How to Clean Your Bedding

man vacuuming under bed
Cleaning bedding regularly is critical to keep allergens at bay in the bedroom. See more green living pictures.

We all value a good night's sleep, but it's hard to get one if our bedding is dirty. It stands to reason, then, that bedding should be cleaned on a regular basis. The key to successful cleaning is to do it before the soil is heavy and to know the fabrics involved in order to use the right cleaning procedures. Keep a file of manufacturers' care labels, and follow their directions when cleaning is necessary.

In this article, we'll provide all sorts of handy guidelines for cleaning bedding. We'll tackle bedspreads, blankets, comforters and quilts, mattresses and box springs, and pillows. It should add up to a better night's sleep.


Bedspreads and Blankets

Bedspreads are made from different kinds of fabric, many of which are washable. Bedspreads should be washed before they become heavily soiled. Treat spots and stains with a spray prewash product. Before you clean your bedspread, dip a corner in the detergent solution to check for colorfastness. If the color bleeds, have your bedspread dry-cleaned.

Use a large commercial washing machine for oversize bedspreads. An overcrowded washer won't clean very well, and the wet weight can be hard on your washer.


Dry the bedspreads on a clothesline or in a large, commercial dryer.

Although blankets are made of many different fibers and blends, most of them are washable by hand or machine. Even some wool blankets can be machine-washed.

If you really want to keep your blankets in top shape, follow these additional guidelines:

  • Vacuum blankets occasionally to remove dust and lint.
  • Air blankets on a clothesline periodically to freshen them.
  • Before you wash a blanket, mend or replace bindings and treat spots and stains.
  • Electric blankets should always be washed, not dry-cleaned, since cleaning solvents can damage the wiring. Mothproofing is harmful to the wiring, too.

Next on the agenda are comforters and quilts.


Comforters and Quilts

Padded bed coverings may be filled with wool, cotton batting, or polyester fiber. The filling is held in place by tufts of yarn or by stitched-through patterns. Most cotton- or polyester-filled comforters and quilts are washable, but some older ones are too delicate to be cleaned at home. Check the manufacturer's instructions where possible.

You also want to keep these things in mind:


  • Clean patchwork quilts with the method that is appropriate for the most delicate fabric in the quilt.
  • Never attempt to wash silk- or velvet-covered quilts and comforters. Unless a wool batting or covering is marked washable, do not wash it.
  • For large quilts, use a commercial washer. Let quilts and comforters soak in the machine for about ten minutes before starting them through a gentle washing cycle.
  • Hand-wash and line-dry old or fragile quilts and all quilts with cotton batting. Machine-washing is too harsh and can cause the batting to bunch up. Use a bathtub or deep laundry tub, and allow the soap or detergent to dissolve in the water before adding the quilt.

Down-Filled Comforters and Quilts

The down filling in comforters and quilts is held in place by tufts of yarn or by stitched-through patterns. Most down-filled comforters and quilts are washable, but some older ones are too fragile to be cleaned at home. Test comforters and quilts for colorfastness by wetting an inconspicuous spot with the detergent solution you plan to use and blotting the area with a white blotter.

If the comforters or quilts are in good condition, machine-wash and dry them. Use cold water and an all-purpose detergent. Fragile down comforters and quilts should be hand-washed in the bathtub or a deep laundry tub.

Drape a wet comforter or quilt over several clotheslines to allow excess moisture to drip out; reposition it periodically. If the comforter or quilt is strong enough to be dried in a clothes dryer, use a low temperature setting and include a pair of clean, dry tennis shoes to help fluff the down. The dryer can also be set on air-dry (no heat) to dry the quilt.

Mattresses, box springs, and pillows are all that are left on the list. In the final section, we'll show you how to take care of these.


Mattresses, Box Springs, and Pillows

A better night's sleep is only a few steps away. Here's what remains on your cleaning checklist:

Mattresses and Box Springs

Mattresses are usually made from foam or springs and casing; some older mattresses are made of hair, and futon mattresses are filled with cotton. All mattresses benefit from routine care. Every month, turn the mattress over and around end to end to ensure even wear.


Cover your mattresses with quilted or rubberized covers to prevent soiling. Remove spots and stains promptly, but do not allow the mattress to become excessively wet when you clean it. Do not make the bed until the mattress is fully dry.


Pillowcases are routinely replaced when soiled bed linens are changed, but the pillow itself also requires regular cleaning. Know the pillow's filling -- down, feather, foam, polyester, or kapok -- so that you use the appropriate cleaning method. For polyester-filled pillows, read the care instruction tags; some polyester-filled pillows are washable, while others are not. Kapok is the silky covering of seeds from the ceiba tree; pillows with this stuffing need frequent airing but cannot be washed.

You'll also want to adhere to the following guidelines:

  • Protect each pillow with a zip-on cotton or polyester cover.
  • Refresh pillows once a month by airing them near an open window or hanging them on a clothesline.
  • Fluff feather and down pillows daily to get rid of dust and to redistribute the filling.
  • Before you wash feather or down pillows, make sure there are no holes or ripped seams. Machine- or hand-wash feather and down pillows in cool water with a light-duty detergent. Wash two pillows at a time, or add a couple of bath towels to balance the load.
  • Dry down and feather pillows in the dryer on the low-heat setting. Including a pair of clean, dry tennis shoes in the dryer will help distribute the down as it dries.
  • Hand-wash and line-dry foam pillows. Change the hanging position hourly to dry the filling evenly. Never put a foam pillow in the dryer.
  • Machine- or hand-wash polyester-filled pillows in warm water with an all-purpose detergent. Dry the pillows in the dryer on a moderate heat setting.

If you follow the simple steps we've outlined in this article, your bedding should remain in great shape. And, by virtue of being more comfortable in your bed, you should remain in great shape, too.

Learn more about how to clean your bedding by following the links on the next page.