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Is It Even Possible to Keep a Feather Boa Clean?

Are boas a one-time-use item?

A woman in a feathered jacket Photo: Kevin Tachman/Trunk Archive

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Out, Damned Spot has long provided general tips to keep your fashions looking amazing, but now, twice a month, I'll also be answering questions about the very specific problems your new (or old!) purchases may present. Do you have questions for me? Ask away!

I recently encountered a feather boa at a fabric store that led me to one important question: How do you clean feathers? Can you ever wear a boa more than once?

Oh, you can for sure wear a boa more than once! And actually, cleaning feathers is a relatively simple operation.

Oddly enough, in the five-plus years I've been doing this job, I've never written about feather care, though I've podcasted about feather care. It seems utterly impossible, but after searching through files and old columns and Googling "Jolie Kerr feathers" literally more than once because I didn't believe the first set of results, I have to concede that it is indeed true. If you'd like to hear that podcast episode you can give it a listen here; the relevant segment begins at about the 26:30 mark.

With that said, there are some crucial points to be made about caring for boas or any other feather-adorned items, from skirts and tops to accessories like earrings or headbands.

What Are Feathers?

Okay, well, we all know what feathers are. But for today's purposes, I'm starting with that question to put my answer into context: Feathers come from birds. So when we consider how we might wash a feather, we can take a cue from how birds are washed.

Bird washing, Jolie?

Sure, bird washing! Think about it this way: When there's an oil spill that causes wildlife to be threatened, one of the elements of rescuing birds is washing them, and the stuff that's used to wash birds is plain old dish soap. And so that's what you'll use to clean feathers even after they've been separated from their rightful owner.

Washing a Boa and Other Feathered Items

Dish soap and warm water are all you need to clean feathers, but of course there's some nuance when it comes to the technique. Use a sparing amount of soap, and massage it gently into the feathers using your fingers. When it comes time to rinse the feathers free of soap, either swish them in clean standing water or under gently running water — feathers are delicate, so be careful not to place them under a faucet that's running at full force.

One other important thing to note about washing a boa specifically is that you want to make sure you have enough space for it to move about. Boas are connected by a "spine" and if that spine breaks, you'll have a drooping boa. And no one wants a drooping boa. So mind that spine!

Drying Feathers

Feathers are often affixed to whatever it is that they're adorning with glue, which means that the manner in which you dry a befeathered item is wildly important — basically, be SUPER careful with heat! Heat, even low heat, can cause the glue to soften and possibly even melt, which will loosen the feathers and cause them to fall out. And we can't have your feathers molting!

Air drying is ideal for feathers; in the case of boas specifically, you can either lay it flat or loop it across a shower curtain rod or drying rack. If you've washed an item with feathered trim, such as maribou, you can use a hair dryer on the cool setting to dry and fluff up the feathers. A steamer can also be used to re-fluff up feathers, just be sure to use the lowest setting and keep the steamer at least a six-inch distance from the feathers, because the heat from the steam can loosen the fixative.

Storing Feathers

Now that we've conquered the washing and drying of feathers, let us now turn our attention to the storing of feathered items. Feathers can be easily bent or crushed and, over time, they will yellow with age, but proper storage can address those problems. Feathers should be stored in sealed plastic, and accessories like boas should be given enough room to spread out. Oversized Ziploc bags or lidded plastic storage bins are perfect for housing all manner of feathered items.

If you want something kickier — and why wouldn't you?!? You're the sort of woman who adorns herself with feathers, I feel sure that 'kicky' is a big part of your personal ethos — you can store a boa in a cake carrier, all coiled up like a boa constrictor. The mere thought of being the type of woman who totes her boa around in a cake carrier is enough to have me wrapping this baby up so I can get to the nearest feather goods emporium to purchase a boa of my own.