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Cleaning down and down/feather bed pillows: 6 reasons not to dry clean them
By: Stu Bloom
The internet is awash with well-meaning but technically inaccurate information about “professionally” dry cleaning your down and waterfowl (goose and duck) feather bed pillows at a dry cleaning facility.
This misinformation is reinforced by some manufacturers and retailers of down and down/feather bed pillows who often include the words “dry clean” in their product literature and/or on the care labels attached to their pillows.
Truth is, you should never dry clean your down and down/feather pillows in dry cleaning solvents or fluids at a dry cleaning facility.
And it makes no difference whether your dry cleaner dry cleans in relatively aggressive perchlorethylene (brand name: Dowper), synthetic petroleum (brand name: DF2000 or EcoSolv) or formaldehyde dibutyl acetal (brand name: Solvon or K4), or, even in the most gentle of dry cleaning fluids, siloxane (brand name: Green Earth).
There are 6 reasons why you should never dry clean your down and down/feather pillows:
1. It’s highly unlikely that dry cleaning will get your outer pillow shells pristine clean
There are essentially two types of stains:
- oil-based stains (such as body oil, hair oil, creams and lotions, etc.), and
- water-based stains (such as perspiration, saliva, etc.).
Most pillows that have been used for one or more years exhibit both types of stains.
It’s the combination of oil-based stains and water-based stains, particularly the acids, salts and bacteria present in the perspiration, that causes your white pillow shells to turn yellowish or brownish and develop an odor.
Aggressive dry cleaning solvents will do a great job emulsifying the oil-based stains on your pillow shells. But these dry cleaning solvents will do absolutely nothing to remove the water- based stains such as perspiration.
Now you know why the originally white pillow shells of your down and down/feather pillows will not miraculously transform to pristine white with dry cleaning alone.
2. It’s highly unlikely that dry cleaning will get your interior down and down/feather fill clean
The typical down and down/feather pillow contains:
- live and dead bed bugs inside your down and down/feather fill,
- live and dead dust mites inside your down and down/feather fill,
- dust mite feces,
- Der f 1/Der p 1 protein allergens in the dust mite feces (these protein allergens are the primary triggers of asthma and allergies),
- dead skin cells (commonly called dander),
- bacterial and viral pathogens (bacteria and viruses that can cause disease),
- down and feather dust (minute particles that have broken off down clusters and waterfowl feathers), and
- other contaminants.
Dry cleaning will kill he bed bugs and dust mites inside the down and down/feather fill.
On the other hand, dry cleaning will do absolutely nothing to:
- denature (or deactivate) the Der f 1/Der p 1 protein allergens in the dust mite feces inside your down and down/feather fill (these protein allergens are the primary triggers of asthma and allergies),
- kill the bacterial and viral pathogens (bacteria and viruses that can cause disease), and
- remove the other contaminants embedded in your down and down/feather fill such as down and feather dust, dead skin cells (commonly called dander), dead bed bugs, dead dust mites, dust mite feces, etc.
3. It’s highly unlikely that all the dry cleaning solvent or fluid will fully evaporate during the drying process
A modern dry cleaning machine has four primary cycles: wash, extract, dry and deodorize.
Given the fact that the interior fill of a down or down/feather pillow is relatively dense and will tend to “hold” the solvent or fluid, the dry cycle will need to be significantly extended in order to ensure that every drop of solvent or fluid has evaporated from the fill.
At ordinary dry cleaners, the pressure to get all their garments and household textiles through the dry cleaning machine, onto a press and into a poly bag is constant and hectic.
Given this pressure, what is the likelihood that a dry cleaner will significantly extend his dry cycle in order to ensure that the down and down/feather fill inside your pillow is absolutely dry and that every drop of solvent or fluid has been removed or reclaimed?
We’d guess, about slim to none.
But the problem gets worse……
Depending on the dry cleaning solvent used, your pillow now has a high concentration of potentially toxic chemicals buried deep inside your pillows.
More specifically, if your dry cleaner’s solvent of choice is either perchlorethylene, synthetic petroleum or formaldehyde dibutyl actetal, you might want to think twice about burying your head in that pillow for even 1 hour. Let alone 7 or 8.
4. It’s highly likely that your down and down/feather pillows will stink after dry cleaning
Garments and household textiles should always be cleaned in dry cleaning solvent or fluid that’s both continuously purified and continuously filtered.
Every single drop.
This way your garments and household textiles are cleaned in dry cleaning solvent or fluid that’s absolutely crystal clear.
As clear as bottled mountain spring water.
Continuous purification is much like boiling your tap water at home to remove the soluble (dissolvable) impurities in your water; continuous filtration is much like filtering your tap water to remove insoluble (non-dissolvable) impurities.
Unfortunately, very few ordinary cleaners both continuously purify their dry cleaning solvent or fluid before and after each load and then continuously filter their dry cleaning solvent during each load.
So soluble (dissolved) impurities such as residual dyes, body oils, food fats, oily-type lotions and creams accumulate in the dry cleaning solvent or fluid. And insoluble (undissolved) impurities such as particles of sand, dust, dander and hair float around in the dry cleaning solvent or fluid.
These soluble impurities are then “absorbed” by your pillows during the “wash” cycle. In particular, fabrics that are natural fibers (like your cotton pillow shells) and natural fills (like down and feathers) tend to absorb these soluble impurities like a sponge absorbs liquid.
In other words, instead of your dry cleaner continuously purifying and filtering his dry cleaning solvent or fluid before, during and after each load of cleaning, your pillows are functioning as your cleaner’s “cleaning filter”.
In effect, your dry cleaner is filtering the “dirt” in his dry cleaning solvent or fluid through your down and down/feather pillows.
It’s just like washing and rinsing your clothes at home in the effluent from your dish washer!
So what you’re smelling is not dry cleaning solvent or fluid. You’re smelling the accumulated contaminants in your dry cleaner’s solvent or fluid that have been “absorbed” by your pillows.
Cringe at your leisure.
5. It’s highly likely that the dry cleaning solvent or fluid will destroy the fill power or loft of your down and down/feather pillows
When you buy a new down or down/feather pillow, you are primarily paying for the quality of the fill – the down or down/feather mix.
The quality of the down and down/feather 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 down clusters in each pillow (there are tens of thousands of down clusters in a single standard down pillow).
Each down cluster has thousands of filaments (think: fibers) radiating out in all directions from a center point (think: head of a pin). Each of these filaments are coated with minute particles of oil. The oil on the filaments give the filaments their structure or “body”. And “body” gives down, amongst other things, it’s wonderful ability to loft after it’s been compressed and released.
And what is the primary function of a dry cleaning solvent or fluid?
It’s to dissolve or emulsify greases and oils.
Fact is, water and detergents don’t come close to matching the oil and grease dissolving properties of all relatively aggressive dry cleaning solvents.
So let’s assume that you’ve decided to dry clean your down or down/feather pillow.
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.
In other words, you’re paying the dry cleaner to knowingly destroy your down and down/feather pillows!
6. It’s not unusual for a down or down/feather pillow to break apart while tumbling in a dry cleaning machine
Dry cleaning your down and down/feather pillows 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 cycle and your dry cleaner will end up with nasty mess on his hands.
And even if you dropped off your down or down/feather pillow at your local dry cleaner for dry cleaning, your dry cleaner may not undertake the project for 2 reasons:
- because he recognizes that the risk and time involved to dry clean, extract, dry and deodorize 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 dry cleaning, extraction, drying and deodorization 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 associated with dry cleaning your pillows.
Before you decide to dry clean…
So before you decide to dry clean your down and down/feather pillows, you might want to answer these questions:
- Will dry cleaning get the outer pillow shell clean?
- Will dry cleaning get the interior fill clean? Including significantly denaturing (or deactivating) the protein allergens in dust mite feces, de-dusting the the fill of small pieces of broken down clusters and feathers, dead skin cells, dead bed bugs, dead dust mites and dust mite feces, killing the bacterial and viral pathogens, and removing all other contaminants?
- Will the pillow stink of dry cleaning solvent or fluid that has not fully evaporated after drying?
- Will the pillow stink of dissolved contaminants after dry cleaning?
- Will dry cleaning solvents or fluids destroy the fill power or loft of the down?
- Will dry cleaning break or tear the pillow apart?
Now there are some dry cleaners who will tell you that it’s perfectly ok to dry clean your down and down/feather bed pillows.
They’ll even tell you that they dry clean their children’s down and down/feather pillows and that they “come out just fine”.
Don’t believe that story for a second.
Even ordinary dry cleaners are not that stupid.
There you have it. The pros (if there are any) and cons of dry cleaning your down and down/feather pillows.
Now’s the time to make your choice.
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