RAVE FabriCARE: Position Papers

Our brief discussion of various issues related to
fine garments, household textiles and accessories

Share this Position Paper:
Cleaning down and down/feather pillows: 6 reasons not to wash them

 

Cleaning down and down/feather pillows: 6 reasons not to wash them

By: Stu Bloom

The internet is awash with well-meaning but technically inaccurate information about

  • machine washing your down and your down/waterfowl (goose and duck) feather bed pillows at home or at a laundromat

    or

  • wet cleaning your down and your down/waterfowl (goose and duck) feather bed pillows at a dry cleaning facility.

This misinformation is reinforced by many manufacturers and retailers of down and down/feather bed pillows who often include the words “machine wash” or “wet clean” in their product literature and/or on the care labels attached to their pillows.

Truth is, you should never wash or wet clean your down and down/feather pillows in water – either at home, at a laundromat or at a dry cleaning facility.

And it makes no difference whether you or your dry cleaner uses a front load home washer, a top load home washer or a large industrial/commercial washer.

Don’t wash or wet clean

There are 6 reasons why you should never wash or wet clean your down and down/feather pillows in water:

1.  It’s highly unlikely that washing will get your outer shells pristine clean

 

The exterior shells of your down and down/feather pillows might look yellow, dingy and stained.

And the exterior shells and interior fill might have developed an odor due to perspiration, saliva and blood spots, hair oil, creams and lotions, and an army of bacterial and viral pathogens (bacteria and viruses that can cause disease).

You might believe that you can restore the outer pillow shells of your bed pillows to their original, pristine white and remove all their odors by washing the entire pillow.

Good luck.

Why good luck?

Because the likelihood that you can restore your yellow, dingy and stained outer pillow shells to their original, pristine white by washing the entire pillow is close to zero.

Close to zero.

Why do we say that?

Because WHITE KNIGHT pillowCARE is a division of RAVE FabriCARE, nationally recognized as one of the nations’s premier dry cleaners.

One of RAVE FabriCARE’s specialities is restoring yellowed/dingy/stained garments that were originally white to as close to their original condition and brightness as possible. Using a wide array of water-based and solvent-based processes that we’ve refined over an almost 30 year period.

If RAVE FabriCARE cannot safely, consistently and completely restore the “average” yellowed, dingy and stained pillow shell to it’s original, pristine white – after the fill has been removed – how will you do so at home – with the fill still inside the pillow – using products sitting on the shelf in your laundry room?

By the way, if you ultimately decide to risk washing your down and down/feather pillows, never use sodium hypochlorite (aka bleach), sodium percarbonate (a key ingredient in products such as Oxyclean®), or fabric softeners (such as Downey®).

There’s no surer way to destroy the long term resiliency of the down and down/feather fill inside your bed pillows (the fill is the most valuable part of a down or down/feather pillow).

2.  It’s highly unlikely that washing will get your interior down and down/feather fill clean

 

Whenever a columnist or blogger recommends that you should wash your down and down/feather pillows, they often include comments such as:

  • “washing your down or down/feather pillows in hot water will kill the dust mites in your pillows”
  • “washing your down and down/feather pillows in hot water will remove the dirt and dead skin cells in the fill and kill the bacteria.”

Really?

It’s one thing to consider washing your entire down and down/feather pillow in order to “completely clean” the outer pillow shell.

But it’s quite another thing to believe that washing the entire pillow will:

  • kill the live dust mites embedded in the fill contained within that pillow shell
  • significantly denature (or deactivate) the Der f 1/Der p 1 protein allergens in the dust mite feces – the primary triggers of asthma and allergies – embedded in the fill contained within that pillow shell.
  • kill the bacterial and viral pathogens (bacteria and viruses that can cause disease) embedded in the fill contained within that pillow shell
  • remove any of the down dust (minute particles that have broken off the down clusters and waterfowl feathers), dead skin cells (commonly called dander), dead dust mites and dust mite feces embedded in the fill contained within that pillow shell
  • remove all other contaminants embedded in the fill contained within that pillow shell.

Before you conclude that washing the entire pillow will accomplish all (or even one) of these objectives, you might want to consider this:

2a.  Home or commercial washers don’t reach USDA-specified temperatures

 

US Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations require that down and/or feathers imported into the USA by pillow and comforter manufacturers must be either partially washed (aka pre-washed) or fully washed.

And if the down and/or feather is only partially washed, the down and/or feathers must be fully washed in the USA before use.

In order to qualify as fully washed, the down and feather must be washed at a minimum of 120 degrees Celsius (248 degrees Fahrenheit) for a minimum of 30 minutes.

That’s worth repeating…

According to the USDA, clean down and/or feathers means down and/or feather that’s washed at 248 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes – OUTSIDE OF THE PILLOW SHELL.

Here’s the key point: If you’re lucky, the hot water in your home or laundromat washer might reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

THAT’S HALF THE REQUIRED TEMPERATURE.

So much for all that internet-based “advise” that you can “completely clean” your down and down/feather pillows by tossing them in a washer and dryer at home, at a laundromat, or at a dry cleaning facility.

2b.  Home or commercial washers don’t reach research-specified temperatures

 

Numerous scientific studies have concluded that a constant temperature 140 degrees Fahrenheit or more for a minimum of 20 minutes or more is required to kill dust mites by hot water

But hot water heater manufacturers typically set the temperature on your hot water heater at a maximum of 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

Why?

Because temperatures over 120 degrees can cause scalding and/or severe burns in a matter of seconds. For example, water that reaches 140 degrees Fahrenheit can cause third degree burns in 5 seconds.

Furthermore:

  • the hot water in the pipes feeding your washer may be far less than 140 degrees Fahrenheit even if you reset your hot water heater to 140 degrees

          and

  • it’s highly unlikely that your washer can maintain a constant temperature of 140 degrees for a minimum of 20 minutes or more.

2c.  Washing won’t denature (or deactivate) the Der f 1/Der p 1 protein allergens

 

Washing will do little to denature (or deactivate) the Der f 1/Der p 1 protein allergens in the dust mite feces – the primary triggers of asthma and allergies – left behind by the dust mites you’ve just supposedly killed.

And that’s even if your water temperature reached 140 degrees Fahrenheit in the first place and you were able to hold that temperature constant for a full 20 minutes or more.

2d.  Water may not adequately penetrate the outer pillow shells

 

It’s difficult to keep the entire down or down/feather pillow submerged in water. Down and down/feather pillows tend to “float” on the surface of water even when you try to hold them submerged in water.

Why “float?

Because the outer pillow shells of quality down and down/feather pillows are (or should be) relatively tightly woven (compared to pillows shells used for synthetic pillows), making it difficult for water to penetrate the outer pillow shell in the first place.

2e.  Down clusters and feathers are designed by nature to repel water

 

Even  if  water  fully  penetrated  the  outer  pillow  shell,  down  clusters  and  feathers are designed by nature to repel water.

The ability of down and feathers to repel water is how nature protects geese and ducks from water and cold.

The notion of a “completely clean” down and down/feather pillow must include both the outside (the pillow shell) and the inside (the fill).

While washing might marginally improve the cleanliness of the outer pillow shell, washing  will do little, if anything, to:

  • kill the live dust mites embedded in the fill contained within that pillow shell
  • significantly denature (or deactivate) the Der f 1/Der p 1 protein allergens in the dust mite feces – the primary triggers of asthma and allergies – embedded in the fill contained within that pillow shell
  • kill the bacterial and viral pathogens (bacteria and viruses that can cause disease) embedded in the fill contained within that pillow shell 
  • remove any of the down dust (minute particles that have broken off the down clusters and waterfowl feathers), dead skin cells (commonly called dander), dead dust mites and dust mite feces embedded in the fill contained within that pillow shell
  • remove all other contaminants embedded in the fill contained within that pillow shell.

3.  Washing requires a large commercial washer

 

If you ever decide to wash your down and down/feather bed pillows, you will need a large commercial washer. And you probably don’t have one at home.

Washing your pillows in a front load washer or a top load washer at home is always a risky proposition because the fabric of the outer pillow shells of your pillows – already weak from the acids and salts present in perspiration – might tear open during the wash and you’ll end up with nasty mess on your hands.

And even if you dropped off your down or down/feather pillow at your local dry cleaner for wet cleaning in a large commercial washer, your dry cleaner may not undertake the project for 2 reasons:

  • because he recognizes that the risk and time involved to wash or wet clean and dry a few pillows far outweighs his likely reward.
  • because he might have a nasty mess on his hands and a replacement liability should the pillow shell tear apart during the wet cleaning and/or drying process.

But, then again, you might be in luck: You might be able find a dry cleaner so desperate for revenue that he might not recognize the possible pitfalls and time investment associated with washing and drying your pillows.

 

4.  It’s highly likely that surfactants in your laundry or dishwashing detergents will ruin your down

 

The quality of the down and/or down/feathers in your pillows is largely determined by the   fill power or loft of the down.

Fill power is, in turn, largely determined by the size of the hundreds of thousands of down clusters (individual pieces of down) in each pillow.

Each down cluster has filaments (think: fibers) radiating out in all directions from a central  point (think: head of a pin).

Each of these filaments are coated with minute particles of oil. The oil on the filaments gives the filaments their structure or “body”. And “body” gives down, amongst other things, it’s wonderful ability to loft after it’s been compressed.

Now here’s the rub: Most laundry or dish washing detergents contain surfactants. And one of the primary functions of surfactants is to dissolve/attempt to dissolve oils.

So let’s assume that you’ve decided to wash your down and/or feather pillows in an attempt to restore brightness to your pillow shells and eliminate odors.

And, because you rightfully suspect that water alone won’t remove the oil and grease stains and/ or odor from the pillow shell, let’s further assume that you decide to throw in some laundry or dish washing detergent in order to boost the stain and odor removal process.

What happens to the oil particles on the filaments of each down cluster?

The oil dissolves.

And what happens when the oil dissolves?

The  down  clusters  loose  their structure  or “body” –  their ability to  loft  – and your down  and down/feather fill looses it’s functional and monetary value.

5.  It’s highly likely that washing will dissolve the “down proofing” of your pillow shells

 

If you’ve ever had your pillow “cleaned and fluffed” by a dry cleaner or pillow refurbishment service, your dry cleaner (or his subcontractor) or your pillow refurbishment service probably used a cheap, 180 to 210 thread count pillow shell.

If the outer pillow shell’s fabric had a cardboard-like stiffness when it was first returned to you and then crackled in your ear when you first used it, or if the outer pillow shell was one of those old-fashioned granny pillow shells, you probably got one of these cheap, 180 to 210 thread count pillow shells.

The problem is that the fabric used to construct these cheap 180 to 210 thread count pillow shells is not down proof and feather proof.

No, you’re wrong, you might say.

They’re definitely down and feather proof. It says so right here on the label. It says “down and feather proof”. “Finest In The World”, no less.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the fabric is not down proof and feather proof.

Not at the time of manufacture. Not now. Not in the future.

We’ll explain…..

The claim that these pillow shells are “down and feather proof” is based solely on the fact that these pillow shells have been heavily starched to prevent any initial leakage of down and/or feathers.

This starching process results in a pillow shell that, WHEN NEW AND ONLY WHEN NEW, would pass the International Down and Feather Laboratory and Institute’s tests for down proofness, feather proofness and air permeability (breathability).

However, the pillow shells fail all IDFL tests for down proofness, feather proofness and air permeability (breathability) AFTER THE PILLOW SHELL HAS BEEN WASHED.

Why?

Because the water-soluble starch dissolves as soon as the pillow shell is washed. And what happens when the starch wholly or partially dissolves?

The down and/or feathers will leak through the pillow shell.

The fact that these pillow shells fail the IDFL’s tests for down proofness, feather proofness and air permeability AFTER WASHING is proof positive that the fabric used to construct these pillow shells was neither down proof, feather proof nor air permeable BEFORE WASHING.

Truth is, you may not even have to wait for the pillow shell to be washed in order to notice the leakage of down and/or feathers.

Within a few months after you start using your “newly-refurbished pillows”, the starch will begin to soften and “powder off”. And, as soon as that process begins, the down and/or feathers will begin to leak through the pillow shell.

6.  Drying requires a large commercial dryer

 

Once you’ve decided to risk washing your down and down/feather bed pillows, you’ll need to dry them in a large commercial dryer. And you probably don’t have one at home.

If you use your home dyer, you’ll need to dry your down and down/feather pillows – one at a time for 2 to 4 hours. Not the typical 36 to 48 minutes you might regard as a “normal” cycle time.

This step is critical: if your down or down/feather fill is not 100% dry when you remove your pillow from the dryer, the down and down/feather fill will begin to rot and develop mold and odors within 24 hours.

The notion that you can “prevent rot, mold and odor” by squeezing the excess water out of your pillow before putting the pillow into your home dryer is highly suspect.

There is no scientific basis to this notion despite your grandmother’s belief in everything Martha Stewart says.

Furthermore, the notion that you can “break up the fill and/or shorten the drying cycle” by throwing a bunch of tennis balls or sneakers into the dryer together with your pillow is also highly suspect.

There is no scientific basis to this notion despite what your next door neighbor’s aunt once read in a Heloise advice column.

By the way, if you ever decide to wash those down and down/feather pillows at home and then dry them in your dryer with the aid of tennis balls, please don’t forget to put each tennis ball into a white cotton sock. This will prevent the possible transfer of yellow dye from the tennis ball onto your outer pillow shell.

After all, you wouldn’t want to throw away a moldy, stinky pillow with yellow dye transfer stains on the outer fabric? Would you?

Before you decide to wash or wet clean

 

When it comes to washing your down pillow or down/feather pillow in water, the issue is not the water itself.

Getting down and feathers wet isn’t the issue. After all, geese and ducks have been romping in lakes, ponds and in the rain for ages.

The real issues are as follows:

  • Will washing get the the outer pillow shell pristine clean?
  • Will washing get the interior fill clean? Including killing the live dust mites, significantly denaturing (or deactivating) the protein allergens in dust mite feces, de-dusting the fill of small pieces of broken down clusters and feathers, dead skin cells, dead dust mites and dust mite feces, killing the bacterial and viral pathogens, and removing all other contaminants?
  • Will washing break or tear the pillow apart?
  • Will the surfactants in the laundry or dish washing detergent destroy the fill power or loft of the down?
  • Will washing dissolve the starch used to “down and feather proof” the pillow shell?
  • Will the pillow dry completely so as to avoid mold, mildew and/or odor?

Summary

 

Now, there’ll always be those who say that they followed Martha Stewart’s advise and washed their down and down/feather bed pillows. And “they came out fine”.

The only question to be asked is this: what’s the definition of “fine”. “Fine” as is like new or “fine” as in barely acceptable?

There you have it. The pros (if there are any) and cons of washing or wet cleaning your down and down/feather pillows.

Now’s the time to make your choice.

 

Share this Position Paper:

 

Filed Under:

Bed Pillow Cleaning,Position Paper

Author

Stu Bloom

Stu Bloom is Founder and President of RAVE FabriCARE. RAVE FabriCARE, based in Scottsdale, Arizona, cares for fine garments, household textiles and accessories and serves clients throughout the USA and Canada. Stu is the author of various ebooks on these subjects, all of which are available from www.ravefabricare.com/freestuff. He is an evangelist for true quality cleaning and is a contributor to and editor of True Quality Cleaning, RAVE FabriCARE’s blog. You can find Stu on Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.

Comment on this Position Paper:

Leave a Reply

Notify of
avatar
wpDiscuz
Sign up to receive our Position Papers:

Did you find this Position Paper informative? Subscribe today to receive our position papers delivered straight to your inbox. We'll never share your email. No spam. Unsubscribe whenever you want.

Sign up to receive our quarterly newsletter:

Get tips, ideas and information you can use. Subscribe today to receive our quarterly newsletter, the RAVEreview® delivered straight to your inbox. We'll never share your email. No spam. Unsubscribe whenever you want.

Looking for more great resources?

Check out our Resource Library for over 60 expert Ebooks, Position Papers (short discussions) and White Papers (longer in-depth discussions) spanning all aspects of caring for your fine garments, household textiles and accessories.

Connect with us:
America's True Quality Cleaner and Fabricare Specialist For Almost 30 Years