Learn how to wash and dry a down comforter and care for similar items, such as feather pillows, sleeping bags, and jackets, so they emerge as soft and fluffy as before.

By Jessica Bennett
Updated July 06, 2020
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Washing pillows, comforters, and other down-filled items sometimes falls to the end of the laundry list. In fact, a lot of people even wonder whether you can wash a down comforter at all. While these items tend to be fairly bulky, you can usually wash down bedding and jackets at home in the washing machine. Most manufacturers suggest cleaning down items infrequently, every three to five years, so you won't need to go through this laundering process too often. When it's time to clean down items, follow these steps to get the best results when washing and drying down comforters, feather pillows, sleeping bags, and jackets.

Ann VanderWiel Wilde

Can I Wash Down Comforters and Pillows at Home?

Comforters for full-, queen-, and king-size beds are probably too big for standard-size home washers. For best results, use a large-capacity front-loading washing machine, such as the ones at a local laundromat. Down pillows, on the other hand, might be small enough to launder in your washing machine at home, which is the more convenient choice, especially if you have a front-loading machine. If you have a top loader, however, you might want to use the laundromat's front-loading machines. An agitator can be rough on delicate down items.

How to Wash Down Items

Always read and follow any specific instructions on the tag of the item you'll be washing. Before laundering, check for worn stitching or holes, and repair with small fine stitches to avoid losing any down stuffing during the laundering process.

Before washing a down comforter or pillow, check for tough stains such as blood or urine. These stains are best treated with an enzymatic cleaner. Color-safe bleach can be used on stains caused by water or food. Pull the cover of the comforter or pillow away from the down while spot-treating stains to keep the cleaning product from damaging the down. Once the stain is removed, your down item is ready to be laundered.

What Is the Best Wash Cycle for Down Comforters and Other Down-Filled Items?

Use a gentle- or delicate-cycle setting and a minimal amount of mild laundry detergent with your load. Choose lukewarm water, as hot or cold water can be hard on the down. An extra rinse cycle can help ensure all soap is removed from the down. There are also specialty laundry detergents made specifically for washing sleeping bags, down comforters, and other down-filled items. You can often find these detergents available online and at outdoor retailers.

To keep the down from bunching, put a pair of clean white canvas shoes (laces removed) or a sock stuffed with two tennis balls (secured with a knot) in the machine with the comforter or pillows. This addition will also gently agitate soil from the items being washed.

Editor's Tip: If you've finished washing a down jacket or pillow and it still stinks, don't worry; you didn't miss a step in how to wash a down comforter or how to wash a down jacket. Down bears a distinctive odor when wet. The odor will dissipate when the down dries.

David A Land

How to Dry Down Items

After the wash is complete, load your comforter, pillows, or other down items into a dryer large enough to give them plenty of room. Add a pair of tennis balls in a sock or wool dryer balls ($5, Walmart) in a sock to help fluff the down and keep it evenly distributed.

What Is the Best Dryer Setting for Items with Down?

Run the dryer on air fluff or the lowest temperature possible. Stop the dryer periodically and break up any lumps that form in the comforter or pillow. Make sure that the down is not getting too warm as extreme heat can scorch the down. Expect the drying process to take three to four hours.

To avoid the formation of mildew, only take the down item out of the dryer if it's completely dry. If the item is still slightly damp, lay it out on a clothesline on a breezy warm day to dry the down as much as possible. Once you bring the comforter or pillow inside, leave the item out for a few weeks to ensure all moisture has evaporated. If you're storing the comforter, wrap it in a cotton sheet first.

Seth Smoot

How Often to Wash Down-Filled Items

Some down comforters and pillows come with explicit directions to dry-clean them rather than wash them. To cut down on the number of times you need to wash your down comforter, add a duvet cover over top to keep the oils from your skin from penetrating into the comforter and attracting dirt.

You can further protect the down by always using a flat sheet underneath the duvet-covered comforter. The sheet provides another layer of protection against body oils and dirt. Wash the duvet cover once a week if no flat sheet is used, or wash it once or twice a year if a flat sheet is used.

Pillow protectors and covers will provide extra defense against stains and dust mites. Most covers have a zipper to further protect the pillow, allowing you to encase the pillow and to easily remove it for washing. Some protectors and covers are made from cotton or from cotton-polyester blends. Just as a flat sheet provides extra protection for the duvet cover, these covers protect down pillows from stains and soil. Launder the pillowcase weekly.

A few times a year, freshen a down comforter or down pillows by taking them outside on a warm, breezy day. Lay the items on a flat surface in the sun for two to three hours before returning them to your home.

No matter what type of down item you're cleaning, the process starts with reading the manufacturer's care tag. This knowledge, along with a few tricks, will have you ready to tackle all your down-filled item cleaning tasks, including washing a down jacket, cleaning a duvet, and caring for feather pillows.

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