When the faintest breeze starts to cool the air and a night out requires a light jacket, it can only mean one thing: We’re waving goodbye to summer and ushering in fall. It’s time to stock up the pantry with ingredients to make your favorite warm drinks and pull your warm sweaters and throw blankets out of storage.
Given that your blankets—especially the coziest and thickest of the bunch—have likely been largely unused for the past couple seasons, it’s an apt time to wash them, or at least refresh them. So, while you may be switching your sheets from breezy linen over to toasty flannel, and cleaning your pillows, you might add learning how to best wash your blankets to your transitional to-do list. This way, they’ll be ready for all the movie nights and lazy mornings on the couch this fall and winter.
How often should you wash your blankets?
The question of when, exactly, your beloved throw is due for a wash depends on how often you use it. For example, laundry expert Patric Richardson, host of Discovery+’s The Laundry Guy and author of the forthcoming book House Love: A Joyful Guide to Cleaning, Organizing, and Loving the Home You’re In, doesn’t hang out in his living room much. As a result, he only washes the massive cashmere throw that lives on his living room couch once or twice a season, whereas he cleans the blankets in his den—which are used daily—every six to eight weeks.
According to Deirdre Hooper, MD, board-certified dermatologist at Audubon Dermatology in New Orleans, it’s totally fine to wash your blankets less frequently than other linens that come into contact with your skin often, such as bed sheets and pillowcases. “It’s hard for the bacteria, fungus, and yeast that would infect our body to live in the relatively cold and dry environment that is our home,” she says. “So, it’s less risky for those bacteria to stay alive for a while on a throw blanket.”
As a general rule of thumb, Richardson recommends aiming to wash your blankets at least once a season.
General advice for how to wash blankets
Richardson is a bit of a blanket fiend and owns 42 blankets of various materials and sizes that he employs during different seasons. The key to keeping this collection healthy and happy year after year? Washing them in accordance with the materials with which they’re made (more on this below).
According to housekeeping expert Cindy Inman, founder of Ask Cindy How, your blanket’s care label will give you the best general guidance about how exactly to clean it—and often, what to avoid doing to it, too.
In general, both Richardson and Inman advise turning down the heat settings on both your washer and dryer when washing blankets. To hit the sweet spot of adequate cleaning without damaging the fibers, Richardson recommends washing most items, including throw blankets, on the warm express cycle (or any abbreviated warm, but not hot, setting on your washer).
No matter the material, Inman recommends using just the minimal amount of detergent suggested on the bottle. “It can stick to the [fabric’s] fibers and make it less soft,” she says.
To avoid static and help your blankets wash and dry faster, wash blankets in their own load and only include one or two of them to be sure there’s plenty of room for them to circulate in the machine. If you do decide to add a few items in with the blankets, just avoid anything with buttons or zippers that could snag on the blankets, says Inman. (For this reason, Richardson likes to use mesh bags for more delicate blankets and especially likes the mesh washing bags from The Laundress.)
Exactly how to wash the most common types of blankets
Polyester (fleece, microfiber, acrylic)
Many popular blanket textures, including fleece, are actually made from ultra-durable polyester fabrics. These blends can be washed in the washing machine and dried in the dryer without worry because they’re resilient.
However, there’s a trick to keeping these blankets especially clean and fresh—using oxygen bleach alongside your detergent. “The two things you have to know about polyester are that it’s hydrophobic and oleophilic, meaning it hates water and loves oil,” says Richardson. Oxygen bleach is gentle enough to be color-safe, but has tough enough enzymes to break down the kinds of oils that stick to polyester, which is why it’s a go-to for him.
Where things typically go downhill is in the dryer because polyester is extremely prone to static. To avoid this, Richardson advises fashioning a tin-foil ball—yes, a ball of tin foil from your kitchen—about the size of a softball, and tossing it into the dryer with your blankets. “A wool dryer ball won’t work [alone] because it won’t help with static,” Richardson says. One tin ball will do the trick, though, and will last you for about 60 washes.
The chic, warm throws that grace so many lifestyle catalogues can seem like a daunting task for a home launderer to tackle, but Richardson says the process of washing them is much the same as any polyester blanket with just a few changes to note.
Most importantly, be sure to turn the temperature down to avoid baking the fur. “I’ve had so many people ask me how to wash faux fur, and [I always tell them] if it gets too hot, it actually causes the fiber to break down,” says Richardson. The same rule applies in the dryer.
Also, if the fur on your faux fur blanket isn’t affixed tightly to the blanket’s base, you may consider putting it in a mesh bag before washing and drying for extra protection.
Wool (merino, alpaca, cashmere)
Wool is a popular blanket material because its strong natural insulation allows it to trap heat and stay warm. According to Jessica Hanley, founder of bedding company Piglet, it’s best to dry-clean wool blankets or hand-wash them with great care. (If you’ve ever put a perfectly slouchy sweater through the wash and wound up with a felt ball afterward, you know that wool is sensitive compared to other fabrics and requires some additional TLC.)
When washing wool, it’s important not to agitate it too much because this can cause it to felt. Indeed, the heat and rough handling of a washing machine can turn your treasured throw into a ball of misshapen yarn. “[Heat] can cause the fibers to shrink and felt together, leading the blanket to deteriorate more quickly,” says Hanley.
To wash wool by hand, fill a basin with cold water and a small amount of mild laundry detergent, and carefully massage the blanket. After you’re finished, gently squeeze water from the blanket without twisting or wringing excessively, says Hanley.
Hand-washing is least likely to ruin your wool blankets by accident, but Richardson says he feels comfortable washing his in the washer with some specific protections. “It has to go in a mesh bag where it’s stuffed like a sausage as tight as you can get it,” he says. A warm express cycle is “long enough to get it clean, and short enough for it to not get damaged,” he adds.
Whichever method you choose, do not put your wool blanket in the dryer because even the gentlest cycle can harm it. Instead, Hanley recommends laying wool blankets flat on a surface out in the sun (but not in direct sunlight) to dry naturally on a warm, dry day. If you don’t have a deck or yard, Richardson recommends hanging the blanket on the back of a chair.
Cotton blankets are generally easy to wash on a warm express cycle. What’s important to consider here, says Richardson, is the weave of the fabric; tighter weaves can generally take more agitation, while looser ones will be more at risk of texture change with extended movement. Protect loosely woven cotton blankets by putting them in a mesh bag before laundering.
Chenille is a woven fabric that’s typically a blend of several materials like cotton, silk, and rayon. Because of its delicate woven texture, it can’t take much friction without unraveling. To clean chenille, Richardson recommends following a similar process to washing wool: putting it in a mesh bag before washing on a warm express cycle, and hanging it to dry.
Velvet blankets are a beautiful way to add a touch of luxe to your space, but washing them isn’t as complicated as it may seem. Velvet is typically a mix of cotton, synthetic, and silk; Richardson says to figure out what the item’s primary material is, and follow those instructions. “The real trick to velvet is to either hang it up and let it dry, or dry it in the dryer for a very short period of time,” he says.
While Richardson generally washes all his blankets in the washing machine, electric blankets are his one exception. “The instructions usually say you can put them in the machine, but they’re expensive and you don’t want to run the risk of ruining one when you need it,” he says. Check the care label of your blanket to be sure; many new models say they are safe in the washer and dryer, while older models require hand-washing.
“When you wash it, you want to minimize the folding because you don’t want to bend the wires more than you have to,” says Richardson. Here’s his process: Start with a basin of cool water (you could even fill your bathtub or sink), and gently massage the blanket with some soap, taking care to avoid folding it over often. Be sure to “wash once, and rinse twice,” he says, meaning to rinse extra well in order to get rid of any soap residue. Then, lay it in the bathtub to drain dry overnight. “Let it drain until it’s damp, then throw it over a rack and let it finish drying there,” he adds.
The main obstacle with washing a weighted blanket is, well, the weight. Most weighted blankets are between five and 30 pounds as is—and just consider how much heavier they can become once they’re sopping wet. Even the highest-grade home washing machine will buckle under this weight, says Richardson, so it’s best to wash these at a laundromat with an industrial-size machine. “A home washing machine can usually wash up to 25 pounds, and it’s just not big enough [to handle these],” he says.
Before your trip to the laundromat, however, check the care instructions for your weighted blanket, and find out what the filling is made of. If it contains a natural fiber like buckwheat, you may not be able to wash the blanket in a machine, says Richardson; whereas, if it’s made of glass or plastic beads, you’ll want to wash the blanket in a mesh bag to prevent any snags or rips that could free the filling.
In terms of the dryer? It’s best avoided in this case, says Richardson—the beads may break, or the weight may be distributed unevenly, which could deform your blanket. As such, air-drying is a much safer bet.
How to dry your blankets
According to Richardson, most blankets are just fine going through a dryer cycle at a low heat. Keeping blankets in a dryer bag will also help to protect them from much of the friction the dryer can introduce.
Some materials are highly sensitive to heat, though, and cannot go in the dryer because even the gentle setting could permanently alter the texture. Plan to hang or hand-dry wool, velvet, electric, and weighted blankets.
How to refresh your blankets without washing them
Richardson has a favorite quick and inexpensive trick to perk up and refresh tired blankets: spraying them with a small amount of flavorless vodka. “Vodka is antibacterial, so it’s going to remove any odors, and it’s odorless and colorless,” he says. To refresh an entire blanket, put vodka in a spray bottle and mist both sides of your blanket; you can also use it as a spot treatment, he adds.
A quick tumble in a low-heat dryer generally works to impart some fluffiness, too. Plus, who doesn’t love bundling up in a still-warm blanket? If your preferred blanket won’t survive a spin through the dryer, Hanley recommends laying it out to rest in indirect sunlight on a dry, warm day.
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