Q: What's the best way to clean a down comforter?
-- Randy Powers, Houston, TX
Never wash your down comforter in a washing machine; it won't dry properly, and it will lose its loft -- its wonderfully light, fluffy shape.
Three or four times a year, hang your comforter on a clothesline, and air it out in bright sunlight on a dry, windy day. If you do this regularly, your comforter will need to be dry-cleaned only once every seven to ten years.
Keep the comforter covered with a duvet cover to protect it from the oils in your skin; these break down fabric, making it brittle and staining it yellow. Wash the duvet cover once a week. If, however, you use a flat sheet as well as a duvet cover, you won't have to wash the duvet cover quite as often. If your comforter does have a problem area, you can spot-wash it using a mild liquid detergent such as Dawn. But be sparing; if you use too much detergent, you won’t be able to get the suds out.
Q: I sleep on my stomach, and I am prone to backaches. I'm looking to buy a mattress, but every salesperson tells me something different, and it’s hard for me to know, after testing a mattress in the showroom for only a few minutes, whether it really would be comfortable all night long.
-- Laura Turner, via e-mail
The average person spends about a third of his or her life sleeping. Of all the furniture in your house, the mattress probably receives the most use. The Better Sleep Council advises that, although a mattress doesn't have to be hard to be good for you, it should provide support at all points throughout your body; your spine needs to be supported in its natural curve. You should also make sure that you have enough space to move around freely, especially if you’re sleeping with a partner. And remember, it's important to buy a durable mattress whose foundation won't break down too quickly. Make sure your mattress has an ample warranty. And keep in mind that matching sleep sets are designed to work together.
Fred Heinzelman, of Connecticut's Norwalk Mattress, where Martha buys some of her mattresses, compares choosing a mattress to trying on shoes: If the mattress is comfortable in the store, it will be comfortable at home. But you should definitely spend some time lying on the mattress. If it feels uncomfortable in the store, chances are it won't be comfortable when you bring it home -- just like a pair of shoes that are too tight when you try them on. You want to make sure your mattress has a good foundation and a core that feels good to you; the upholstery should also be strong, because it will also help provide support. If you can, try out your friends' mattresses by sleeping on one for the night.
The mattress on today's show is a custom bed made by Charles Beckley in New York City. With custom beds, you can choose your cover, filling, and firmness. The first layer consists of twenty pounds of recycled horsehair, collected from the tail and the mane. The second layer contains pure cotton felt, a large inner spring, another layer of felt, and more horsehair. These layers are covered, tacked, and sewn together with a huge sewing machine. The mattress is beautifully finished with a hand-rolled, hand-sewn edge. The bedsprings are also all handmade.
Cotton mattresses, which are also a nice alternative, are about the same price as the industry-standard poly-fill mattresses. At Norwalk Mattress, a cotton twin set costs about $700. Cotton mattresses last longer, and because they are cotton, they stay cooler in the summer and keep you warmer in the winter.
Once you've found the right mattress, make sure that you take good care of it. According toTed Marschke at Beckley, once a month you should turn your mattress over, then rotate it from head to toe. This will prevent a hollow from forming in the center of the mattress. Don't sit on the edge of the bed, as this can break it down. And never jump on the bed, which can damage the springs, the filling, and the box spring. If a spot appears on the mattress, use an art-gum eraser to clean it off. And when you go away for a while, let the mattress get some fresh air. Don't put it outside, just strip it.
Be prepared to spend some time searching for the right mattress. If you suffer from backaches, consult your doctor before buying one. And, if you still feel unsure after trying out a mattress in the store, find out whether the store has an exchange policy. Some companies will exchange a mattress, though moving one can be costly.