The Ultimate Guide to Washing Pillows, Blankets, and Down

Photo: Bryan Gardner

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 a gentle setting or by hand. Here are some other great tips on how to keep your pillows and comforters looking like new.

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Bryan Gardner

You may get nervous at the thought of washing down and other fluffy bedding essentials, but armed with a few laundry tips from Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbook

, you can actually skip a trip to the dry cleaner and another night sleeping on sullied blankets and pillows.

The first thing to keep in mind is that unlike your bed sheets, you don't have to wash comforters, pillows, and other down items every week. Frequency will vary, but you should expect to clean your entire collection of bedding items roughly once a season to remove potentially harmful bacteria and unpleasant odors. How does one wash an entire pillow in an an at-home machine? We're walking you through which kinds of machines and cycles you should be using, and how to ensure detergent doesn't leave any residue on the pillow itself. The trick to making sure all soap has been properly removed from pillows is to run them through two rinse cycles. There are also a couple of things to consider when determining if it's acceptable to place pillows into a dryer and when you should simply let them air dry.

As for comforters, quilts, and other blankets, there's a few steps of preparation you need to take before throwing these into the washer. For example, you'll need to check the colorfastness of each item before you place it into a washing machine, and always read any tags or labels for special care instructions. While machine washing is often completely safe, you can also wash these items by hand. Read on to learn how.

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How Often Should I Clean Pillows?

James Ransom

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 pillow's tag to make sure it is not dry-clean only.

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How to Wash Pillows


It's best to use a front-loading washer, since pillows tend to float and stay dry in certain spots when washed in a top-loading machine. Set the machine to 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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Drying Pillows


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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Pre-Wash Checklist

Anna Williams

Shake blankets 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

Matthew Williams

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

Christopher Baker

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 30 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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Drying Blankets

folded blankets stack
Courtesy of Riley Home

Refrain from wringing your blankets, as this could damage them. 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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Spot-Treating Down


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, consider hand washing your down blanket in the tub—and, as a last resort, visit a self-service laundromat.

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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 wastewater. Rinse with fresh cool water, refilling the tub as necessary.

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Drying Down


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.

Add a few clean tennis balls stuffed in clean cotton socks, or clean canvas tennis shoes added to the dryer, as this will help break up any clumps of filling that form.

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Airing Out


Hanging your pillows and comforters out on a clothesline several times per year can keep them smelling fresh while minimizing 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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