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You’ll need a large-capacity washer and dryer, but you’ll sleep better afterward
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A comforter is essential for a good night’s sleep: It keeps us warm and cozy. So why do so many of us give it the cold shoulder on laundry day?
Think about it. How often do you wash your comforter compared with your bed sheets? A quick, unscientific survey of family, friends, and Consumer Reports colleagues yielded a surprisingly common response: “Once or twice a year.” According to the experts, that’s simply not enough.
According to the American Cleaning Institute, you should wash your comforter every month. Why? Aside from inevitable stains and spills, you dream away body oils, bacteria, and dead skin cells on your pillows, bedding, and mattress while sleeping.
Dust mites feed on those dead skin cells, which can trigger allergies and asthma. You can’t see the little critters, but they’re sharing your bed, potentially making you stuffy, sneezy, or wheezy instead of sleepy. Almost every home has them (4 of every 5 homes, the American Lung Association says). Washing your bedding can control this nuisance.
Your comforter isn’t likely to be as soiled as your sheets, but it can still harbor bacteria that can disrupt your health and dreams. So it’s a good practice to toss that comforter into a washing machine pretty regularly. How often depends on a few variables. Is the bed used daily? Do you invite your pet to snuggle on it? Does the comforter come into direct contact with your skin?
“Some people don’t have a sheet between the comforter and themselves,” says Rich Handel, CR’s laundry expert. “Others allow pets to jump on the bed. Who knows where Whiskers and Duke have been? Washing it once a month may work, but if you’re using the comforter as your top sheet or have pets on it, washing more often may be necessary.”
In most other situations, Handel recommends washing your comforter every one to three months for a bed that’s used daily. If the bed is unused (in a guest room, for instance), he recommends washing the comforter every six months to remove the dust that settles on it.
You can wash your comforter at home if you have a large-capacity washer. That, along with mild detergent and some optional drying tricks, will do the job just fine. To effectively wash your comforter at home, follow these steps.
Make sure your machine can handle it. Cleaning a comforter requires a large-capacity machine. How big depends on the size, thickness, and fill of your comforter. Handel recommends a washer with a capacity of at least 4.5 cubic feet, although that may not be large enough for a thick, overfilled comforter. That’s why some manufacturers recommend a minimum of 5 cubic feet, which can tackle most thick king-sized comforters. Check your washer manual for guidance.
Can you safely wash a comforter in a machine with an agitator? Handel says yes, with some caveats. “Most machines can be used if they are big enough and your comforter is not delicate,” he says. “But you wouldn’t want to put a family heirloom comforter in an agitator machine for fear that it may be too aggressive.”
If you’re rocking a small compact washer and a larger comforter, grab a good book and take a 2-hour time-out to go to your local laundromat, where commercial-sized washing machines can easily wash and dry comforters of any size.
Read the care label. Before stuffing your comforter into the washer, check that white care tag. Does it say the comforter is machine-washable? Comforters vary in size, material, thickness, filling, and quality. Down-alternative comforters are usually hypoallergenic, filled with cotton, polyester, wool, or silk. Down comforters are filled with duck or goose feathers, popular for their fluffier, lightweight, and insulative feel. In either case, let the care tag guide you. With regard to the outer shell, cotton and polyester can usually be washed at home. Other outer fabrics may require dry cleaning.
“Comforters made from materials such as wool and silk can get damaged in the washer,” says Sarah Armstrong, new product brand manager for Maytag. “So take the time to read the care tag and, if you have to, make the trip to get it cleaned by a professional to avoid spending unnecessary money on a new comforter.” That may not break the bank if you’re talking about an inexpensive $25 comforter, but you won’t want to take a chance on that $1,700 luxury comforter filled with European white goose down.
Inspect before washing. Even if the tag indicates your comforter is machine-washable, it’s good to do a quick inspection before tucking it into the machine. Armstrong suggests checking for loose seams or tears to ensure your comforter’s filling remains intact. Repair any loose threads or snags before washing. It’s easy to overlook this step, but an undetected rip can ruin your bedding if it allows the filling to be exposed to all that water, detergent, and agitation. A quick inspection will help avoid unwanted surprises when you lift that washer lid.
Wash the comforter by itself. A comforter is probably the bulkiest item you’ll ever toss into your washer. So it’s important to wash it by itself. Mixing sheets or other items in with a comforter can leave detergent residue on it. There should be plenty of room for the comforter to circulate, detergent to disperse, and water to flow within the drum. A duvet insert should also be washed separately, but its cover can be washed with other bedding like sheets, according to Maytag.
Use the bulky or delicate cycle. Whether you’re removing stains or just refreshing, choose a wash cycle based on the recommendations on your comforter’s care label and how dirty it is. If your comforter is elegant or flimsy, or if your washer isn’t so gentle on clothes, you can use the delicate cycle. But many comforters require the bulky or bedding cycle, which uses a combination of high-speed and low-speed agitation to specifically clean bulkier loads like comforters, duvets, and sheets.
Pretreat if necessary. If your comforter has stains or spills, pretreat the area first with a stain remover spray or a dab of stain-removing detergent. Gently rub the area, removing as much of the stain as possible before loading the bedding into the washer. Hot water can help remove body oils and heavy stains, but it can also set some stains into the fabric. Blood stain removal, for instance, requires cold water. Generally, cold or warm water is a safer choice than hot. The care label is your North Star—let it guide you.
If you’re sensitive to allergens or worried about detergent residue left on your comforter, you can add an extra rinse cycle. CR doesn’t recommend using fabric softener because if it gets into the fill, it can weigh the comforter down. It also leaves a residue on the surface that may bother those with sensitive skin.
To allow airflow, a dryer’s drum runs much bigger than a washer’s, so there’s usually room to tumble a comforter, especially if you dry it by itself. Maytag suggests using a dryer with a capacity of at least 7 cubic feet. Again, read the care label before drying, but in general, it’s best to dry comforters with low heat. High heat may damage the fabric or filling.
Be patient with drying; it can take a while for a comforter to dry completely. If your dryer has a bulky or bedding cycle, use it. Here are a few dryer tricks that may be helpful:
The most rewarding part comes later—no folding necessary. Just flop your freshened comforter onto your bed, dive under the covers, and dream sweetly, sharing your bed with invited guests only.
Below are several large-capacity washing machines that stood out in our tests. CR members have full access to our ratings, which include the results of our tests of more than 125 washing machines.
Keith Flamer has been a multimedia content creator at Consumer Reports since 2021, covering laundry, cleaning, small appliances, and home trends. Fascinated by interior design, architecture, technology, and all things mechanical, he translates CR’s testing engineers’ work into content that helps readers live better, smarter lives. Prior to CR, Keith covered luxury accessories and real estate, most recently at Forbes, with a focus on residential homes, interior design, home security, and pop culture trends.
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