​Salvaging An Impossibly Dingy Comforter—It Can Be Done!

​Salvaging An Impossibly Dingy Comforter—It Can Be Done!

Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist. She’ll be here every other week helping to answer your filthiest questions. Are you dirty? Email her.

I have a comforter question. I’ve had this wonderful set for probably five or so years. For a long time I was a heathen and allowed all manner of cats, dogs, and teenage brothers use the bed as a hangout spot, and as a result it’s become rather dingy. It is pretty enough and was expensive enough to make me super duper reluctant to throw it out and just get another.
It IS washable, however, and from your column I’ve gathered that OxiClean will be a stalwart companion in my battle for color brightening. My question is this: is it even worth it to take it to the cleaners, based on the picture? Does my comforter have hope, or should I burn it in the yard and cry in the corner?

Mercy, no! No crying in the corner, lady! Not on my watch, at least. There is for sure hope. But you won’t find hope at the cleaners. You’ll actually find the hope right in your own bathtub.

Before I give you these instructions, I do want to say that this is going to involve a bit of work on your end. Most of it will be hands off, but when the part of it that’s hands on will be a slog. This is doubly true if you don’t have a washing machine in your home, and quadruply true if you rely on a laundromat. Oh right: if you live in a home that has a utility sink in the laundry room this actually won’t be a slog at all. Also, I hate you, but we can talk about that another time.

Because the comforter is heavily soiled and has been so for quite some time, you’re going to need to give it a thorough soaking in a product that will coax out all those years of grime. You’re right that OxiClean is an option! So is Borax, both of which we’ve talked about before. A quick reminder: products like Oxi and Borax are laundry boosters, which means that they’re used in conjunction with detergent to help “boost” washing results.

For this purpose, I want you to use a half-to-full cup of one or the other as a soaking agent along with a small amount of detergent—let’s say a tablespoon or two worth? Sure. This is a little negotiable, mostly I’m trying to give you a sense of things. And I also want you to use hot hot hot water. That will help to fully dissolve the products and also is another weapon against all that built up dirt. Quick aside: the LW’s comforter is light colored, but if you’re performing a similar operation on a darker colored item use warm or cold water to help preserve the color. Checking the care tag is also recommended. If you’re concerned that a powdered product won’t dissolve fully in cooler water, go ahead and mix it into a cup of hot water, stir it until dissolved, and then add that to the warm or cold water.

So go ahead and fill your bathtub (or utility sink, you big jerk) about halfway up with the hot hot hot water and your booster and your detergent, then add in the comforter. Because you’ve used such hot water, you probably will want to put on a pair of rubber gloves for this next part—also sometimes those boosters can be a little irritating to the old skinsuit. You’re going to need to force the comforter to submit to your will and do a goodly amount of smooshing it (technical term) into the water to get it thoroughly saturated with the water and the booster and the detergent. Plus, the agitation will help to release some of the dirt.

After you’ve worked the comforter over a bit, you can walk away. For a while, actually. Leave it to soak for at least an hour, maybe more. But do check it after an hour and here’s why: after some time has passed the water is going to turn a tremendously frightening color. Depending on how frightening it is, you may decide to drain the tub and refill it with fresh water, booster and detergent. You may even do this once or twice more! You can and should totally use your judgment on this—bear in mind that we are going to put that comforter in the washing machine, so it’s not perfection you’re looking for, but the good, long soak in a nice bubblebath is going to be the real key to getting the bedding looking like new again.

Once you’re happy with the amount of soaking the comforter has been subjected to, it’s time to get it into the washing machine. As you might imagine, this is the sloggy part I warned you about. To make things a little less miserable, try to press out as much water as you can from the comforter while it’s still in the tub, which by now you should have drained. It’s still going to be heavy and wet when you remove it from its bath though; an oversized trashbag isn’t a bad thing to have on hand in this scenario, so you have a way to carry that heavy and wet thing to the washing machine. The good news here is that once that part is over, the rest is more or less a cakewalk.

When it comes time to wash this thing in the machine, remember that it’s already full up on detergent and booster—you won’t need to add more. Just run it through the machine on a hot or warm water cycle and then put it in the dryer with some dryer balls (tennis balls work fine for this too), which will help to fluff the thing back up. If you feel it could still be brighter after all of this, the next time you machine launder it, add some blueing to the wash. Your blueing instructions are here.

There’s one more product I want to mention to you before I take off: Engleside All American Quilt Wash. I mention it for two reasons: 1) if you’ve got an older bedding set that is fragile, or an heirloom quilt in need of washing, you may want to get this product and 2) if you’re not satisfied with the effect that a booster provided.

It’s also used as a soaking agent, so you’ll mostly follow the same instructions. The timing, however, is a little different: you’ll do two soaks, the first of which will be for just 20 minutes, and the second of which should be for 6-8 hours. Then launder as usual, or in the case of something fragile, rinse well and air dry.

I have delightful baby pink countertop in my kitchen, the kind with the little flakes of gold. Unfortunately, they have accumulated a few unsightly stains over the last fifty years—particularly coffee and wine stains. I’ve tried bleach, but it was not effective. In defense of bleach, I may not have been rigorous enough because I am afraid of ruining them. Can they be saved? I feel like the stains are just one more reason my friends and family will use to try to convince me to “modernize” and replace them. Psh!

Oooooh those countertops sound marvelous—don’t let anyone talk you into changing them! Plus, I’ve got a really easy answer for you: a Magic Eraser is going to be the ticket.

Since I generally try to tell you more than a sentence worth of information, here’s a bit more about Magic Erasers; they’re made of melamine foam, which works in a way that’s similar to very fine sandpaper. That comparison is a good one in that it will hopefully serve as a reminder that the Erasers can cause damage to certain surfaces, which means you’ll always want to test them out in an inconspicuous place before going to town.

The Mr. Clean Magic Erasers are the Kleenex of the melamine foam eraser world, in that it’s the branded shorthand we tend to use to describe a product that can also be found under other brand names, as well as in generic form. Duane Reade here in New York has a house brand called ‘Nice’ that offers melamine foam sponges; they’re a bit less, cost-wise, than the Mr. Clean ones and work just as well. That will likely be true of the large chain drug stores in your neck of the woods, whether it be CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid, etc. You can also Google ‘melamine foam’ and buy it, unbranded, in bulk.

Before I leave you until we next meet, I’m so excited to share with you guys the trailer for my book, on sale February 25. I hope you enjoy it! And, um, I hope you buy the book! (Please buy my book.)

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Jolie Kerr is the author of the upcoming book My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag … And Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha (Plume, February 25, 2014); more cleaning-obsessed natterings can be found on Twitter, Kinja, and Tumblr. Squalor appears on Jezebel and Deadspin on alternating weeks.

Image by Jim Cooke.

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