How to Wash a Down Comforter (Because It’s Probably Time)

That trip to the dry cleaners? So unnecessary.

April 25, 2022
Photo by Rocky Luten

My favorite room of my home is, by far, my bedroom. I spent weeks deliberating furnishings, wood tones, and a few pieces of lovely (yet affordable) art. I also landed on a thick, cozy area rug, a big armchair, and the most exquisite secondhand mirror to accent it all. But what I really splurged on were my percale sheets, duvet cover, and the most cloud-like comforter imaginable to make the place where I lay my head at night the happiest place to be.

I was diligent about keeping this oasis of calm and comfort neat and tidy, too: I dusted, and vacuumed, and stripped my bed each week. There is one item, however, that escaped my cleaning routine completely. Many many months after I bought it, my comforter hadn't made it down to the laundry room. That is, until the day I found out that even with a cover on, a down (or alternate down) comforter is a magnet for allergens, dust, dander, and even skin cells (oh, my).

Look, I get it, comforters are large and intimidating, which is why plenty of people spend a lot of money taking them to the dry cleaners. Some of us decide to skip the cleaning entirely. (Until it’s too late and then we eventually haul it to the dry cleaners anyway.) But as I’ve learned, going down this route is completely unnecessary. As it turns out, you can very easily wash your down (or alternate down) comforter at home.

A quick note: We don’t recommend putting your down comforter into a dryer, so if you don’t have a spare one tucked away, we suggest washing it first thing in the morning to leave enough time for it to hang dry before you hit the sack.

Assemble Your Tools

Before we get started, let’s go over that checklist of items you’ll need to have an easy (and possibly even enjoyable?) time washing your down, or alternate down, comforter. You’ll need:

  • Gentle laundry detergent
  • Access to a commercial washing machine
  • Tennis or wool laundry balls
  • Space to air-dry your comforter

Just to be clear, a comforter is a heavier blanket that's typically stuffed with goose, duck feathers, or shredded foam and is often housed in some combination of a cotton-nylon-poly blend. It might be printed or a solid color that’s ready to throw directly onto your bed, or an insert that needs a cover (when this is the case the comforter is typically called a duvet, but the cover is the only difference here).

Before we get to washing, you will first need to check the capacity of your washing machine. Most front-loading machines aren’t going to be big enough to properly clean a down comforter that’s any bigger than twin-sized, according to the cleaning company Grove. If you live in an apartment building, look for a top-loading machine with signage on it that specifies that it’s fit for oversized loads, or do the same at a laundromat. Once that’s set, grab a bottle of extra-gentle detergent, and you’re ready to start washing.

Choose a Warm-Water Temperature

In a large machine, your comforter is going to have room to move around and get thoroughly cleaned, but the settings on that machine are just as important. Take a look at the care tag on your comforter to see if it details any specifics, but when in doubt, choose the gentlest cycle to prevent feather clumping and set it to warm water. Cold water has a tendency to promote bunching and stiffening of the material, while hot water can damage the delicate stuffing inside.

Some sources suggest setting the machine to two rinse cycles to guarantee that all the detergent is properly rinsed out. Accidentally leaving detergent on the comforter can render it stiff and can also lead to faster wear. Better safe than sorry!

Play Ball

To ensure that all of the stuffing doesn’t end up in one big clump, toss one or two wool balls into the wash to keep everything evenly distributed. While these are typically used in the dryer (for the very same reason), because we’re skipping that step, the balls are going to help in a similar way during the wash cycle. This additional bouncing around inside the drum of the machine helps push the down material around, which prevents it from gathering up in one immobile ball—it also helps redistribute stuffing that has migrated to one end of the comforter.

Air It Out

Down comforters also aren’t resistant to shrinking so, to be on the safe side, our recommendation is to resist the urge to stuff the comforter into a dryer and undo all the delicate handling you just spent so much time and effort on. Instead, grab some heavy-duty clothes pins and head to your (very sturdy and doubled up) outdoor line or standing clothes-drying tree to hang the comforter out in the sun.

If you have no access to the outdoors or a sturdy clothing rack, set a few non-wooden (the dampness would damage the stain) chairs back-to-back, or prop a storage bin on top of a table to elevate the comforter off surfaces, allowing air to flow around each side so it can dry properly. You can also toss it over your shower frame, if yours is sturdy, or drape it across a long counter. Depending on the size of your down (or alternate down) comforter, this can take a few hours. At the end of its drying time, you’ll have yourself a fresh and clean down comforter, and you’ll have saved yourself a chunky dry cleaning bill, too.

When was the last time you washed your comforter at home? Tell us in the comments.
Grab your copy

It's here: Our game-changing guide to everyone's favorite room in the house. Your Do-Anything Kitchen gathers the smartest ideas and savviest tricks—from our community, test kitchen, and cooks we love—to help transform your space into its best self.

Grab your copy

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • 954nina
  • Wendy
  • Susanna
  • Kim
  • Liz Summers
    Liz Summers
Ariel Scotti

Written by: Ariel Scotti

Writer who’s never met a book, pasta or pup she didn’t love.


954nina August 28, 2022
I used to have down comforters but a trip to China many years ago convinced me to buy a mulberry silk filled comforter. They feel like a thin blanket but they work amazingly well both in the winter and in the summer. They truly regulate your heat. Now to the story.. (oh and I always use a duvet). After about 5 years I thought it was time to wash it. Put it in my large capacity washer on delicate and that part was fine. Put it in the dryer just to get the major amount of water out (on air fluff) and that was fine but they I spread it out on my patio to finish drying in the sun and when back in the house.. when I came out a stray cat from our neighborhood pee’d all over it!!!! I ran to the dry cleaner and they wouldn’t touch it, went to 3 cleaner none wanted to take the chance so I thought I had nothing to lose so I dumped it back into the washer and this time washed it on the bulk cycle with double rinse and dried it in the dryer on bulk for the lowest time and kept checking it. When it was just slightly damp I spread it out inside the house and it is now perfect! I have 2. My guest get the old down or alternative comforters if they are allergic. But nothing is like a mulberry silk comforter.
Wendy August 27, 2022
I have been laundering my down comforters for about 30 years. I only buy super high quality ones. And I have never treated them different than anything else I launder. I use regular detergent and make sure I dry them a few cycles to ensure the down is super dry to not promote bacterial/mold growth. I do have extra large capacity washer/dryer. They always come out great and have lasted forever. I just recently joined the wool dryer balls pack and just to be honest I haven’t noticed any difference when I use them in keeping my large sheets/blankets, etc from not balling up or shortening my drying time. I started with 6 and now I have 12. I will try when I wash my comforter again. Wondering if I need more balls? How many?
Susanna May 1, 2022
I have never ever had success laundering a down comforter. In fact, I have ruined three this way. I follow all of the recommended instructions and always use a gentle cycle and a commercial machine, but washing them inevitably leads to small tears in the fabric that only grow, and the down starts coming out all over the place. I wish I knew what I was doing wrong.
Kim April 25, 2022
I've had down comforters for years. They go into the dryer just fine. Just tumble dry on medium and run it a couple times: checking and fluffing in-between. It's really just like anything big deal and no need to stress over it! Just put it in the dryer.
Liz S. April 25, 2022
I have had LaCrosse/TheCompany Store down comforters for 35 plus years (not the same one(s)). I tend to buy light or medium fill and use 2 in winter, 1 in summer. No duvet cover. White or tan comforters ... dog and cat. I have 2 spares so that I can rotate, but I wash/dry them with no fuss. I have always had a large capacity washer and dryer and my current set which is relatively new, no agitator and it has a "Bulky item" setting. But, other than the current set, I still packed in the washer, gentle detergent, dry in dryer. For drying, I used to use old socks with tennis balls for "beating" the down, now I use wool dryer balls and some slightly heavier poly rings. I dry on a medium setting for 40 minutes, then go to low for 40 min intervals. If I need to leave the house (I NEVER leave the washer or dryer going if I am not there!), I drape the comforter over some chairs for some air drying. I do have 5 comforters all together and rotate when I wash. The article has a lot of "this source and that source" vs a first hand experience of the author. For years, La Crosse said do not launder and I did. My comforters have lasted me 8-10 years. My newish (3 years old) washer/dryer set do make the process easier: no agitator and a better dryer than my old set.