When the faintest crisp breeze starts to blow through the air and a night out requires at least a light jacket, it can only mean one thing: We’re slowly waving goodbye to summer and ushering in the 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—when the autumnal equinox on Sept. 23 officially marks the seasonal shift, you want to be ready.
Part of creating the cozy environment necessary to support all this downshifting involves making sure your home is in good shape. You may find yourself switching your sheets from breezy linen over to toasty flannel, and cleaning your pillows, too. You’ll want to add refreshing and cleaning your blankets to your transitional to-do list as well so they’ll be ready for movie nights and lazy mornings on the couch.
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How often should you wash your blankets?
The question of when your beloved throw is due for a wash really depends on how often you use it. 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, the massive cashmere throw that lives there is only washed once or twice a season, compared to the blankets he stores in his den that are used daily, which he cleans every six to eight weeks or as needed when food and drinks spill. And 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 in contact with you 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 explains. “So it’s less risky for those bacteria to stay alive the next time you pick up that throw blanket.”
As a general rule of thumb, Richardson recommends aiming for washing your blankets at least once a season, at least.
How to wash common types of blankets
Richardson is a bit of a blanket fiend, and owns 42 blankets of various materials and sizes that he employs during different seasons. “We have a lot of blankets and a lot of different materials because that’s part of the fun of them—they all kind of do different things and they’re all good,” he says.
The key to keeping this collection healthy and happy year after year? Washing them in accordance with the material they’re made of. The most foolproof way to clean your blankets is to follow the care tag. 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 probably what to definitely avoid doing, too.
How to wash blankets depends on their specific material, but in general both Richardson and Inman advise turning down the heat settings in both the washer and dryer. 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.
No matter what the material, be sure to not use too much detergent, either. “It can stick to the [fabric’s] fibers and make it less soft,” says Inman. (Dr. Hooper also advises against using lots of detergent and laundry additives, because fragrances can be especially irritating to sensitive peoples’ skin).
To avoid static and help your blankets wash and dry faster, wash blankets in their own load and only include one or two pieces to be sure there’s plenty of room to circulate in the machine. Inman also advises against washing blankets alongside other clothing items with buttons and zippers that could snag and change the blanket’s texture. (To protect against this, Richardson likes to use mesh bags for more delicate blankets and particularly likes the mesh washing bags from The Laundress).
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 clean and fresh—using oxygen bleach alongside your detergent.”The two things you have to know about polyester is that it’s hydrophobic and oleophilic, meaning it hates water and loves oil,” explains Richardson. The oxygen bleach is gentle enough to be color safe, but has tough enough enzymes to bust up stains break down oils, 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 to help. “A wool dryer ball won’t work [alone] because it won’t help with static,” Richardson says. One tin ball will last you for about 60 washes, he adds.
These 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 other polyester blanket with just a few changes.
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,” he says. The same rule applies in the dryer. Finally, if the fur on your faux fur blanket isn’t affixed tightly to the blanket’s base, you may also consider putting it in a mesh bag for extra protection.
Wool (merino, alpaca, cashmere)
Wool is a popular and cozy blanket material because its strong natural insulation makes it easy to stay warm and trap heat. According to Jessica Hanley, founder of bedding company Piglet in Bed, it’s best to dry clean wool blankets or to 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. Introducing heat into the mix along with rough handling like what the washer would is a recipe to turn your treasured throw into a ball of misshapen yarn. “[Heat] can cause the fibers to shrink and felt together, causing the shape and quality of the blanket to deteriorate quicker,” she says.
To wash wool by hand, fill a basin with cold water and gentle laundry detergent and carefully massage the blanket. After you’re finished, Handley emphasizes that it’s important to gently squeeze out excess water without twisting or wringing the blanket.
Hand washing is the 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 because you do not want a lot of room in there,” he says. A warm express cycle is “long enough to get it clean, and short enough for it to not be 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. “Smooth the blanket back into shape and lay flat on a towel to dry naturally, making sure to not put the wet blanket in direct sunlight or near a direct heat source such as a radiator or indoor heater,” she says.
If you don’t have a deck or yard, Richardson recommends hanging it the back of a chair in your home.
Cotton blankets are also generally easy to wash and clean. 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 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, or rayon. Because of its delicate woven texture, to prevent it from unraveling, you don’t want to introduce much friction into the equation. To clean chenille, Richardson recommends following a similar process to washing wool: putting it in a mesh bag and hanging it to dry. The drying process should be quick.
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 mixed of cotton, synthetic, and silk; Richardson says to figure out what it’s primary material is, and follow those laundry instructions. “The real trick to velvet is to either hang it up and let it dry or dry it for a very short period of time,” he says.
While Richardson generally washes all his blankets in the washing machine, electric blankets are the 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 it when you need it,” he says. Check the care label of your blanket to be extra sure; many new models say they are safe in the washer and dryer, but many 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,” he says. Here’s how Richardson makes this seemingly arduous task more manageable: start with a basin of cool water (you could even fill your bathtub or sink) and wash the blanket with some soap, taking care to avoid folding it over often. Be sure to “wash once, and rinse twice,” meaning rinsing extra well to get rid of any soap residue. When you’re satisfied with your work, 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,” he adds.
The main obstacle with washing a weighted blanket is, well, the weight. Most weighted blankets are between 5 and 30 pounds—consider how much heavier they become once they’re sopping wet. Even the highest grade home dryer will buckle under this weight, says Richardson, so it’s best to wash these at a laundromat with a industiral-size machine. “Your washing machine at home will usually wash up to 25 pounds, and it’s just not big enough [to handle these],” he says.
Before your trip to the laundromat, check the care instructions for your weighted blanket, and find out what the filling is composed of. If the weight comes from glass beads or something of the like, you have to wash it in a mesh bag to prevent any snags or rips that could free the filling. “If the beads are plastic or glass you can wash it, but there are a few where they use natural materials like buckwheat and those cannot be washed,” says Richardson.
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 in the dryer at a low heat. Keeping blankets in a dryer bag should protect them from much of the friction the dryer introduces; putting blankets in a mesh bag before tossing them in the dryer will provide some protection, too.
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 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. You can use it as a spot treatment as well; to refresh an entire blanket, put vodka in a spray bottle and mist both sides of your blanket.
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, Handley recommends laying more sensitive fabrics out to rest in indirect sunlight on a dry, warm day.
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