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Although some experts recommend professional dry-cleaning for down and other fluffy bedding items, it is generally safe to wash them, either in the machine on gentle cycle or by hand. Here are some nifty tips from "Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbook" on how to keep your pillows and comforters looking like new.
Whether made of natural fibers (such as down) or synthetic materials (often polyester), most pillows can be washed in the machine. They should be cleaned every three to six months to remove mold, bacteria, and odors. Read instructions on the tag to make sure the pillow is not dry-clean only.
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It's best to use a front-loading washer, since pillows tend to float and stay dry in spots in a top-loading machine. Set the machine on the gentlest cycle, using warm water; add a small amount of a mild liquid detergent (powder detergent may leave a residue), then fill the tub loosely with your pillows. Repeat the rinse cycle to remove detergent completely.
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Most can go into a dryer except for those made of foam, which can melt. For such pillows, dry them on a rack or a clothesline.
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Before You Wash Your Blankets
Shake the blanket outdoors to remove any dust and loose dirt.
If the blanket has not been washed before, test for colorfastness. Use a wet cotton swab to moisten a small section near the edge of the blanket; blot the spot with a clean white cloth. If the color does not bleed onto the cloth, the blanket is safe to wash.
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Washing Blankets by Machine
Most cotton blankets and those made of synthetics and blends can be washed in the machine; see the label for instructions. Many other blankets can be washed safely by hand at home -- even wool, cashmere, and mohair.
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Washing Blankets by Hand
Fill a tub or deep sink with cool water and mild detergent. Then add the blanket, swishing it through the water. Do not use hot water on a wool blanket, or the weave might shrink or warp, causing a wavy surface. Soak the blanket for up to thirty minutes if very soiled. Drain the water and gently press out excess sudsy water. Fill the tub or sink with cool water. Swish the blanket around. Drain, rinse again, and repeat until all the soap is gone and the water is clear.
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Do not wring! Instead, press out excess water, then roll the blanket between clean, dry towels to remove as much water as possible. Replace the towels often as they become wet, and turn the blanket over frequently.
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Apply a mild detergent to the spot as soon as possible to prevent staining. Push the down away from the area to be cleaned so the feathers won't get wet during the cleaning. Apply warm water with an eyedropper to the area; then apply a small amount of mild detergent or baby shampoo with a soft, clean toothbrush; sponge the area thoroughly with warm water; and blot dry with a clean, color-safe towel.
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Washing Down in the Washer
Use a front-loading machine that is large enough to hold dry articles without crowding (the jerking action of the agitator in a top-load washer may cause damage by packing the down). If you don't have a front loader, take to a self-service laundry or consider hand-washing....
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Washing Down by Hand
Fill a bathtub with lukewarm water and add detergent. To determine the amount, follow the label directions for hand-washing loads -- use the minimum amount recommended (there should not be a mountain of suds). Gently squeeze the soapy water through the down-filled article, then drain the waste water. Rinse with fresh cool water, refilling the tub as necessary.
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After rinsing items completely -- either by hand or machine -- press out the water by hand, or use a washing machine's spin cycle (a top-loading machine is fine since it won't agitate while spinning). Do not wring. Tumble dry on low heat for a few hours, until completely dry. Adding several clean, dry towels will absorb moisture and speed the drying process; a few clean tennis balls stuffed in clean cotton socks, or clean canvas tennis shoes added to the dryer will help break up any clumps of filling that form.
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Hanging your pillows and comforters out on a clothesline several times per year can keep them smelling fresh and minimize the need for laundering.
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Guarding Your Down
Get a fabric cover that buttons for easy changing and washing. Protect pillows with zippered protectors and, of course, pillowcases.
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