When your comforter comes out of the washer, it may look grayish or have a slight odor. This is normal and is the natural odor of the down. It will brighten and freshen up as it dries.
Drying Your Down Comforter
How you choose to dry your comforter is your option, but making sure it is totally dry is critical. Remember that the Down in your Comforter came from an animal. It can degrade, rot, develop mold and mildew. And it will do all those terrible things if you do not dry it completely before placing it on your bed or storing it.
Use a Large Capacity Dryer
You need a large capacity drier because your comforter needs room to fluff and to make sure there are no damp spots from it being too cramped.
Another important reason to only use a large capacity dryer is that although your comforter may fit in the dryer when wet, it will fluff up as it dries. This can cause the comforter to block the venting and actually ruin the dryer, and worse....cause a fire. If you don't have a large dryer, play it safe and take it to the laundromat.
- Put your comforter in the dryer on its lowest setting.
- Place dryer balls in with the comforter. Or, if you don’t have a dryer ball, you can put a few new, white tennis balls inside clean white socks and throw them in with the comforter. The balls (dryer or tennis) will help to fluff up the down during the drying process.
- Check periodically. Make sure that your comforter is being "fluffed" and is not stuck to the side of the dryer. At first it may stick to the side a bit, so each time you check just hand fluff it inside. It will likely take the better part of a day to fully dry.... so be patient.
- Check the lint trap. When you are stopping the dryer to check the comforter, check the lint trap. Keep it clean and this will also help to make sure that you are not losing feathers.
Additional Whitening and Brightening
A wonderful to freshen and whiten your down comforter is use the power of the sun's rays to lighten stains, assist in drying and leave it smelling sweet and fresh.
Placing the comforter in the sun is a natural "bleaching" process. It will not only whiten your comforter but the air will freshen it up naturally.
With a little sweat equity and patience, your down comforter can be an enjoyable addition to your bedroom without the fear of huge dry cleaning bills. Now, after you have it all clean and fresh again, do yourself a favor and purchase a comforter cover.....unless you don't mind going through this process every few years.
Enjoy your new, freshly cleaned Down Comforter. You cleaned it inexpensively, thoroughly, and without using any toxic dry cleaning chemicals.
I'm pretty sure you are going to have a very comfy restful sleep, (I hope!)
Image courtesy of Anita Hart, CC BY-SA.