RAVE FabriCARE: Position Papers

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

Share this Position Paper:
Down and down/feather bed pillows: how to care for them

 

Down and down/feather bed pillows: how to care for them

By: Stu Bloom

The vast majority of consumers have bought into the myth that down and down/waterfowl (goose and duck) feather bed pillows “cause allergies”.

This myth has been primarily promoted by the manufacturers of those cheap, throw-them-away-and-replace-them-when-necessary synthetic pillows.

The very idea that synthetic pillows are promoted as a “healthier” alternative to down and down/ feather pillows is ironic. Even laughable.

That’s because the scientific evidence proves, beyond any doubt, that the “average” synthetic pillow harbors a far higher concentration of Der f 1/Der p 1 protein allergens from dust mite feces – the primary trigger for asthma and allergies – than the “average” down or down/feather pillow.

Source: Kemp et al, House dust mite allergen in pillows, British Medical Journal, Volume 313, Page 916, March 1996.

And the reason for this is quite simple: the fabrics used to construct the pillow shells for synthetic pillows are typically cheap, ultra-thin, low thread count (loosely woven) cotton, polyester or cotton/ polyester blended fabrics.

So dust mites easily penetrate these synthetic pillow shells and grow into large colonies as they feed on the dead skin cells (commonly called dander) sloughed off while you sleep.

Fact is, there is no cause and effect relationship between the cleanest possible down and feathers and allergies.

There is, however, a strong cause and effect relationship between the Der f 1/Der p 1 protein allergens in the dust mite feces that’s currently inside your pillow and allergies.

In other words, these allergic reactions are not caused by the cleanest possible down and/or feathers.

Rather your reactions are, quite probably, the result of either improper pillow care or improper pillow construction or a combination of both.

Improper pillow care

 

So, what constitutes proper pillow care for your down and down/waterfowl (goose and duck) feather bed pillows?

Use a zippered pillow protector

Always cover your down and down/feather pillow with a zippered pillow protector at all times.

Use a pillow case


Always insert your protector-covered pillow into a pillow case or sham at all times.

Wash protectors and cases regularly

Always wash your machine washable pillow protectors, cases and shams weekly in warm to hot water at least once a week.

Rotate 

Always rotate your down and down/feather pillows so that one particular pillow is not overused. You might have a few down and down/feather pillows on your bed. Some you use, others are primarily decorative. But we’re all creatures of habit, so one or two tend to get overused.

Fluff daily

Always fluff up your down and down/feather pillows on a daily basis. You can also periodically fluff up your pillows by tumbling them in your home dryer for a few minutes – on the “air only” setting – one pillow at a time.

Refurbish at least every 2 years

Always refurbish your down and down/feather pillows at least once every two years. You can, of course, drop off your down and/or feather pillows at your local dry cleaner who’ll probably view your request as nothing more than a nuisance or you can entrust them to a true quality down and feather pillow specialist such as WHITE KNIGHT pillowCARE.

Ensure they’re dry

Always make sure that every pillow is absolutely dry before you store. Otherwise you could end up with a smelly, moldy, mildewed pillow.

Store in breathable bag

Always store your clean down and down/feather pillows in a dry, well-ventilated area in a breathable pillow bag made from cotton or chemically-inert, polypropylene fibers.

Avoid plastic bags

Never store a down and/or feather pillow in a plastic bag. Down and down/feather pillows must “breathe”.

Avoid compressed storage bags

Never compress a down and/or feather pillow into a vacuum storage bag such as a Space Bag ®. You’ll end up destroying the long term resiliency of the down and/or feathers in your pillows.

Understand the care labels

Never follow the care label tags attached to down and/or down/feather pillows blindlyIn this regard, exercise caution and skepticism. While a majority of care labels recommend machine washing and a minority recommend dry cleaning, we advocate neither. And, yes, we are biased. But for sound practical reasons.

Do not wash 

Never wash your down and down/feather pillows in a front or top load home washer or in a commercial washer irrespective of the washing recommendation on the care label attached to your pillow. 

Unlike garments sold in the USA, pillow manufacturers are not required to attach a care label to household textiles sold in the USA (Federal Trade Commission regulations). So your pillow may or may not have a care label indicating a “recommended” cleaning method.

And even if it does have a care label, that care label may or may not be technically accurate. (By the way, a care label is not the same as a content label. The care label identifies the manufacturer’s recommended cleaning instructions; the content label identifies the fill in your pillow, such as “minimum 75% goose down”).

Do not dry in a dryer


Never dry your down and down/feather pillows in a home dryer or a commercial dryer irrespective of the drying recommendation on the care label attached to your pillow.


Do not dry clean

Never dry clean your down and down/feather pillows in dry cleaning solvents or fluids such a perchlorethylene (brand name: Dowper), synthetic petroleum (brand name: DF 2000 or EcoSolv) or formaldehyde dibutyl acetal (brand name: Solvon or K4). Even in siloxane (brand name: Green Earth), the most gentle of all the dry cleaning fluids. 

Again, unlike garments sold in the USA, pillow manufacturers are not required to attach a care label to household textiles sold in the USA (Federal Trade Commission regulations). So your pillow may or may not have a care label indicating a “recommended” cleaning method.

And even if it does have a care label, that care label may or may not be technically accurate. (By the way, a care label is not the same as a content label. The care label identifies the manufacturer’s recommended cleaning instructions; the content label identifies the fill in your pillow, such as “minimum 75% goose down”).

Do not use fragrance sprays

Never spray fragrances such as Fabreze ®, on your pillow shells. These products only temporarily mask the odors.

Here’s what they don’t do….

  • They don’t kill the bacteria in perspiration that cause the odors.
  • They don’t clean the outer pillow shells.
  • They don’t kill the bed bugs and bed bug eggs in the interior fill.
  • They don’t kill the dust mites in the interior fill.
  • They don’t significantly denature (or deactivate) the protein allergens in the dust mite feces in the interior fill (protein allergens are the primary triggers for allergies and asthma).
  • They don’t kill or denature (or deactivate) the bacterial and viral pathogens in your fill.
  • They don’t de-dust the interior fill.
  • They don’t sanitize the interior fill.

But they do contain dozens of lung-irritating and potentially carcinogenic chemicals, not only the 2 or 3 chemicals disclosed on the packaging.

Spraying a fragrance on your pillows is like spraying yourself with perfume or cologne to avoid taking a shower.

By the way, if your down or down/feather pillow had an “odor” when it was initially purchased, it’s more likely than not that the down and down/feather fill had not been properly cleaned (i.e., washed, rinsed and dried) in the first place.

USA and European standards for the cleanliness of down and feathers as well as generally accepted industry standards for calling down and feathers “hypoallergenic” are not as high as you might think they are.

Improper Pillow construction

 

So, what constitutes proper pillow construction?

Always make sure that the fabric used to encase your down and/or down and feathers is a 100% barrier to the transfer of Der p 1/Der f 1 protein in dust mite feces.

 

Verbal “assurances” from your dry cleaner or pillow refurbishment service mean nothing. Nor do written “assurances” on some website.

Instead, make sure the fabric is certified by an independent laboratory such as Airmid Health Group.

If the fabric used to construct your pillow shells is certified to be a barrier to the transfer of the Der p 1/Der f 1 protein, the dust mites can’t penetrate your pillow shells.

If dust mites can’t penetrate your pillow shells, they can’t feed on the dead skin cells in your fill. If they can’t feed on the dead skin cells in your fill, they can’t excrete dust mite feces inside your pillow.

And if there is no dust mite feces inside your pillow shell, you can’t be exposed to the protein allergens – the triggers for allergies and asthma – in dust mite feces.

In other words, your pillow shells should be able to cut off the dust mites from their food source – the dead skin cells that you slough off as you sleep and embed in your down and down/feather fill.

It’s important to understand that pore size and thread count should NOT be used as a proxy to predict a fabric’s ability to block the transfer of protein allergens in dust mite feces.

That’s because, contrary to conventional wisdom, the correlation between pore size or thread count and the allergen blocking properties of a fabric is very weak.

Always make sure that the two pieces of fabric that constitute your pillow shells are tightly sewn together along the edges by two parallel rows of hand-guided stitching that runs, at least, 12 stitches to the linear inch.

 

The combination of double stitching and 12 stitches to the linear inch is not only designed to prevent down and/or feather “leakage” but also intended to prevent dust mites from penetrating your down and down/feather pillows at weak spots.

Double stitching is much stronger and tighter than single stitching. Double stitching is a sign of superior construction.

Always make sure that any esthetically-pleasing piping or cording used in the construction of your pillow shell does not reduce the strength of the outer seams of your pillow shell.

 

Many dry cleaners and pillow refurbishment services like to “dress up” their pillow shells by adding decorative white, gold or silver piping or cording along the edges of their pillow shells.

At WHITE KNIGHT pillowCARE, we do not use piping. That’s because piping, although esthetically attractive, is functionally useless.

Truth is, it’s more than functionally useless. It’s a negative.

Why?

Because the mere presence of piping reduces the tightness of the “sealed” seam around the edges of the pillow shell that’s created by the tight double stitching. This could lead to leakage of down and/or feather and provide an entry point for dust mites.

Always make sure that the down and/or feathers used in the construction of your pillows meets the highest standards of cleanliness.

 

There are many terms used by different pillow manufacturers and different pillow refurbishment services to describe the cleanliness of the down and/or feathers they offer: hypoallergenic, super hypoallergenic, truly hypoallergenic, super clean, allergy free, chemical free, and the like.

We could go on and on.

The problem with all these terms is that they are often used loosely and interchangeably – without any proof that down or feathers even meets the minimum accepted standards of cleanliness.

A related problem is that these terms are often used with the intent to confuse and deceive.

At WHITE KNIGHT pillowCARE, we prefer to use the term “the cleanest possible” instead of the scientific sounding but meaningless term “hypoallergenic”.

The term hypoallergenic might be perfect when used to describe a polyester or memory foam pillow, but inappropriate when used to describe the fill in a down or down/feather pillow – no matter how rigorously and how many times the fill was washed, rinsed and dried – and no matter what trademarked term they use to describe their “special cleaning process”.

There’s got to be a better way to define the cleanest possible down and feather. And there is.

In order to qualify as the cleanest possible down and feather, the fill must have a Turbidity Value of 500 or more and an Oxygen Number of 1.6 to 3.2 as certified by a laboratory test.

For more information on Turbidity Values and Oxygen Numbers and how these measurements help you determine the cleanliness of the down and/or feathers in your pillows, please click here.

 

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