Spring Cleaning: Laundering Down, Feather Pillows

by Catherine Haug, March 2, 2013

Every year around this time – before Easter – I clean my down and feather pillows. I learned how to do this when my parents had a laundromat with front-loading washers and big, huge dryers in Bigfork village (the building where Showthyme is now). Just in case I’d forgotten anything (after 20 years of letting a professional clean my pillows), I consulted Down Bedding Delights: Cleaning down pillows as a guide for this post.

When any of our pillows were too worn out for lofty pillows, Mom put them aside after cleaning until she had collected several. Then she used the down and feathers as filling for my handmade twin bed quilts. They were lovely; not patchwork but rather appliqué of roses and leaves, then hand-quilted in fan and snail patterns.

What a perfect opportunity to try out your Homemade Laundry Soap – use the liquid type, as it is more gentle.

NOTE: This method is not recommended for foam or other synthetic pillows.

Laundry Soap Ingredients and Equipment

Laundry Soap Ingredients and Equipment


  • Make cleaning your pillows a once-a-year task. More frequently than that can make them wear out more quickly.
  • Front loading washers are best for this, as they clean better and are more gentle on the pillows. But you can use a top-loader, it just takes a little more effort.
  • Before you start, be aware that this task will take longer than you think: 3-4 hours for washing, and 3 hours or more for drying. You need to stay close to home during the process, as you have to check them periodically through the process. So be sure you set aside enough time for this project.
  • Keep your pillows in a zippered pillow cover (use a safety pin on the zipper pull to keep it from opening during the washing process). These pillow covers also provide an additional barrier to protect your pillow during use, such as from hair/skin oils, drool, etc..
  • Inspect your pillows for tears or other damage, and repair as necessary, to keep the down/feathers inside the pillow so they don’t clog up your machine’s mechanism. If the pillow cover is fairly damaged, take it to a professional to clean and put in a new casing.
  • Use a gently, liquid laundry soap (preferably not a detergent). A perfect soap would be your own homemade laundry liquid. See Gathering Summary: Homemade Laundry Soap, by Sheree Tompkins.
  • Getting them totally dry is very important, because any moisture remaining in the pillow can attract molds and mildew.
  • The same method can be used for down comforters as well, as long as your machine is big enough to accommodate its size.

Washing down/feather pillows

  1. Inspect pillow covers for torn seams, holes or damage, and repair as necessary. It also helps if you put the pillow in a zippered pillow cover (secure the zipper pull with a safety pin so it doesn’t open during the process).
  2. Plan to wash two pillows at a time. However, you can do 3 pillows in an extra-large capacity washer at a laundromat).
  3. Start the washer without the pillows, using warm, not hot water; if the machine has a prewash cycle, choose that.  Add about 1/2 cup laundry soap and let it agitate to mix.
  4. Stop the washer to add the pillows, placing them on opposite sides to balance the load. Push them under the water (they want to float), and squeeze out as much air as you can. Let them soak in the water for 2 – 3 hours.
  5. Push them down to remove air again, then start the machine on the wash cycle.
  6. Let it rinse and spin, then put through an extra rinse/spin cycle to be sure they are well rinsed, and as much water as possible is removed before drying.
  7. Remove them from the washer and punch and shake them to loosen up the clumps of feathers. They may have a bit of a nasty smell, but that’s what happens when the feathers are wet. They will smell much better when they are dry.

Drying the washed pillows

Outside, on the line:

If it is a nice, warm day, hang them on the line to dry. This may take more than 1 day, but it’s worth it. The sun freshens them, but don’t leave them in direct sun for long – it damages the oils in the feathers that give them loft. Remember that wet pillows are very heavy, so be sure you line is in good shape. And you may need a support to hold up the line.

In a dryer:

  1. Put your pillows in the dryer with a couple tennis balls (or clean tennis shoes), to keep them from bunching up. The action of the balls keep the feathers from clumping. Thanks to Shine.yahoo.com: Hot to wash down pillows for the tennis ball idea.
  2. DO NOT USE HIGH HEAT. the heat damages the lanolin and oils that keep the feathers in good shape so they provide adequate loft. It is best to use the air-fluff cycle or low heat cycle.
  3. At the end of the cycle (or after 1 hour), stop the dryer and remove the pillows to give them a good shake, and work out the clumps with your fingers. Return them to the dryer for another cycle and repeat. Keep repeating until they feel completely dry on the outside, then give them one more hour in the dryer to be sure they are dry through.
  4. If it’s good weather, hang them out for another hour or so to freshen. If it’s not good weather, hang them up in a dry room in your house.
  5. Once they are thoroughly dry, put them in a zippered pillow cover (if they are  not already in one. And then put them in the pillow case.

2 Responses to “Spring Cleaning: Laundering Down, Feather Pillows”

  1. Gail says:

    Do you have a hint for getting rid of down after a pillow has burst in the washer? Here is my sad story:

    I was feeling very proud of myself as I popped my down pillows in the washer to start my spring cleaning. I was feeling something else altogether when I opened the washer at the end of the gentle cycle to find that one of the pillows had blown a seam and most of the down was now coating the inside of the washer, the mattress pad, and the 6 pillow protectors I had thrown in as well. Ugh. I shook everything out outside and then put it in the dryer. And…another mess! Overheated the dryer, had to take the vent hose off, vacuumed everything out and got the dryer running again. I tossed the mattress pad since it was old, but I really want to salvage the pillow protectors. The lightest fluff from the down seems to be clinging to the cloth. Do you have any suggestions on how to remove it short of taking a lint roller and several hours?

  2. Catherine says:

    I do not have any good suggestions about how to get rid of the down. That is, you can try using a vacuum, but I don’t know if that would work. My Mom used to use a vacuum to move down from an old casing to a new one. She’d use it to suck the down into the vacuum bag. Then put the vacuum in reverse to blow the down back out of the vacuum bag and into the new casing.

    It was not totally successful, and there was a fair amount of down floating around the room for days. But for the most part it worked.

    However, the down has to be mostly dry for that trick to work. If it is still soaked form the washer, the vacuum won’t be able to lure it into the bag.

    Regarding all the little tiny bits of down: I think the lint roller is probably your best bet.

    I’m so sorry that happened to you. All the more reason to inspect the pillows well before washing them, and repairing any iffy seams. Another trick is to put the pillow (still in its casing) into another casing before washing.