If you’ve been putting off sprucing up your coat or jacket, you’re far from alone. People worry that if they put their coat in the washing machine, they’ll ruin it. And forking out for dry cleaning is expensive. But with the correct technique and detergent, many coats are perfectly washable – here’s how.
Warning: Before washing your winter coat, always check the care instructions on the garment label. Not sure what all the symbols mean? Check out our quick guide on how to read a care label before you begin.
While wool is perfectly washable, many wool coats say ‘dry clean only’ on the care label. That’s because the lining, and the interface – the structural material stitched or stuck between your coat’s inner and outer faces – might not be. Never ignore these instructions or your beloved coat will end up puckered, distorted, and fit only for the textiles recycling bin.
If your coat turns out to be washable, the best place to do it is in the bathtub. Give your bath a thorough clean before adding wool detergent and filling with lukewarm water – never use hot water or your coat will shrink. Place your coat in the water, submerging it to make sure it gets thoroughly soaked, and leave it for several minutes to absorb water and for stains to loosen.
Now give your coat a swish and if necessary, a kneed, but do resist the temptation to scrub one surface against another or you’ll make the wool felt and bobble. When you’re happy that your coat is clean, lift it from the water and beginning at the shoulders, working your way down to the hem, gently squeeze the fabric. Do not wring the water from your coat or you’ll distort it.
To dry your coat, lie it on a large towel and roll it up as though you’re making a Swiss roll. Leave it for a few minutes so that the towel absorbs as much of the water from the coat as possible. Now lie your coat on a fresh towel and leave it to dry in an airy spot for two to three days, turning it occasionally. Never hang a wool coat on a hanger before it’s completely dry, or it will stretch and distort. And keep it away from heat sources or it will shrink.
The risk you run when machine washing a wax jacket is that you’ll remove waxes and oils which cannot be replaced, so it’s vital to check the label before putting yours in the wash. If your coat isn’t machine washable, you can still give it a good clean using a stiff clothes brush to remove loose dirt before giving it a good wipe with a damp cloth.
Every once in a while, you’ll need to re-wax your jacket, a process that’s simple to do. Buy yourself a can of wax jacket dressing, take a plastic or glass bowl from the cupboard, boil the kettle and immerse the tin in the hot water to turn the thick syrupy wax into its liquid form. Before applying your wax, protect your table or worktop from oil damage by covering it with an oil cloth or similar.
Brush your jacket and wipe it over with a wet cloth or sponge. Then, laying it on the table and beginning with the back, use a sponge to apply the wax, rubbing off any excess with a second sponge. As a wise old man once said, “wax on, wax off”. Once you’ve covered the whole jacket, either hang it in a warm room overnight, or give it a blast with a hair dryer, once again removing any excess wax which sweats from the fabric.
Has your luxurious down or quilted jacket lost its fluff? Give it a wash and tumble dry and you’ll soon restore it to its former glory. It’s important to research the correct cleaner for your jacket – genuine down is easily damaged and requires a specialist detergent. Put your washing machine on a low temperature wash and opt for the longest spin cycle.
You can’t properly dry a down jacket by simply hanging it on the line and hoping for the best. The feathers take too long to dry and will end up smelly and clumped together. Instead, select your tumble dryer’s lowest heat setting and tumble until your jacket is completely dry. Pop a couple of clean tennis balls in the drum with your jacket to help fluff and separate the down.
Water resistant jackets
The simple rule for washing grubby water resistant coats, like car coats or field jackets, is to read the care labels and act accordingly. Do note that many water resistant fabrics require a specialist detergent which cleans without compromising the breathability of the fabric or the effectiveness of its waterproof coating.
Be very careful when tumble drying coats of any description, but especially your high-tech waterproofs, because high temperatures can melt the fabric and damage heat-welded seams – follow the instructions or you risk coming unstuck.
We hope this is everything you need to help give your winter coat a new lease of life. If in doubt, take it to a dry cleaners – better to be safe than sorry.