You’re probably wondering exactly how to wash a down jacket or sleeping bag?
Let’s face it, down filled outdoor gear is expensive. And the last thing you want to do is ruin it during the washing process.
This in-depth guide will show you:
- The best down detergent to use
- How to wash down jackets and sleeping bags
- How to restore the fluff when drying
- Things to avoid when washing down
But First, What Is Down?
Down comes from both geese and ducks, and consists of the soft insulating fibers that are found beneath the feathers on the underside of the bird’s belly.
Its purpose is to provide insulation, keeping the bird warm in cold weather.
This is the key to why it makes exceptional insulation for jackets and sleeping bags
There are many benefits to using down for insulation in clothing. It is super warm, trapping air and body heat between the fluffy down filaments, plus it can mold itself to your body to provide consistent warmth and comfort.
Down is three times warmer per ounce than a synthetic insulation, so you can use less of it for a lighter product with the same or increased amounts of warmth.
It can re-loft as needed, rather than clumping together and matting down as a synthetic fiber will do. These are a few important considerations to factor in when comparing down vs PrimaLoft or other synthetic insulation types.
Down is breathable, wicking moisture away from your skin even as you sweat, so you’ll stay dry and comfortable even on warmer days.
Down insulation also lasts for years, plus is biodegradable, eco-friendly, and sustainable, creating an extremely small carbon footprint.
What is Down Fill Power?
If you’ve ever checked out a down product, you may have noticed that is has a down fill power listed somewhere.
So, what exactly does fill power mean?
The fill power measures the loft, or fullness, of the down insulation in the specific product.
Essentially this means the higher the down fill rating is, the more air the down can trap inside, and the more insulation capabilities the down has.
Fill power can range from about 300 to 900, though most products usually fall somewhere in the middle. The higher the fill, the higher the quality of insulation.
Why Wash Your Down Jacket (or Sleeping Bag)
Now let’s get to the reasons why you want to wash your down filled jacket or sleeping bag.
First off, you already know the products with down insulation can be quite expensive. This is due to the quality of the materials that go into them.
Of course if you choose to buy these products you want to ensure they are well cared for, otherwise, your money might have well been wasted.
This not only refers to how you use these items, but how you clean them as well.
That’s why you need to know how to wash a down jacket or sleeping bag properly. This ensures that it will stay lofty and warm throughout its use.
Down jackets and vests are meant to keep you warm when you’re outside. This means they will be exposed to the dirt, oil, pollution, and spills you have to deal with as you make your way through your day.
Sleeping bags may not get exposed as much, but they will still get dirty over time. Plus, you’d be surprised how much oil from your skin can pass from your body to bag after not showering for several days on a multi-day trip.
This dirt and grime can seep into the outer material and soak into the down, compromising its insulating ability.
You’ll be able to tell when this happens, too, since your jacket will no longer be puffy and warm.
That’s why washing down jackets and other down products is necessary, to keep them looking great and doing their job of keeping you toasty.
What You’ll Need:
How to Wash a Down Jacket
You can’t just toss your down jacket into any old washer with some random detergent and hope for the best. When it comes to cleaning a down jacket, there is a very specific procedure that must be followed, or you risk destroying your favorite down products.
Step 1: First, find yourself a front-loading washing machine. The agitator in a top-loading model can damage the down inside the jacket. If you don’t have a front-loading machine, visit a friend or relative, or go to your local laundromat.
Step 2: Set the dial to cold water on the gentle cycle. Add in a specific down detergent, to ensure it won’t strip away the natural oils in the down and the feathers inside the coat. Place the jacket inside as well, and turn it on.
Step 3: After the jacket has gone through the regular wash cycle, be sure it is thoroughly rinsed. You can set it for a second rinse as well if needed.
If you prefer to watch video, here is a great clip put out by Arcteryx that walks you through step-by-step guide of how to wash a down garment:
Alternative: Hand Wash Your Down Jacket
If you don’t have access to a front-loading washer, you can also hand wash your down products.
Step 1: Fill a large sink or bathtub with enough lukewarm water to submerge the product completely. Add some down cleaner.
Step 3: Push the jacket up and down a few times, which works the suds in.
Step 4: Leave it to soak for 5-10 minutes. Soiled areas can be worked out with a sponge at this time.
Step 5: Drain out the soapy water. Press as much of it as you can from the down jacket.
Step 6: Refill the tub with clean water, pressing it into the jacket.
Step 7: Drain it again and repeat until the water runs clear, ensuring no soap is left in the jacket.
Step 8: Drain the jacket a final time by pressing it until you have removed as much water as possible.
Step 9: Now it is time to dry it.
How to Dry a Down Jacket & Return Fluff
After washing your down jacket, you need to dry it. This procedure is also pretty specific, so you don’t damage your down jacket in the process.
Step 1: Cradle your jacket or other down product as you remove it from the washer or tub. Down is heavy when wet, so be extra careful.
Step 2: Set your dryer’s dial to the low heat cycle.
Step 3: Place the jacket inside with a couple of dryer balls or tennis balls to help restore the down’s loft and turn it on. You may need to use a couple of cycles to dry it completely.
Best Detergent for Down Jacket
There are a few down detergents out there that are specifically formulated for cleaning a down jacket, sleeping bag, or other down product gently and safely.
Nikwax Down Wash Direct is one of the most popular down cleaners because it helps maintain the loft and insulating capabilities. It also maintains and even improves the water-repellent coating on the outer fabric. This cleaner is water-based, gentle, and biodegradable.
Gear Aid Revivex Down Cleaner is another great down laundry detergent. It cleanses well, using gentle ingredients instead of harsh detergents. As it washes away the dirt and oil, it restores the loft. Though only 10-ounces, this one bottle will clean up to 12 down clothing items or 3 sleeping bags.
Granger’s Down Wash is also a decent product. It is safe and gentle to use, protecting the delicate down material as it removes the grime and gets rid of nasty odors. You can also use it to clean away any dirt before you add a waterproofing treatment. The downside is it is a bit more expensive than the other two for a similar sized bottle.
Dos and Don’ts of Washing Down
When washing a down jacket or other down product, there are a few things to remember to ensure you are doing so properly. This way, your down items will be the best they can be at all times.
- Use a front-loading washer
- Do up zips and velcro, and close all flaps
- Wash it on the gentle cycle
- Use cold water
- Use down detergent or another mild cleanser
- Rinse it well, repeatedly if necessary
- Dry on low heat
- Use tennis balls or dryer balls to restore the loft when drying
- Never use hot water
- Do not use bleach or fabric softener
- Do not iron down products
- Do not air dry
How to Store Your Down Jacket
Like washing a down coat, down vest, down jacket, or sleeping bag, there is a special way to store them.
The number one rule is to compress it as little as possible.
Even a packable down jacket shouldn’t be stuffed into a small pack or storage bin for more than a day or two.
The reason for this is that being compressed for too long causes the feathers and down to clump together, losing their loft.
This leaves flattened areas between the clumps, which means cold spots. Another downside is that the longer it is compressed, the faster the natural oils and down structure breaks down.
If you need to store your down jacket or vest, just hang it up in your closet. This won’t compress the loft, and it will be ready when you need it.
For a sleeping bag, find somewhere you can unroll it and lay it out flat.