Why Does My Down Comforter Smell After Washing?

You just finished washing your favorite down comforter only to pull it out of the dryer and be met with a musty, moldy smell instead of fresh linens. That damp, unpleasant odor seems to linger no matter what you try. Could your trusty washing machine be to blame?

This frustrating issue is common with down bedding. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to banish bad smells for good and keep your down comforter fresh.

What Causes Down Comforters to Smell

To understand why your recently cleaned comforter has a foul odor, it helps to first look at what causes the smell in the first place.

Moisture Buildup

Wet down filling is a breeding ground for mold and bacteria that cause stinky odors. Dampness inside the comforter can come from:

  • Night sweats
  • High humidity
  • Improper drying after washing

Even freshly washed bedding that isn’t completely dry can develop moldy smells.

Dust and Body Oils

General use also leaves body oils, dust, and microscopic mites accumulated in the down. Washing agitates these particulates, releasing stinky smells.

Detergent Residue

Laundry detergent left clinging to the filling or fabric cover also leads to lingering unpleasant odors.

Why Washing Makes Smells Worse

It seems counterintuitive that washing your bedding could leave it smellier. However, there are a couple washing machine issues that may be adding to the stench.

Heat Activates Smell Molecules

The hot water, steam, and heat from the washing machine and dryer activate odor molecules. What smelled musty before washing is suddenly amplified by these processes.

Incomplete Rinsing

Many washers don’t adequately rinse away all traces of detergent. Left behind on down and fabrics, drying residue gets stinky fast. This is especially true for front loading HE washers.

How to Get Bad Smells Out of a Down Comforter

Getting a down comforter truly clean and fresh smelling after washing involves a bit more effort than a normal cycle. Follow these tips to remove even severe odors:

Thoroughly Dry After Every Washing

Proper drying is key to prevent odor issues with down bedding. Take steps for maximum water removal:

Use a low or no heat dryer setting. High temperatures can bake smells into feathers.

Woolite and other down-specific detergents include dryer sheets to actively draw moisture out.

Tumble dry 2-3 times if needed to fully dry the center of the comforter.

Hang outdoors or open windows if air circulation helps release more humidity.

Sunlight itself also naturally deodorizes and freshens.

Wash with Specialty Detergent

Because feathers and down require a more delicate approach, skip the usual heavy duty detergent.

Woolite, tach, and soap nuts clean gently without leaving behind residue to turn funky over time.

Avoid fabric softener and dryer sheets as lingering perfumes and coatings trap smells.

To kill bacteria in severely smelly bedding try adding:

  • 1⁄2 cup baking soda
  • 1⁄2 cup white vinegar
  • 20-30 drops essential oils like lemon or lavender

Disinfect with Vinegar or Vodka

For comforters contaminated by body fluids, pet accidents, or serious mold:

  • Fill a spray bottle with equal parts vinegar and water
  • Lightly mist over the entire surface
  • Let soak 30 minutes before washing

Vodka or rubbing alcohol work similarly to disinfect without dyeing light fabrics.

Freshen Between Washings

To keep your comforter cleaner longer:

  • Avoid eating in bed Crumbs attract microscopic mites adding to odors.
  • Spot clean stains right away using a tiny bit of mild detergent and a damp cloth.
  • Air out the comforter for a few hours once a week to release built up moisture.

When to Take a Down Comforter to the Dry Cleaner

While home washing works great most of the time, some serious comforter cleaning challenges require professional help.

Severe Staining

Things like blood, grease, wax, and some food or makeup stains require chemical solvents to break down fully before washing. Avoid disastrous DIY stain removal or dye transfers by letting the dry cleaner handle it.

Heavy Odors

For a comforter that already smells terrible or has been contaminated, the high heat steam cleaning process used by dry cleaners is best to deeply sanitize. Home washers can’t reach hot enough temperatures to kill embedded bacteria and fully eliminate severe odors.

When In Doubt

Unsure if a stain will come out or how to best clean a higher end down comforter? Let the experts take the guesswork out so you avoid damage.

Professional cleaning costs $25-$100 depending on comforter size and fabric. Pricey, yes but so is having to replace a ruined $500+ down comforter prematurely.

Cleaning Cycles

As a general rule, plan to dry clean higher quality down comforters once a year. Home wash cotton cover comforters every 1-2 months max for best results.

Key Takeaways: Keeping Down Comforters Smelling Fresh

Caring properly for a down comforter is simple when you understand what causes odor issues with washing. Follow these key tips to stop smells and keep bedding cleaner between cleaning cycles:

  • Allow the comforter to fully air dry after every wash to prevent moisture and smells inside.
  • Use specialty detergent designed not to coat feathers or leave residue behind.
  • Disinfect periodically with white vinegar or vodka spray when odors start.
  • Spot treat stains right away and air out comforter weekly.
  • Trust professional dry cleaning for severe stains, heavy soiling, and sanitization.

Taking some extra steps when washing at home and getting your comforter professionally cleaned every year or two ensures your investment stays fresh and cozy for the long haul.

Frequently Asked Questions

What causes a down comforter to smell after washing?

The main culprits for a musty, moldy odor after washing are moisture buildup in the down fill, residue from laundry products, and heat activating smell molecules during the wash and dry cycle. Ensuring bedding dries fully and using gentle cleaners for down prevents smells.

How can I get severe odors out of my down comforter at home?

For tough smells from body oils, pet dander, etc. try washing with hot water and adding baking soda, vinegar, and essential oils to your usual detergent. Allow to fully air dry afterward. For severe contamination or as a monthly treatment, lightly mist vinegar over the comforter before washing.

What is the best way to dry a down comforter after washing?

Proper drying is key to prevent future moldy smells. Use a low or no heat setting in the dryer and add a couple extra drying cycles to fully draw moisture out of the center. Also tumble with a couple tennis balls to break up clumping. Finally, hang outdoors or near open windows if possible to allow maximum air circulation.

Should I have my down comforter professionally cleaned?

It’s a good idea to dry clean higher end down comforters once a year. Home washing with down specific detergent works for regular monthly maintenance. But for severe stains, heavy soiling, and thorough disinfecting have the pros handle it. Their high heat steam cleaning kills bacteria, eliminates odors, and removes set in stains better.

How can I make my down comforter smell nice between washings?

To keep your bedding fresh longer, avoid eating in bed, spot treat stains like wine or coffee immediately, and hang outside periodically for a few hours to air out. Sprinkling baking soda between wash cycles will also absorb oils and bad smells.

What laundry products should I avoid with my down comforter?

Skip heavy duty or conventional laundry detergents, bleach, and fabric softeners when washing down. The fragrances, brighteners, and coatings build up on feathers leading to *dampness and foul odors. Instead use a down-specific detergent that gets bedding clean without residue or stickiness behind.