My favorite room of my home is, by far, my bedroom. I spent weeks deliberating furnishings, wood tones, and a few pieces of lovely, affordable art. I also landed on a thick, cozy area rug, a big arm chair, and the most exquisite secondhand mirror to accent it all. But what I really splurged on were my percale sheets, matching duvet cover, and the most cloud-like comforter imaginable to make the place where I lay my head at night the happiest place to be.
I was pretty diligent about keeping this oasis of calm and comfort neat and tidy, too: I dusted and vacuumed and stripped my bed each week. There was one item, however, that had escaped my cleaning routine completely. Many many months after I bought it, my comforter hadn't made it down to the laundry room. That is, until the day I found out that even with a cover on, a down (or alternate down) comforter is a magnet for allergens, dust, dander, even skin cells (oh, my).
Look, I get it, comforters are large and intimidating, which is why plenty of people spend a lot of money taking them to the dry cleaners. Some of us decide to skip the cleaning entirely. (Until it's too late, and then we eventually haul it to the dry cleaners anyway.) But as I've learned, going down this route is completely unnecessary. As it turns out, you can very easily wash your down (or alternate down) comforter at home.
A quick note: We don't recommend putting your down comforter into a dryer, so if you don't have a spare one tucked away, we suggest washing it first thing in the morning to leave enough time for it to dry before you hit the sack.
Assemble your tools
Before we get started, let's go over that checklist of items you'll need to have an easy (and possibly even enjoyable?) time washing your down, or alternate down, comforter. You'll need:
- Gentle laundry detergent
- Access to a commercial washing machine
- Tennis or wool laundry balls
- Space to air-dry your comforter
Just to be clear, a comforter is a heavier blanket, typically stuffed with goose or duck feathers or shredded foam housed in some combination of a cotton-nylon-poly blend. It might be printed or a solid color that's ready to throw directly onto your bed, or an insert that needs a cover (when this is the case, the comforter is typically called a duvet, but the cover is the only difference here).
Before we get to washing, you will first need to check the capacity of your washing machine. Most front-loading machines aren't going to be big enough to properly clean a down comforter that's any bigger than twin-sized, according to the cleaning company Grove. If you live in an apartment building, look for a top-loading machine with signage on it that specifies that it's fit for oversized loads, or do the same at a laundromat. Once that's done, grab a bottle of extra-gentle detergent, and you're ready to start washing.
Chose a warm water temperature
In a large machine, your comforter is going to have room to move around and get thoroughly cleaned, but the settings on that machine are just as important. Take a look at the care tag on your comforter to see if it details any specifics, but when in doubt, choose the gentlest cycle to prevent feather clumping, and set it to warm water. Cold water here has a tendency to promote bunching and stiffen the material, while hot water can damage the delicate stuffing inside.
Some sources suggest setting the machine to two rinse cycles to guarantee that all the detergent is properly rinsed out. Leaving detergent on the comforter can render it stiff; it will also lead to faster wear. Better safe than sorry!
To ensure that all of that stuffing doesn't end up in one big clump, after adding the detergent and choosing the settings, we're going to toss those wool balls into the wash to keep everything evenly distributed. While these are typically used in the dryer (for the very same reason), because we're skipping that step, the balls are going to help in much the same way during the wash cycle. This additional bouncing around inside the drum of the machine helps push the down around, which prevents it from gathering up in one immobile ball — it also helps redistribute stuffing that has migrated to one end of the comforter.
Air it out
Down comforters also aren't resistant to shrinking so, to be on the safe side, our recommendation is to resist the urge to stuff the comforter into a dryer and undo all the delicate handling you just spent so much time and effort on. Instead, grab some heavy-duty clothes pins and head to your (very sturdy and doubled up) outdoor line or standing clothes-drying tree to hang the comforter out in the sun.
If you have no access to the outdoors or a sturdy clothing rack , set a few non-wooden (the dampness would damage the stain) chairs back-to-back, or prop a storage bin on top of a table to elevate the comforter off surfaces, allowing air to flow around each side so it can dry properly. You can also toss it over your shower frame, if yours is sturdy, or drape it across a long counter. Depending on the size of your down (or alternate down) comforter, this can take a few hours. At the end of its drying time, you'll have yourself a fresh-smelling, clean down comforter, and you'll have saved yourself a chunky dry cleaning bill, too.