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How to Wash a Down Comforter in Three Steps

A down comforter is one of the most luxurious things you can own: it’s soft, fluffy, warm and silky-smooth. All those features, though, get canceled out the minute the down comforter starts looking dirty, feeling less-than fluffy and (worst of all) smelling less than fresh. The solution to this might seem simple (just throw it in the wash!), but when it actually comes to placing a comforter in the washing machine is when most people start scratching their heads. Should you use high or low cycle? What about water temperature? What type of detergent won’t damage the material? And what about drying?
All of these questions are fair game, and we’ve answered them all right here, just for you – so you can continue enjoying the luxury of owning a fresh, clean down comforter for years to come.

Washing a Down Comforter

Step 1: Find a front load washer.

A top load washer will also work – as long as it does not contain an agitator. Whether you use a front load washer or top load washer, it’s important that the comforter has enough space to spread out evenly inside. Large washers work best for down comforters, so if your washer is so small that the comforter feels crammed inside, it may be worth finding a commercial washer to get the job done.

Tip: If your comforter is anything but bright white, don’t use any bleaching products. Always check the labels of your detergents and treatments to make sure bleach is not an ingredient. (It’s worth reading the labels even if you’re 90% sure there’s no bleach – on the 10% chance of destroying your comforter.)

Tip: Wash the comforter alone. (This doesn’t mean to wash the comforter by yourself – by all means, invite friends and family to your comforter-washing party!) What we mean here is that you should not place other articles of clothing or linens in the same load as the comforter. Mixing in clothes and other blankets can tangle up the comforter, resulting in clumping of the feathers and a deflated look. Washing a comforter with terrycloth towels is especially warned against, as terrycloth tends to shed easily and can stick (as lint) to a comforter’s fibers. (Mixing things in with a comforter is bad for yet another reason: it takes up more space in the washer and dryer, and prevents true “fluff” in the end.)

Step 2: Use the Gentle Cycle.

Set the machine to the gentlest setting available. Use only a small amount of detergent (if it’s concentrated detergent, use even less). Set the water temperature to warm (not hot) for better cleaning, or cooler if it’s not that dirty. Once it’s rinsed, examine it for detergent residue; give it another rinse (or set the washer to extra-rinse) if residue is left. (Failing to rinse out all residue can eventually lead to the chemical residue sinking into the fabric and altering the composition, color and feel.)

Tip: Don’t over-wash your comforter. Over-washing a comforter is actually really easy to do, since washing a comforter every couple of weeks on the same day as you wash your sheets tends to be convenient. However, a comforter does not require the same regularity of washing as sheets! In fact, washing your comforter too much and too often is an easy way to say goodbye to its color, feel and fluffiness. Make sure to wash your comforter only every year or six months by sleeping with a duvet cover; the cover will keep your comforter clean and fresh without washing.

Tip: An all-white comforter might seem like a scary thing to own (oh, the stains and spills, galore!), but it’s actually really easy to own. This is thanks in large part to bleach: add a couple drops of it into the load with your comforter, and the white will never feel brighter (and the stains will never feel less present). (Even treating stains on a white comforter is easier, since you can use a powerful bleach treatment and won’t have to worry about disrupting the color of the comforter.)

Step 3: Machine or Air Dry.

One of the reasons to air dry rather than machine dry is that air drying will ensure a more even distribution of the down, while machine drying will sometimes cause clumping. Air drying also allows you the possibility of washing your comforter if the comforter’s care tag prohibits machine drying. Finally, air drying, especially on a line in a backyard, will catch the natural breeze, meaning the comforter won’t stiffen due to a harsh or too-hot machine cycle.

Of course, machine drying has its benefits, too. One of the reasons to choose machine drying over air drying is that machine drying naturally re-fluffs your comforter by gently beating it around all sides. (To enhance a machine’s “fluff” effect, throw in a couple of dryer balls.) Some dryers will also come with an air fluff setting; if your dryer has one, use it to enhance your comforter’s fluffiness straight out of the dryer. When drying in a machine, just be wary of temperature: always choose the lowest heat (and the gentlest cycle) to prevent shrinking or overheating the fibers.

Tip: A comforter fresh out the dryer is one of life’s little pleasures. To make it even more pleasurable, douse a dryer ball or two with a couple drops of pure essential oils. A quality brand of organic (read: clean) essential oil can deliver 10 times the firepower of a scented dryer sheet or scented detergent – without any of the common toxins often associated with dryer sheets.

Tip: Treating stains on a comforter is easy if you get to them right away. Pretreat the stain with a color-safe detergent before washing, and wash in cold water to get the stain out.

Tip: Don’t skip washing. On the rare occasions when it is time to wash your comforter, don’t forget to do it, to keep your bed fresh and you a happier sleeper.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Articles featuring tips and advice are intended for educational purposes and only as general recommendations. Always practice personal discretion when using and caring for furniture, decor and related items.