How can I clean a moldy-smelling down comforter?
July 28, 2014 10:06 AM   Subscribe

I left a damp down comforter sitting in the dryer for a couple of days, and now it has a gross moldy smell. How can I fix this?

I foolishly washed my king size down comforter before leaving for a weekend trip, and didn't realize how long it would take. It was still soaking wet when I had to leave, so I left it in the dryer on the longest possible cycle and hoped for the best, but when I got home two days later it was still damp and smelled awful. I tried washing it again, dried it fully this time, and hung it up to air out, but it still smells pretty bad.

I have a front loading HE washer, and I have been using this wool and cashmere shampoo because I had it on hand and it seemed gentle. I could try again with a harsher detergent, but I'm worried that might cause a different type of damage. Would Woolite do the trick? Should I take it to a dry cleaner?

Laundry sages of Metafilter, please hope me! I really don't want to have to buy a new comforter!
posted by bobafet to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
how long did you hang it up to air out? Try 8h in bright, direct sunlight.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:09 AM on July 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would wager that the down itself might have molded it a bit. I would wash it again with bleach, dry it, and then air it out in sun, as St. Peepsburg suggests.
posted by umwhat at 10:15 AM on July 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've found the cure for most moldy laundry smells is to dry the offending item out thoroughly and the re-wash to get rid of the smell. I've not done this with a down comforter but I wouldn't hesitate to try it. My theory is that the drying kills the mold and the washing sends it back to whatever stinky place it came from. Just make sure it gets thoroughly dry first.
posted by firstdrop at 10:15 AM on July 28, 2014

Try washing it in warm water with vinegar. Then line dry if that is available to you. Then spin dry in the dryer. I've noticed with big king-sized comforters that I usually have to dry mine for one cycle, take it out and turn it kind of inside out so the wet parts are out and then put in again for another dryer cycle. Hopefully that will work for you. And yes, line drying is a great way to get rid of lingering smells, but I know not everyone has a clothesline that can hold a king-sized comforter!
posted by Lynsey at 10:17 AM on July 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

I haven't tried this myself, but my idol Jolie Kerr recommends white vinegar.
posted by radioamy at 10:22 AM on July 28, 2014

Down always smells when wet. No worries!

I would wash one more time, this time with the regular amount of gentle detergent AND an entire bottle of white vinegar (not the gallon size, a 32 oz size bottle.) Then I would air dry in the sun, only because the dryer tends to disentegrate the stitching on down comforters.

This will not fail, but down tends to smell unless it's totally dry.

Source: I have a lot of experience washing down comforters and sleeping bags. Ditto washing moldy clothes. Vinegar always works.
posted by jbenben at 10:26 AM on July 28, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions so far!

I hung it up to dry inside, draped over some furniture. I have a tiny yard, but I don't think there's enough room to hang the comforter, and it's shady back there.

Also, if I wash and dry it again, what temperature should I use? I have been doing cold water wash and low-heat dry, but maybe I need to amp it up.
posted by bobafet at 10:33 AM on July 28, 2014

When I've had this happen I used a cup of vinegar, and washed on the hottest wash I was comfortable using for my items.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 10:36 AM on July 28, 2014

If all else fails, some dry cleaners will clean your down comforter for you, and might be better able to get the odor out.
posted by Johnny Assay at 10:37 AM on July 28, 2014

I used to work for a very very large manufacturer of down bedding products... the customer service department was constantly receiving returns from people who had washed their down comforters in their home appliances and badly damaged the comforter. From their product FAQ:
Washing Instructions for Your Comforter
We hope that these simple guidelines help protect your investment and instruct you how to care for your comforter.
We recommend you professionally launder your bedding every 3-5 years. It is possible to wash your bedding yourself, but you may jeopardize the life of your comforter.
We are reluctant to recommend nonprofessional laundering because:
Home washers are often too small.
Most household washing machines have an agitator in the center, which places unnecessary stress on the comforter.
Harsh detergents and heat can cause down to become dry and brittle and will result in the down clusters breaking.
If the product is not dried completely, the fill may mildew or disintegrate.
Most fabric used in natural bedding is 100% cotton and will shrink slightly when dried.
Should you still choose to wash your comforter yourself, please:
1. Use gentle detergents and a low heat drying cycle.
2. Be sure to dry the product completely for approximately 8-12 hours. Products must be dried in a machine. We do not recommend line drying.
If you HAVE to launder your bedding yourself, I'd recommend finding a laundromat with a commercial capacity washer/dryer, so that the comforter actually has room to be properly cleaned and dried, instead of mashing it into a too-small appliance. Vinegar can help remove the smell, but the key is going to be the size of the dryer, the heat, and the duration of the dry time. Block out a whole lot of time and bring something to entertain yourself, because you're gonna be there a while. But if it were me, I'd be heading to a dry cleaner. If you're using a duvet cover to help keep dust and schmutz off of your comforter, it will only need cleaning once every couple of years or so, and the life of the comforter will be extended much further than if you're using it without a duvet and jamming it in your washer now and then.
posted by palomar at 10:40 AM on July 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

Re-wash using Mule Team Borax in addition to your detergent.
posted by cass at 11:00 AM on July 28, 2014

I've heard that alcohol... vodka... in a spray bottle can cure moldy smells. I tried it on a musty couch that had been in my basement. I sprayed it (martini in hand) until it was damp, then put a fan on it and let it air dry. I think it worked... I also put dryer sheets under the cushions.

Good luck! I agree that wet down always smells a but like barn, and that it goes away when completely dry.
posted by hippychick at 2:34 PM on July 28, 2014

I recently did this, and it took a week (7 days!) of air dry and sun to unstink. Patience!
posted by gregglind at 4:47 PM on July 28, 2014

I've done this with towels and re-washing seems to work fine. I personally make the wash cycle hot as hell to try to "kill" whatever got on it, and then the rinse cycle cold because I think mold likes warmth. Dry it thoroughly this time!
posted by AppleTurnover at 4:50 PM on July 28, 2014

Go to the laundromat. Get the huge "6 load" machine. The one that costs $6.50/load. Put the blanket in with laundry soap (I like tide free) and bleach (it's gotta happen) wash on warm (or hot of you are brave). Afterwards get the biggest dryer, $.25/7 min. Run it on medium temp for 14 min. Take out blanket, fluff it, flip it and put it in again and repeat every 14 min or so. When you get close to an hour check its smell and status. And keep going in 7-14 min segments. I like to put the temp up to hot for the last part to "cook out" any leftover damp spots.

When I take it home I usually drape my king size comforter over chairs/tables so it can fully air dry for a day.

This should do it. In the future, a King comforter is really too large to wash at home.
posted by saradarlin at 11:16 PM on July 28, 2014

posted by persona au gratin at 1:22 AM on July 29, 2014

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