While it may be tempting to wash your down comforter as you would a synthetic comforter or your favorite sheet set, careless cleaning may permanently damage its down. Many down comforters are designed for dry cleaning rather than home washing, but with careful consideration of the instructions on the care tag, some comforters can be washed in a large-capacity machine.
Check the care tag to determine if the comforter is machine washable. In some cases, washability comes down to the outer material and the overall construction of the bedding. If the tag indicates the comforter can be washed in a machine, follow its recommendations to lessen the chances of damage. If the tag recommends dry cleaning and you still wish to attempt washing the comforter in a machine, treat it with utmost care, using only gentle cleaners and delicate wash cycles.
Picking the Perfect Machine
A regular top-loading washing machine isn't a good choice for a down comforter, as the agitator may twist, tug and distort or even tear the bedding. If the comforter is for a full-size bed or larger, it may not fit well in a standard top-loading machine anyway. Instead, wash the comforter in a large-capacity front-loading machine, such as the type you'll found at a laundromat.
Cleaning the Comforter
Select a laundry detergent designed for delicate fabrics, or a product made specifically for washing down. Companies that sell down bedding exclusively carry their own versions of down detergent. Choose a gentle or delicate cycle and warm water, using one-third as much of the mild detergent as you would for a typical laundry load of that size. Select an extended spin cycle after the final rinse to squeeze out as much water as possible -- this extra step cuts down on the lengthy drying time. Hand washing a comforter is possible as well, using the same mild non-bleach detergent, but it may be a bit difficult to rinse and remove the water because the bedding is so bulky.
Complete Drying Is Critical
Drying the down comforter with care is just as important -- if not more so -- than the washing process. Select a low or no-heat setting and the longest drying time offered on your dryer. If you'd have to stuff the comforter into your dryer, take it to a laundromat instead. Bedding -- and all laundry -- requires room to move in the dryer, otherwise the dryer can't do its job. Check the comforter every hour or two -- or within 30 minutes if it's the first time you're using a commercial dryer -- to shake and fluff up the bedding a bit. This also helps determine if the drying cycle is too hot. It may take anywhere from three to eight hours to completely dry the comforter, but do not skimp on the drying time -- the comforter must be dried completely, or the down may be damaged. Air drying may take up to three days for it to dry completely. Check the care tag first, because some comforter manufacturers do not recommend line drying.
Protect Your Investment
Down comforters aren't designed for frequent washings -- some manufacturers recommend only washing them every few years, or when soiled, because excessive washing destroys the delicate down structure. Instead, protect your comforter by keeping it in a washable duvet cover. That way, the cover goes in the wash rather than the comforter. Even if the comforter is machine washable, the duvet cover keeps the bedding and the down itself in prime condition. To keep the down in tiptop shape while it is in the duvet cover, avoid sitting or lying on the comforter, as this crushes the fibers.