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Experts share tips for cleaning and caring for your winter coats — plus 10 cleaning essentials

Skip hefty dry cleaner fees with these expert tips.
Kara Birnbaum / TODAY

Outerwear pieces require extra care after a brutal winter and often come with a hefty price tag that sometimes costs more than the piece itself.

When it comes to washing your coats and jackets, though, there are different techniques to keep them clean. Fur, wool, denim, leather and cashmere all have different care labels that oftentimes require dry cleaning and spot treatment.

Winter coats don't need to be washed as frequently as your base layers, so we reached out to experts to answer some of the most commonly asked questions regarding how to keep your outerwear clean for the rest of the season.

How long can you wear a coat without washing it? | Can my coat go in the washing machine? | Can you put a winter coat in the dryer? | How to wash your denim jacket | Laundry detergents | Stain removal on wool | Common cleaning mistakes

How long can you wear a coat without washing it?

It mostly depends on how often you wear your coat during winter. "While washing has its benefits, we suggest you limit when the wash is needed based on performance, appearance or odor," shared Stio's chief product officer, Kelly Hill Shuptrine.

"If you wear the same jacket all season, you should wash it at least once per season, spot-treating any stains that appear," added Persil stain expert and senior manager of technical performance, Wendy Saladyga. That said, if your coat is made out of fleece or another durable washable fabric, Saladyga recommends washing it more often "to manage odors and stains."

Another thing to keep in mind if you do have to wash your outerwear multiple times is that certain materials tend to degrade the more you tend to them.

"DWRs [aka durable water repellent, a polymer that's applied to the outermost fabric layer and traditionally found in waterproof jackets] typically have a rating for performance at five, 10 or 20 washes," said Shuptrine.

After this limit, performance degrades. "Down clusters are delicate, padding can flatten with compression and color can fade," she added.

Can my coat go in the washing machine?

While most people usually send their coats to the dry cleaner, there are certain fabrics and garments that can be cleaned in a washing machine.

"The first rule is to follow the care instructions on the garment. Second, use earth-friendly detergent. Finally, follow heat guidelines for washing and drying," said Shuptrine.

"Proceed with caution if you are using a top-loading washing machine with an agitator — it's worth finding a front-loading machine to protect your investment," advised Shuptrine. The agitator that is used in a top-loading machine can easily disturb seams and stitching on a garment.

"In general, most technical outerwear [garments specifically treated or designed for certain conditions or elements of weather] benefits from a wash. The DWR [of the garment] performs best when it is free from dirt and oil. [Also], a quick wash and warm dry will restore performance on your outerwear," shared Shuptrine.

Can you put a winter coat in the dryer?

You can use an electric dryer if the coats are made with materials like polyester and nylon. However, Saladyga suggested taking a closer look at the garment care tag. "If they give you the green light, an electric dryer can actually help fluff the down or down alternative parts of that type of coat."

According to Shuptrine, some materials react to heat better than others. "Heat can often improve the waterproof performance of a jacket with a DWR treatment. When washing a down jacket, drying is essential."

"Not all outerwear comes with this treatment, so make sure to check product details before purchasing as this will help protect your garment against any precipitation or moisture," shared Stio's communications manager, Sarah Niklas.

Along with drying outerwear on a tumble dry low setting maximum, Shuptrine recommends being mindful of how long your coat is in the dryer. "Use a warm heat setting for a longer period of time to walk the tightrope between restoring the coat to peak performance and overdoing it. Oftentimes technical gear has bonding or sew-free applications. Too much heat in the dryer can compromise those bonds."

How to wash your denim jacket

According to Lee's senior manager of product development, Jason Napier, the recommended way to wash a denim jacket is to hand wash it with cold water. "You should not wash after every use, only when soiled. It's recommended to line/air dry over putting into the dryer. If the item has shearling, you should also hand wash with cold water and line/air dry.”

What are the best laundry detergents for cleaning coats at home?

Here are some guidelines Saladyga suggested to keep in mind when it comes to choosing the right detergent for your coat:

  • Use a mild detergent when cleaning a wool coat since the fabric is a protein. "Gentle cycles are better to minimize wear and tear and drying flat is a good way to help preserve the coat’s shape." For other types of fabrics, she suggested checking the care label and material before washing.
  • For jackets made of fleece that have stains or need a deeper clean, a heavy-duty detergent is a great choice.
  • Waterproof materials and raincoats require a bit more care and attention. If the care label says they can be machine-washed, a mild laundry detergent is a good choice.
  • When dealing with coats that have multiple layers or shells, be sure to remove the shells, turn them inside out, zip up any zippers and fasten any Velcro before throwing in the washer.

Laundry detergents for winter coats

Tide Heavy Duty Hygienic Clean Liquid Laundry Detergent

This laundry detergent is designed to remove visible stains while cleaning the hidden dirt in the fiber. Aside from its scented aroma, the formula is packed with stain and odor fighters to leave your fabric dirt-free. You can use it in hot and cold water without worrying about pre-washing your garment.

ECOS Hypoallergenic Laundry Detergent

If you have sensitive skin, this plant-powered detergent offers a gentle wash to your fabrics that won't damage their construction. What makes this formula unique is the added fabric softener feature to keep your fabrics feeling brand new. It is also dermatologist-tested hypoallergenic and pH-balanced to make sure your skin is safe.

Seventh Generation Liquid Laundry Detergent Free & Clear

The environmentally-friendly formula is designed to work in both high-efficiency and standard washers. This liquid detergent works well with most temperatures and is free from dyes, fragrances and artificial brighteners. It is also hypoallergenic and made specifically for sensitive skin.

"My husband struggles with eczema so we switched to this detergent and he hasn’t had any flare-ups since starting it!" mentioned one customer.

Arm & Hammer Sensitive Skin Free & Clear

Your coats and jackets will smell clean thanks to this gentle formula from Arm & Hammer. The detergent is clinically tested for sensitive skin and was developed in partnership with the Mayo Clinic. One thing to notice is the natural smell that won't cause irritation. Also, if you have little ones, this formula is perfect to keep them safe from any skin concerns.

Mrs. Meyer's Liquid Laundry Detergent

Another detergent with environmental consciousness in mind is the liquid formula from Mrs. Meyer's. The concentration is infused with plant-derived ingredients and stain-fighting enzymes to remove those nasty spots from winter's worst. If you have super sensitive skin and need a good wash, this concentrated detergent will get those pesky stains out of the way. Also, the smell is not overpowering and will give your fabrics a nice scented touch.

How to care for stains on wool coats

Wool is a very unique fabric that requires extra care. According to Saladyga, wool can come in washable and dry-clean only varieties.

"If the wool is washable, you’ll want to make sure you pre-treat any stains carefully before washing. For pre-treatment, use a lint-free cloth and mild soap or detergent, carefully working to remove stains," Saladyga said. "Once you’ve pre-treated your stains, washable wool coats can be turned inside out and washed on a gentle cycle with cold water and a mild in-wash detergent."

"To dry your coat, you’ll want to turn it back, right-side out, and reshape it, drying it flat. To preserve its shape, do not hang the coat until it is fully dry," she added.

Stain removers for winter coats

Method Stain Remover

The built-in brush and plant-based formula are what make this stain remover powerful at erasing dirty accidents. This one works on most fabrics and can erase traces of blood, oil, food, coffee and even urine stains. What makes it efficient to use is the added scrubber that effectively removes stains. According to customers, this product can save undergarments and any type of fabric while bringing them back to their original shape.

"This stuff took 99% of our stain out of our clothes and linens. That tiny bottle is mighty and lasted a long time despite daily use," said one reviewer.

Grove Collaborative Stain Remover Spray

Unlike most harmful chemicals, this stain remover is formulated with plant-based ingredients like citric acid to eliminate all traces of stains. Whether you are cleaning your suede coat or upholstery, this stain remover works its way through without damaging the garment. One customer even said that it removed the spaghetti sauce from their clothes and another one said it worked well on their wool sweaters.

Dirty Labs Bio Enzyme Laundry Booster

This powder formula is meant to remove the smelliest aromas and the dirtiest stains. If you've been struggling with a yellow stain caused by sweat, this laundry booster will do the job. It's designed with advanced bio enzymes that break down body grime, blood, sweat and sebum. Customers rave about how efficient this booster is to eliminate lingering odors in their clothes, especially in synthetic fabrics.

The Laundress Stain Brush

Use this brush tool when you need to remove stubborn stains. This is great for pre-treating stains before washing them in the machine, plus removing dirty spots in collars and cuffs. Also, you can brush off that pit or coffee stain that you've had for months.

Moneysworth & Best Sheepskin Cleaner and Conditioner

If you need a bit of assistance with your sheepskin garments, this cleaner is a stain-treatment hero. This one will remove the toughest stains in your delicate clothing. It also works on footwear, clothing and other small goods, according to the brand.

Common mistakes when cleaning coats at home

The biggest mistake people make when treating delicate garments is not reading the care label.

"Washing wool that is not actually washable can lead to unfortunate situations like shrinkage, which is not reversible. If your coat is especially well-loved or if you inadvertently removed the care label, check the manufacturer’s website for care instructions," shared Saladyga.

Another thing to avoid is the dryer on wool and delicate materials. Saladyga suggested air drying or making sure to dry flat to remove excess moisture. "Hanging coats to dry versus lying them flat can impact their shape. Also, using an electric dryer can cause shrinkage for fabrics like wool and can warp coat hardware like zipper pulls and decorative embellishments."

Saladyga advised opting for a mild detergent when in doubt, especially "when washing a material like washable wool. You’ll want to avoid heavy-duty detergents for finer fabrics or for items that have waterproof coatings."

Meet the experts

  • Kelly Hill Shuptrine is the chief product officer of Stio, an outdoor apparel company based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
  • Sarah Niklas is the public relations and communications manager at Stio, a brand based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, built for the outdoor enthusiast.
  • Jason Napier is the senior manager of product development for Lee/Kontoor, an American denim brand inspired by versatile designs and craftsmanship.
  • Wendy Saladyga is the stain expert and senior manager of technical performance for Persil and all Free Clear.