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We’re far enough along in adulthood that most laundry quandaries don’t intimidate us anymore. Delicates? Grab the mesh bag. A red wine stain? Bring it on. The one exception: How to wash a comforter. Unwieldy and surprisingly heavy, it’s hard to imagine that your machine is even getting it clean once you manage to stuff it inside, let alone preserve its fluffiness. Here to help is Ariel Kaye, founder of beloved bedding brand Parachute, and Becky Rapinchuk, otherwise known as tidying pro Clean Mama. Both know their way around bed linens, and they helped us break down the task once and for all. 

How Often You Should Wash a Comforter

Kaye says the magic number is every three to six months. (If there’s no cover on your comforter, bump that habit up to once every month or two.) To remember, she coincides washing with the changing of the weather. “It’s nice to freshen things up at the start of a new season,” she says.

How to Wash a Comforter, Step by Step

Step 1: Follow the Directions on the Tag

The care label is your mini instruction manual. It will tell you the recommended water temperature and if your comforter can be washed at home at all. Trust us, you’ll want to follow the rules—certain materials, like silk and wool, can shrink or be ruined entirely in at-home machines. Leave those to the experts or “launder at your own risk,” says Rapinchuk.

Step 2: Load the Comforter, and Only the Comforter

Place your comforterand nothing elseinto an extra-large, front-loading washing machine. Once inside, there should be 20 percent of the washer’s space to spare; that will allow enough room for the water to move around. Breaking a sweat wrestling it inside? “If the machine is too small, the duvet insert can get tangled and damaged,” warns Kaye. Another reason to be careful: The weight of a wet comforter can knock top-loaders off balance, which can cause a lot of noise or, worse, damage the machine. Instead take it to your building’s shared laundry room (where the machines tend to be larger) or a laundromat. 

Step 3: Add Laundry Detergent, But Not Too Much

A detergent specifically made for down or a mild, enzyme-free, all-natural variety is your best bet. Kaye suggests adding about a third the amount you’d usually use for a load of a similar size. “Too much soap is bad for the filling and will take forever to rinse out, so err on the side of caution,” she says. 

Step 4: Select the Delicate Cycle

Select the cool water and delicate settings on your washing machine. (Cold water uses less energy and prevents shrinking, while the delicate cycle ensures a gentler experience for your comforter, with slow tumbling and spinning.) Run the rinse cycle twice to ensure all the soap has been washed out; otherwise the leftover soap will create clumps. No one likes an uneven comforter!

Step 5: Grab the Wool Dryer Balls

Kaye says to toss three of them into the dryer—clean tennis balls work, too—with your comforter to keep the filling from clustering. An added bonus: Unlike traditional dryer sheets, you can use wool dryer balls again and again.

Step 6: Dry Thoroughly

Tumble-dry your comforter on the lowest heat setting available. After 20 to 30 minutes, pull it out. If the bedding is hot to the touch, it’s too warm (you don’t want the fabric to melt or burn). Let it cool down before putting it back in. Repeat this process every half hour, removing the comforter to rotate its position in the drum and cool it off. (You can also hang the comforter or lay it on a flat surface, either outside or in a well-ventilated room, to finish drying.) “Have patience, because this is going to take a while,” says Kaye. We’re talking up to five or six hours, depending on the comforter’s size. Beware: If the filling isn’t completely dry, it could grow mold. To test its dryness, hold the comforter against a light. If you see any bunches of down, it’s still damp. Once your comforter is 100 percent dry, place it back on your bed and get the kind of rest that only comes with freshly cleaned linens.

How to Remove Stains From a Comforter

Drinking Merlot in bed again? No judgment. You can spot-treat your comforter just as you would most textiles, says Kaye. Pull the cover away from the filling with your fingers, dampen the fabric you want to treat with water, and rub in a small amount of gentle laundry detergent until it begins to foam. For tough stains, let sit overnight. Then simply rinse that section until the suds are completely gone, and let it fully dry before throwing it back on your bed. 

Yes, You Can Freshen Up a Comforter Without Washing It

If redistributed filling is what you’re after,Rapinchuk has a simple method: Put the comforter in the dryer on low heat with three wool dryer balls and pause the cycle every 10 minutes to shake it out. Repeat until 30 to 40 minutes have passed. Want to kill germs while you’re at it? Turn the dryer on high heat and give the comforter a shake every five to 10 minutes, for a total of 30. Taylor Swift would be proud.