When temperatures begin to dip, one of the best ways to (comfortably) get outside and enjoy the cool weather is with a down jacket. Depending on the fill count, down jackets are great for brisk fall days, cool spring temperatures or harsh winter winds that require some serious protection. But because of their fill, cleaning a down jacket requires its own unique set of steps to maintain the integrity of the garment and help keep its shape for several seasons. If you own a down jacket, experts recommend washing it at least once a year or whenever it lands a brand-new stain. So, how you wash it down jacket? Let us break it . . . down.
What Is A Down Jacket?
Down jackets were previously only available at high prices and weren’t very practical since getting them wet could mean the end of the jacket’s lifespan. Thanks to the use of more rugged, tactical fabric, down jackets have become the preferred outerwear for everything from winter walks to spring hikes. Many down jackets are available in a packable form as well, making them an excellent option for traveling.
Down jackets are typically filled with goose down, duck down or a combination of the two. The fluffiness of the loft (down) creates tiny air pockets that trap warm air. Down jackets are rated by their fill power. Starting at 400, which would be a medium fill and perfect for cool temps, fill power goes up to 900, which is considered excellent and would be ideal for extremely cold temperatures. Fill power also indicates quality and the higher the fill power, the better the quality of the insulation and typically the jacket overall. Unlike other jackets that are filled with synthetic material and can be laundered like regular clothing, down jackets only provide warmth if the fill remains fluffy.
Why Wash A Down Jacket?
There are basic reasons for washing a down jacket, like getting out pesky stains, spills or sweaty odors. Down jackets that have been treated to be water-repellent can still have the integrity of the material affected by dirt, body oil and other stains that occur from regular use. All of these are good reasons to give your jacket a night off to enjoy a little spa time a la the washing machine.
Even if you’re able to keep your jacket looking brand-new all season, it’s still a good idea to wash it once or twice a year to help rejuvenate the fill. When fill gets wet from normal wear and exposure to the elements, it clumps together and loses some of its loft, which means fewer air pockets to trap warm air and keep you feeling toasty on the trails. By washing and correctly drying a down jacket (or down sleeping bag — all the cleaning steps are the same), you’re actually extending the life of the jacket and improving its performance.
So, how do you clean a down jacket?
Prepare Your Jacket
Before placing your jacket in the washing machine, it’s a good idea to zip up zippers and close any snaps to prevent the jacket from catching in the washing machine. If possible, detach the hood of your jacket and wash the jacket inside out for added safety.
We focused a lot in this article about why down jackets should be treated differently from other pieces of clothing, but here’s a similarity they share with just about every other garment — pre-treat stains before washing. Use a stain remover like the Tide Stick to help remove any obvious stains that may need a little extra soaking time before washing the jacket.
Keep It Fluffy
If reading this article has suddenly made you aware that you have never washed a spring or winter jacket, don’t worry. We won’t tell anyone. Formal jackets are often made of wool or cashmere and are typically dry-clean only. Jackets made for activewear that have a nylon or a polyester outer layer can often be touched up with spot cleaning or thrown in the washing machine and left to air dry on a rack. Neither of these options works for down jackets since they can ruin the loft. So, how do we keep a down jacket fluffy?
Opt For A Front Loader
A down jacket needs a lot of room to move in a washing machine which is why front loaders are recommended. Top loaders can also be used but only if they don’t have an agitator. Some jackets will come with washing instructions on the label, but a good rule of thumb is to wash down jackets with warm water on a gentle cycle.
Use A Gentle Detergent
If your stains have been pretreated, your zippers have been zipped and your jacket is ready for blastoff (ie. a spin in the front loader), it’s time to choose your detergent. Avoid any bleach or fabric softeners, which could harm the down. Using a non-abrasive laundry detergent is imperative to maintaining the integrity of the garment since it won’t strip the down feathers of their natural oils, which keeps them fluffy.
Natural detergents also help to cut down on suds. It’s important to get all of the soap out of the jacket before it’s placed in the dryer. Many experts even recommend an extra rinse or keeping the down item in the washing machine for a second cycle with no detergent to ensure all the suds are gone.
For a gentle everyday detergent that can be used on any clothing, we like Botanical Origin Plant-based Laundry Detergent. The sensitive, plant-based detergent is gentle on the environment and clothes. SPY received a sample of the detergent and we were impressed with its cleaning powers and liked that the dermatologist-tested, hypoallergenic detergent is free from dyes, brighteners, parabens, phosphate, artificial preservatives and chlorine.
There are also down-specific washes that are intended for jackets, sleeping bags and other down items. The Nikwax Down Wash Direct cleans outer layers and revitalizes loft. It also helps to restore water repellency for waterproof items (Nikwax also makes and a soap-based cleaner that will make regular down water-repellent). The biodegradable washes are made without PFCs, optical brighteners or added scents.
Dry, Dry, Dry
We like to air dry whenever possible. Heat can cause fabric to fade or break down and air-drying clothes is also easier on the environment and energy bills. But when it comes to down, the dryer is your friend. Air drying is a big no-no for down jackets because the loft won’t fluff. No fluff, no air pockets trapping warm air, no warmth. Instead, use the low heat setting on a dryer. Remove your jacket every 30 minutes or so to fluff it and help remove clumps during the drying process, which may take up to three hours depending on the size of the jacket. Ensure your jacket is fully dry before hanging it somewhere clean where it won’t be compressed.
Using dryer balls will encourage movement of the jacket in the dryer and help the jacket regain its fluff. Grangers Down Wash Kit comes with a down-specific, water-based wash that removes odors and three plastic dryer balls to help with air movement in the dryer.
Regular, lightweight dryer balls will also work well with a down jacket (anything heavier than a tennis ball could damage the down). The Wool Dryer Balls by Smart Sheep offer a reusable and more environmentally friendly alternative to dryer sheets for regular items and can help re-fluff down during the drying process.
We Aren’t Kidding About The Dry Thing
Before wearing or storing your down jacket, ensure it’s completely dry. Always store a down jacket uncompressed to help the loft stay fluffy. And if you’re not sure what type of down jacket is best for you, check out our 13 picks of the best down jackets. Just make sure you wash it regularly!