Cold weather is here, so it may be time for a refresher on how to properly take care of down blankets, pillows, sleeping bags, and jackets. Did you know that good maintenance and storage are essential to prolonging the life of these cozy (and often expensive) items?
Read on to learn about how, why, and when you should clean your down-stuffed items. Plus, learn about DWR material and how to take care of “down alternative” blankets and sleeping bags, too.
Down With Dirt and Oil
If not regularly cleaned, oils and sweat from skin or external exposure will start to damage down feathers, causing them to clump and lose their loft—which is what makes down warm in the first place! Read on to learn about the importance of taking a few simple steps to protect your down items from dirt and moisture.
Snacking in bed? Put a duvet or sheet over your comforter!
- When you’re in a down sleeping bag or wearing a down jacket, always wear a complete base layer underneath to minimize the amount of exposure to the naturally-occurring oils on your skin.
- If you have a down comforter, use a duvet and sheets.
- If down items get a small spill or stain, try gently dabbing with a clean, damp rag, but you cannot use regular soap or detergent, as this will damage the filling. Making a habit of wearing a windbreaker over down jackets will help kids (and adults) avoid messes. Plus, you get a bonus layer of warmth and weather protection!
So, how do I clean Down?
At least once a season, you should clean your down jackets, blankets, sleeping bags, etc, even if they’re not visibly dirty. Sweat and oils will eventually cause the material to lose its loft. Additionally, soiled fabric can actually encourage microbes to damage the feathers themselves!
Because down is so tricky to wash, dry-cleaning is always a good option. Some down items can be cleaned in a front-loading washer only. Do NOT use top-loading machines for these delicate items: the agitator in top-loading machines can tear the external fabric or ruin the baffles (internal dividers that keep sections of down in place).
- If you do decide to clean down items at home, you should also be aware that any “regular” detergent, even if it’s labeled gentle, will leave residue on the feathers that attracts moisture, which will damage the loft. Specialized down-only wash is available, but you may need to visit an outdoor gear retailer to find it.
- Making sure down items are dried properly is also crucial. If the item is small enough, you can use the air dry (no heat) setting on your dryer along with a clean tennis ball. You can also line-dry, but you will need to turn and “fluff” the garment, sleeping bag, or blanket frequently to make sure the down distributes evenly.
- To maintain expensive or ultra-light jackets, dry cleaning really is the ideal choice, because the exterior fabric is often extremely delicate and can be easily damaged by regular washing machines!
To Store Down Properly:
To keep feathers and baffles in good condition, down items should be stored loosely. Don’t store sleeping bags in stuff sacks; rather, you should use the large net bag that usually comes with your purchase. A laundry bag works, too.
Clean comforters can be rolled or folded along baffle lines and kept away from direct sunlight or moisture.
Finally, remember that when it’s time to store your cold-weather items for the season, make sure it’s all completely clean AND dry to protect from feather-loving microbes and mold!
Although it may seem like a lot of work, regularly cleaning and properly storing down-filled items will significantly increase their lifespan.
What Exactly is “DWR” Down?
Durable Water Repellent (DWR) is a fairly new treatment that coats individual down feathers with a water-repelling agent. DWR-treated down can now be found in many sleeping bags and jackets. DWR does help down feathers retain loft in moist environments, but it’s not complete protection.
You still need to protect your DWR down garments from extreme moisture like rain. If you’re skiing or engaging in any of Utah’s other outsole winter activities, make sure you brush any snow off before you head inside! DWR-treated items should be cleaned and stored the same way as regular down.
Fun fact: when you use a down-specific wash for DWR (or take it to the dry cleaner), the water-repellant qualities of the treatment will actually increase!
Do Down Alternatives Get The Same Treatment?
Synthetic stuffing has a few advantages: it’s generally cheaper, stays warmer if it gets wet, and can be easier to maintain. On the other hand, down alternatives are heavier, not as compressible, and not quite as warm as the real stuff. Although synthetic materials are often simpler to clean, read the label first. Some garments may still be delicate enough to be dry-clean only. Do not use heat or harsh detergents. Just like real down, synthetic-stuffed items should be cleaned before storage and folded loosely, away from direct sunlight or moisture.
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