When was the last time you washed your winter coats and jackets? For many people, the answer is “never.” But it is important to wash larger coats twice a season and wash lighter jackets after every 6-7 uses. Even if they don’t have visible stains on the outside from puddles, snowdrifts, or other elements, they still pick up sweat, dirt, and skin particles that build up over time. Failing to clean them can make them more attractive to moths, cause itchiness, or even lead to rashes. Here are a few tips for cleaning your coats so you can keep them fresh and comfortable without damaging them in the process.
Follow the instructions on the tag. While there are many general best practices, it is important to check the tags on your coats for any special washing instructions. This helps ensure that you place them in the right temperature, cycle, and drying heat for each coat, reducing the risk of causing damage during the cleaning process.
Wash similar types of material together. Wash wool with wool, fleece with fleece, puffer coats with puffer coats, and so on. Mixing material types can lead to damage from rougher coats rubbing against more delicate ones.
Tie up loose ends. Zip up each coat completely before placing it in the washer. The jagged teeth of the zipper can damage other areas of the coat if left loose. They can also damage other coats in the wash. Be sure to secure any zippered inner or outer pockets as well. If your coat has buttons rather than zippers, be sure to fasten them before washing it. This helps keep the coat from losing its shape during the cycle.
Treat stains before washing. Stains usually need to be treated with detergent or a special prewash solution before the coat is placed in the washer, especially if the stain has been allowed to sit for a long period of time. You may also need to use different treatments depending on what created the stain. (See our post on Tips for Removing Difficult Stains for more on this.)
Wash wool coats and jackets by hand. Machine washing them can cause them to wear out much more quickly or shrink. If you do choose to put them in the washer, you must be very careful. Wash them in cold water on a delicate cycle. You will also need to use a detergent specifically made for cleaning wool garments to make sure it doesn’t damage the material.
Although natural and knitted wool can be washed at home, it is important to note that some wool coats have inner linings that cannot be hand washed or machine washed. In these cases, the coat must be dry cleaned instead. Again, this is why it is important to check the tag for cleaning instructions for your particular coat before washing it.
The machine washes fleece in cold water and uses a delicate or permanent press setting. Turn coats and jackets inside out before washing. Remember to zip or button them up to help them keep their shape during the cycle. Do not wash fleece with lint-prone items like towels or most types of cotton clothing. Fleece attracts lint like a magnet, so washing it with lint-producing material will cause a lot of work for you later. You should air dry fleece coats to get the best results. However, you can also put them in the dryer on low heat as long as you take them out before they are completely dry.
Dry clean fur coats and leather jackets. These are typically not designed to be machine washed or even washed by hand. Never wash them at home. In particular, natural fur coats typically need professional attention and care by someone who knows how to clean hides without drying them out or causing the fur to shed.
Machine wash puffer coats in cold water. Do not use regular detergent: use detergent specifically made for washing down, or use another cleaning agent. Normal detergent flattens feathers, which can permanently reduce the warmth and fluffiness of your coat. Machine dry puffer coats on low heat. Toss in a few wool dryer balls, or 2-3 clean tennis balls, to help fluff up the coat while it is drying and make sure the filling is even in each section of the coat. You can take the coat out of the dryer a couple of times to check for clumps of filling and knead them with your hands to break them up. Ensure it is completely dry before taking it out to hang in a closet or on a rack.