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How to Wash Down Jackets

Hiking in winter would be impossible for me if it wasn’t for my down jacket. I’m an outdoor person but I love being warm. My problem is that my puffy jacket collects dirt and grime like a magnet. Do I need to take it to a cleaner? Or can I wash it at home? How do you wash down jackets?

The best way to wash down or puffer jackets is in cold water on a machine setting for delicates. Do not spin. Use a down-specific laundry detergent like Nikwax Down Wash Direct or a similar product. This will protect the down and the water-repellent surface of the jacket. Dry in a dryer on low heat. To fluff the down, add dryer balls to the dryer.

In this article, I’ll show you how to safely care for your down jacket. You’ll learn the difference between down and puffer jackets and what to avoid when washing your down-filled clothing.

How to Wash Down Jackets

Can You Wash Down Jackets?

Yes, you can wash down jackets. You can wash them by hand or in a washing machine. However, you do need to take extra care. Down jackets may be durable enough to keep you warm on a winter hike, but they don’t like a heavy hand.

There’s more to washing a down jacket than putting it in a machine and pushing the button. Even hand washing requires you to take precautions to ensure your down jacket isn’t damaged. Caring for your down jacket can require the same dedication you’d give to your silk blouse.

Although down jackets can be washed, you should check your jacket’s care label before you do so. Not only will the label tell you the safest way to wash your coat, but it will also advise on water temperature and dryer settings.

Down jackets need delicate treatment. Not only are they filled with the soft down feathers of ducks and geese, but they can also have special water-repellent finishes. Even synthetic down jackets need a tender touch.

Because of this, special detergents are designed to wash down jackets, regardless of whether they are down-filled or filled with an artificial substitute. Down-specific detergents will protect the waterproof surface of your jacket and ensure the down stays puffy and warm.

How to Wash a Down Jacket at Home

Wash Down Jacket at Home

Washing your down jacket at home is easy. However, you do have to carry out a few preparation steps first.

Before you do anything else, read the care label. This will give you all the information you need to wash your jacket safely. Although it’s unlikely your down jacket will be dry clean only, it’s best to check.

Once you’ve checked that your jacket is washable, your next step is to get it ready for washing either by hand or machine. First, you need to give it a gentle shake.

You want to remove any loose surface debris like dust and dirt. Shaking your jacket will dislodge some of the flecks of mud you may have picked up on your travels. You can also use a clothes brush to gently brush the debris away. Make sure the bristles are soft, so they don’t rip the jacket.

Next, fasten all the zippers and any velcro closures. This will stop them from snagging on the jacket’s material as it’s moving about in the water. Any flaps on your pockets or wind barrier flaps on zippers should be fastened too. You’ll also need to turn your jacket inside out.

The next thing you need to consider might be a little bit more of a challenge. You’ll need a clean, front-loading washing machine. Avoid any top-loading washing machine with a central agitator. The agitator could catch on your jacket and rip it.

This may mean you’ll need to take your down jacket to a laundromat rather than wash it at home. Laundromats have large front-loading washing machines that are free from agitators. Alternatively, you could hand wash your jacket. That would be safer than using an old-style top loading machine.

Whatever washing machine you use, make sure to run it empty on a hot cycle to clear out any previous detergent residue. That’s particularly important with down jackets, regardless of whether they contain down feathers or a synthetic filling. They need a special detergent to protect the down and keep it fluffy.

Coming into contact with the slightest trace of a regular detergent will damage the feathers and the water-repellent surface. If you doubt the presence of regular detergent in your machine, hand wash your jacket!

Now you’ve prepared your jacket. You’ll need to decide on how you will wash it. I’ve put together a step-by-step guide on washing by machine or hand. Read through the instructions for both before you choose the best one for you and your jacket.

Using a Washing Machine

As mentioned earlier, make sure the machine is either a front-loading model or a top loader without a central agitator. If you cannot find a machine without an agitator, hand wash your down jacket.

You will need:

  • Washing machine without a central agitator
  • Laundry cleaner designed for down-filled items
  • Bath towel
  • Dryer

Step 1
Run your washing machine on an empty hot cycle to clean out any regular detergent residue. This is important because you do not want any regular detergent or fabric conditioner coming into contact with your jacket.

Step 2
Once the machine is clean, set it to a cold, delicate cycle with no spin. You might find this is called the wool or silk cycle on your machine. If your machine has an extra rinse setting, select it so you can make sure all the detergent is removed.

Step 3
Add your down-specific cleaner to the machine. Follow the directions on the packaging to determine how much you should use. Always use a cleaner designed for down, whether your jacket is natural down or synthetic. Regular detergent can cause your puffy down coat to lose its fluffiness.

Step 4
Remove the garment from the washing machine as soon as the cycle ends. Roll it up into a bath towel to soak up the excess water. Gently push down slightly as you roll.

Step 5
Dry your down jacket in your dryer. Make sure it is set to low heat. Pop two clean tennis balls or a couple of dryer balls in the drum with your coat. These will help fluff up your down.

Step 6
Check on your jacket periodically to make sure it is not getting too hot. Take it out of the dryer and reshape the puffiness by giving it a gentle shake now and then. Dry it until it is completely dry. If any of your down remains slightly damp, it could cause clumping.

Washing by Hand

Washing your down jacket by hand is possibly the safest way to wash it at home. However, it isn’t always the easiest. It can be time-consuming and down jackets can get very heavy when wet.

You will need:

  • Bath, basin, or sink
  • Laundry cleaner designed for down-filled items
  • Bath towel
  • Dryer

Step 1
Fill your bath with lukewarm or room-temperature water. You can use a basin or a sink for this, but you’ll need it to be big enough to submerge your jacket. The water needs to be no warmer than hand hot to protect your jacket and your hands.

Step 2
Add your down-specific cleaner to the water and mix well. Grab your jacket and push it under the surface of the water. Leave it to soak for about 10 minutes.

Step 3
Gently move the jacket about in the water. Don’t twist, wring, or rub the coat as you move it. Just gently swish it about, back and forth, and up and down. When you’ve agitated it for about 5 minutes, drain the water from your bath, basin, or sink.

Step 4
Refill your bath with clean, fresh water. Make sure the temperature is cool. Swirl your down jacket in the water. You should see bubbles coming out of the garment. Drain the water and replace it with fresh. Keep doing this until all the bubbles have disappeared and the water runs clear.

Step 5
Roll your jacket up inside your bath towel. This will soak up the excess water and stop your coat from dripping. Be careful as you roll. You want to roll evenly to prevent the down from clumping. Gently press down on your jacket as you roll.

Step 6
Remove your jacket from the towel when it stops dripping. Dry in your dryer on low heat. Keep checking on the jacket periodically. If needed, take the coat out of the dryer once in a while to reshape and shake the down while it’s still damp. Return it to the dryer until it is completely dry.

Things to Avoid When Washing a Down Jacket

Down jackets need a delicate hand in the laundry room. Their water-repellent surface and down-filled interior can make them fragile, particularly when wet. To keep your down jacket looking good and working well for years to come, there are a few things you need to avoid.

Dry Cleaning

The care label inside your down jacket will let you know if it is washable or not. If it isn’t, the label will say, “dry clean only”. Due to the construction of down jackets, it’s rare to find one that is dry clean only. But it’s not impossible.

Many people believe that dry cleaning is the safest way to clean a puffer jacket or one filled with down. It’s a process that doesn’t involve agitating the garment in water or laundry detergent. So it’s thought to be less destructive. However, this isn’t necessarily the case.

The solvents used for dry cleaning can damage down jackets. There are two things at risk here. The water-repellent surface of your coat and the delicate nature of the down filling. Both can be compromised by the chemicals contained within the dry-clean products.

As always, check your garment’s care label. The manufacturer will state on the label if you should dry clean it. Most down-filled jackets will have a label that says they are washable. Follow the instructions and wash your jacket!

Only take your jacket to the dry cleaner if the label tells you to. Avoid the dry cleaners unless your garment states you should dry clean it.

Top Loading Washing Machines With Agitators

A top-loading washing machine with an agitator is an old style of the washing machine. Popular in many parts of the world, including the United States, the agitator is a tall, central post that sits in the middle of the drum.

It works by turning first one way, and then back on itself. This back-and-forth motion catches the clothes, roughly rubbing them against each other to break up stains. Therein lies the problem.

The agitation action can damage down jackets. They don’t like the rough stuff and prefer a softer hand. Worse still, sometimes parts of clothing can get caught underneath the agitator. When this happens they can rip or tear.

Front loading washing machines don’t have agitators. The drum revolves in a back-and-forth motion instead. With nothing to catch on clothing, this style of machine is safer for your down jacket.

Spin Cycle

Most modern washing machines can have a spin cycle ranging from 1000 to 1800 revolutions per minute. The higher the speed, the more water is expelled under centrifugal force. This is good news for your electricity bill. Less water in your garments means less time in the dryer.

Unfortunately, the forces exerted during the spin cycle can damage some garments. That’s why there is usually a choice of spin settings. You pick the speed to match the type of clothing you’re washing. High speeds for durable garments and lower speeds for delicate clothes.

I’ve said this before, but down jackets don’t like roughed up. There isn’t a spin cycle slow enough to suit their delicate nature. Being pushed flat against the side of the drum will pull all the fluffiness out of your puffy coat. Because of this, it’s better to go for a no-spin option when you wash your down jacket.

Wringing

Down jackets can soak up a lot of water when you wash them. It can be tempting to wring them out to get rid of it, particularly as you can’t spin them.

Unfortunately, twisting and turning your down jacket to expel moisture isn’t do it any good. Instead of getting it from being wringing wet to just dripping, you’ll damage the shell fabric of the coat. You’ll also stand a good chance of tearing the delicate down feathers. Instead of fluffy insulation inside your jacket, you’ll have flat confetti.

A synthetic down-filled coat will fair just as badly. Destroying the integrity of the artificial down will lead to clumping and a loss in heat retention.

When it comes to down jackets, a bath towel is your best friend. Instead of wringing the garment, roll it gently in a bath towel, pressing down slightly as you roll. This will protect the outer shell and the inner filling.

Fabric Softener

While it’s true, some fabrics come out of the wash feeling like cardboard. Adding a softener to the rinse water is not always a good idea. Fabric softeners contain ingredients designed to soften and condition garments after washing.

They work by coating the fibers within the fabric, smoothing them out, and making them feel softer. The problem is that the coating they leave behind can adversely affect special finishes.

One such finish is the waterproof surface on your down jacket. A fabric softener will add a layer of film over the top of your jacket, impeding its ability to repel water. Any breathable properties the coat may have will also be lost.

It will also damage the feathers inside, causing your down coat to lose its puffiness. Even if your coat is synthetic, fabric softener will have the same effect on an artificial down filler.

Regular Laundry Detergent

Down jackets are made from fabric. So you’d think a regular laundry detergent would be just the thing to wash them with, right? Well, actually, no. It isn’t. Regular laundry detergent is a definite no-no for washing down jackets.

Your usual laundry detergent removes everyday dirt, grime, and stains. That includes marks left behind by grease and oil.

The feathers that go into a down jacket come from water birds like ducks and geese. Down is the under, insulating layer between the bird’s body and the external feathers. It’s what keeps them warm and dry as they swim about on ponds and lakes. It works the same way when it’s in a down jacket.

As a natural substance, down contains oils. These oils give the soft feathers their supple, insulating properties. They help down to puff up. Without those oils, down wouldn’t be as effective at keeping you warm.

This is why you should steer clear of regular detergent. It will strip the feathers of their natural oils. In doing so, it will take the puffy insulating layer with them. Your coat will fall flat and you’ll feel the cold.

Storing or Using Your Jacket While Wet

You should never store any garment while it’s wet. Regardless of what it’s made from. Natural products like down don’t fair well if they are damp when you put them away.

You can get a build-up of mold and mildew. Not only will this look unpleasant, but it will also smell. With down, you could also start to see signs of decay. Always make sure your jacket is completely clean and dry before you put it away at the end of the season.

Using your jacket while it’s wet is problematic on two counts. First, it will be heavy to wear. All that moisture will weigh your jacket down, dragging the puffiness with it. You’ll feel cold.

Secondly, you’ll get wet as the water soaks through the layers towards your skin. Then you’ll feel chilly, which defeats the object of wearing a warm down jacket.

If you’ve gone to the trouble of washing your down jacket, leave it to dry properly. Pop it in the dryer on a low setting until it’s totally dry. It won’t take long and you’ll be glad you did. When you wear it dry, it will be light, fresh, and warm.

Best Detergent for Down Jackets

Nikwax Down Wash Direct, 300mlDown jackets should be washed with a specific cleaner formulated for down-filled garments to protect the feathers and the water-repellent shell.

Even if your jacket is synthetic, you need to use a down-specific cleaner. Synthetic puffer jackets also have water-repelling finishes.

There are several cleaners suitable for use with down products on the market. One of the best is Nikwax Down Wash Direct. This product ensures the longevity of the down and the integrity of the waterproof treatment on your jacket. Better still, it maintains the insulation qualities by keeping the fluffy puffiness in the down.

Another good cleaner for down jackets is Granger Down Wash. This product restores the loft in your down and neutralizes odors without adding any fragrance. Safe to use on a range of down-filled items, you can wash your jacket, your sleeping bag, and even your comforter.

How Often Should You Wash a Puffer Jacket?

Washing Down Jacket

How often you wash your puffer or down jacket is entirely up to you. There isn’t a set timescale or frequency. It does depend on how active you are and how dirty your jacket gets.

There is some debate among the puffer jacket community about how much washing a down coat can take. Some believe for optimal performance, you should wash your jacket every month whether it looks like it needs it.

Others say washing a down-filled jacket more than once in five years will cause the water-repellent coating to deteriorate. The thing is, both opinions have some basis.

Although there are high-performance cleaners designed specifically to protect down and durable water resistant (DWR) finishes, it hasn’t always been that way. There was a time when people used to wash down jackets with regular detergent. This would strip the DWR coating away and flatten the down. Rendering the jacket useless.

Things have come a long way since those early days. Special down-specific products protect the delicate filling and keep the DWR layer intact. Washing your jacket with products designed for down will do more than clean them. It will also boost their insulation properties.

The more you use your jacket, the more dirt it will pick up. This daily debris can clog the jacket and reduce its ability to keep you warm. It’s essential to remove as much of the grime as you can to keep your jacket in tip-top condition, which means washing it regularly.

That doesn’t mean you have to wash it every time you wear it. Nor does it necessarily mean you need to wash it every month, especially if you haven’t worn it.

As a rule of thumb, you should wash your puffer or down jacket when it looks like it needs to be washed. This can be once a month or twice a year. It doesn’t matter.

What matters is ensuring you wash your down jacket the right way. Always use a down-specific cleaner and a cold, delicate machine cycle with no spin.

How to Dry Your Down Jacket

The best way to dry your down jacket is by combining air drying and your dryer. It’s not a good idea to dry your coat from scratch in a dryer as it will be too wet.

Although you can completely air dry your down jacket if you want to, it’s not recommended. Air drying can take a long time. The longer your down-filled garment is wet, the more chance it has of being damaged.

I’ve put together a step-by-step guide to show you how to dry your down jacket safely, quickly, and without damaging the feathers.

You will need:

  • Flat surface
  • Bath towel
  • Clothes rack
  • Dryer
  • 2-3 dryer balls or clean tennis balls

Step 1
Lay your bath towel on a flat surface. Roll your freshly washed down jacket up in your bath towel. Gently push down on it as you roll. This will help excess water leave the jacket and soak the towel.

Step 2
Unroll the bath towel and jacket. Gently shake your jacket to fluff up the down. Then, lay it flat across the top of your clothes rack. Leave it to air dry for 12-24 hours. Occasionally fluff the down and break up any clumps.

Step 3
Put your down jacket into your dryer with 2-3 dryer balls. You can use clean tennis balls if you don’t have any dryer balls. Make sure your dryer is set to low heat. Keep checking on your jacket periodically. You want to make sure it isn’t getting too hot. If any clumps have formed in the down, gently spread them out again.

Step 4
When your jacket is completely dry, remove it from the dryer. Give it a gentle shake to help fluff it up. This will help return some puffiness to your jacket. You’ll also be able to feel if any of the jacket is still damp. If it is, dry it some more.

Down vs Puffer Jacket: What’s the Difference?

You’ve probably noticed that I’ve used the terms down jacket and puffer jacket throughout this article. This is because a down jacket is a puffer jacket and vice-versa. They are essentially the same type of coat. The term “puffer” stems from the jacket’s quilted appearance. It makes the jacket look puffy.

The quilting is important in this type of jacket as it holds the stuffing in place. This can be a synthetic or natural filling made from the down feathers of ducks and geese. But in both cases, the quilting on the coat creates pockets of insulation to keep you warm.

The type of filling in the jacket gives you the main difference between the terms used to describe it. A down jacket will always contain down. While a puffer jacket can refer to a down-filled coat or one with a synthetic filling.

Down-filled coats can be more problematic than their synthetic counterparts. The feathers are prone to clumping, causing lumps in the coat. Worse still, they can lead to empty areas where the feathers have disappeared to clump in other locations. A natural filling can make a down coat heavy to wear and bulky to move in. It can leave you feeling like the Michelin Man or an oversized marshmallow.

In contrast, a synthetic puffer jacket is lightweight and offers freedom of movement. Synthetic down is less likely to migrate to other parts of the jacket, so clumping is not so much of an issue.

When it comes to caring for your coat, there is no difference between the two options. Both synthetic puffer jackets and natural down need the same delicate touch.

You’ll need to use a down-specific cleaner regardless of whether your jacket is filled with feathers or artificial padding. This is because both types have a DWR coating that is easily damaged by using the wrong sort of washing detergent.

What Is the Best Way to Wash a Down Jacket

The best way to wash your down jacket is in cold water using a down-specific laundry detergent. Use a front-loading washing machine set on a delicate cycle with no spin. Alternatively, you can hand wash your jacket.

Do you own a puffer jacket? Have you tried washing it? Which method did you use? Let me know in the comments.