How to Wash a Down Jacket
Years ago, I found myself in a Kathmandu retail store, talking to one of their salespersons. I came to the store not to buy anything in particular. But instead for advice on How to Wash a Down Jacket. The sales rep I spoke to was a young female and wore striking red glasses. She proceeded to give me an in-depth walkthrough of the cleaning process.
In my mind, the process sounded complicated and time-consuming. I guessed that the clerk had seen this look of misperception before, as she quickly changed tack and brought up Kathmandu’s in-house cleaning service.
For fifty dollars, all I had to do was bring my Down Jacket to the store and they would handle the rest. I was only too happy to oblige.
You see, I didn’t want to risk untoward harm to my favorite Jacket. My Down Puffer and I had been through a lot in the past couple of years. Not only had this Jacket protected me from the cold on multiple ski trips to Thredbo ski resort. But It was also my primary source of warmth during a year of Van Living in Melbourne.
Fast forward five years later to the present. I wash all my Down Jackets now! Granted, I didn’t hone my skills on my favorite Kathmandu. I’m not ashamed to admit that my storage unit is like a graveyard of Down Jacket experiments gone wrong. But my favorite Jacket, I’m proud to say, is a regular addition to my monthly outdoor gear wash day.
I decided to write this article for those that want to save a few bucks and have the spare time. This article will help guide wash your down jacket at home or even if you are in a remote location. Like stuck in the outback clutching onto a muddy Jacket that desperately needs cleaning. Well, this post is for you too.
Below, I’ll go through step by step, the hand wash and washing machine methods I’ve learned from research and practice. I’ll also suggest a few alternative drying and dry cleaning methods in the likely scenario that you can’t get access to a tumble dryer.
Fluff or useful?
Down feathers are the insular feathers that encase the body of the bird. The feathers work to retain the bird’s natural body warmth. The soft and fluffy Down feathers have short barbs and are shielded by the outer feathers of the bird that are used for flying. Since the 16th Century, humans have been using Down feather’s unique insulation properties to keep warm via clothing and bedding products.
Why you should clean your down jacket.
Body moisture will eventually work its way into the feather filling. The heat and moisture create the perfect breeding conditions for mold. Unfortunately, advanced mold growth is often irreversible and may end up costing you hundreds of dollars from having to replace the Jacket.
How often should wash your down jacket?
You may be afraid dry clean or wash your Down Jacket because certain professionals have spent years telling them that a proper wash will ruin it. Most people know better now. They understand that modern outdoor Jackets are made of sturdier materials and can survive a thorough wash.
But regular dry clean and washing can pose a threat to your Jacket. The more you wash it, the weaker its attributes become. For this reason, you are encouraged to limit the frequency with which you wash it. There is no definitive duration that you are supposed to wait before washing your Jacket to ensure its longevity.
In most cases, you are better off waiting until it is gritty. If you use it extensively, consider washing it once a month. If it doesn’t get as much use, you can wait a few months in between washes.
Pre-cleaning your jacket.
Now that you realize why your Down Jacket must be cleaned, you can get down to the business of actually washing it. But before you place your jacket, there are some preparatory steps that you are encouraged to follow:
- Before following anyone’s cleaning advice, read the label of your Jacket. Find out all the ways the manufacturer thinks their Jacket should be washed.
If you are a bit confused about how to read a garment care label like I was, here is a handy link to a tag translation article by Proctor and Gamble (P&G). P&G, is a leader in the production of washing detergents and cleaning products. They spend millions of dollars a year in research and development to ensure that their products don’t do damage to your clothing.
- If you intend to use a washing machine, make sure that all the elements on the Jacket that can be ripped off have been secured. That includes the zippers (which you should pull up), the buttons (which should be buttoned), the flaps, hooks, and fasteners. Close and loop everything that requires closing and looping.
- Some jackets are so dirty that they require prior cleaning before you throw them in a washing machine. This is true for jackets that are caked in mud and dirt. Don’t throw them in the washing machine until you have wiped the excess dirt and mud off.
- To spot clean or not to spot clean is a question that gets asked often. Some cleaning experts suggest to always spot clean stubborn stains before moving onto the washing process. Spot cleaning is when you pour soap on specific stains and patches, letting it soak into the Down Jacket before gently rubbing the areas with a cloth or sponge.
- Others suggest to skip spot cleaning and jump straight into the washing process. They maintain that spot cleaning doubles up on the work and may even add hours onto the overall cleaning process. If you have time up your sleeve, I suggest you give spot cleaning a go first, especially if you have a few visually unappealing stains on your Down Jacket. However, If you are limited for time, I suggest jumping straight into the cleaning process as outlined below.
What you will need.
- You need soap or detergent for Down Jackets. Regular detergent will do so long as it is mild. But you can also buy specialized down products such as Nikwax, Granger, and ReviveX.
- If you don’t have one, procure a front-loading washing machine. Top-loading machines are effective cleaners, but they are likely to snag and rip the Jacket. Their front-loading counterparts are gentle.
- Get some clean tennis balls or washing spheres. 3 to 4 balls will do.
Method—washing your down jacket.
How to wash a down jacket using a washing machine.
- Clean your washing machine’s detergent compartment. Add the right amount of soap. You can visit the manufacturer’s website to determine the amount. They can also advise you on the right soap to use for your washing machine model.
- Do a last-minute check for any items that may be in the pockets of the Jacket, zip up the Jacket, and turn it inside out, so the shell is on the inside.
- If you pre-soaked or spot cleaned the Jacket make sure to squeeze all the cold water out before inserting it into the washing machine. The washing machine should be run on a warm cycle. Once the washing is done, put the Jacket through one or two rinse cycles to ensure that all the soap is gone.
Hand wash your down jackets.
If you don’t have access to a washing machine, you are free to take the hand wash method:
- First of all, get a tub of cold water, add soap, and push the Jacket to the bottom. Hold it in place until it has absorbed the soapy water. Leave it in the tub for fifteen minutes.
- Drain the soapy water, add clean water, and leave the Jacket in place for another fifteen minutes. Keep pouring out the water and adding new water until all the soap is gone.
- Once you are satisfied, squeeze the water out and take the Jacket to the dryer.
Drying a down jacket.
- Place the jacket into a dryer on a low heat setting.
- Add the clean tennis balls. This is supposed to eliminate the clumps in the filling. Expect to wait anywhere between two to three hours. It takes a while to dry the Jacket on a low heat setting thoroughly.
- Take the Down Jacket out of the dryer every half hour or so to fluff it.
- Once it is dry, your Jacket should be light and fluffy. There shouldn’t be any clumps.
What to avoid when DIY cleaning at home.
- A top-loading washing machine will harm your Jacket, especially if they have an agitator. Avoid them where possible.
- Don’t use strong detergents, bleach, or fabric softeners.
- Watch how you lift your Jacket when it is heavy with water. You are better off shaking it gently rather than wringing it to remove excess water. Wringing will damage it.
- Don’t store your Jacket unless it is completely dry.
- Unless the label says so, dry cleaning isn’t a good idea.
How to wash a down jacket FAQ’s
Question—Is washing a Down Jacket Dangerous?
It is safe to wash your down jacket so long as you follow the proper instructions, and you use the right detergent.
Question—Can washing your down jacket affect the performance of the Jacket?
A. The more frequently you wash a jacket, the weaker its properties become, the poorer it performs.
Question—What if you wash the Jacket and it loses its loft?
A. You can get the loft of a Down Jacket back by tumble drying it with tennis balls.
Question—My Down Jacket is still clumpy after tumble drying.
A. Make sure to use the lowest heat setting on the dryer during the tennis balls/tumble drying phase. Take the Jacket out every half hour and shake it gently to distribute the down, then place it back into the dryer on low heat. Repeat the drying cycle (removing every so often and shaking it) until the Jacket is no longer clumpy and is thoroughly dry.
Question—When can I store a dry Down Jacket?
A. Once fully dry, let the Jacket air in a dry room for a few hours, make sure to shake the Jacket every so often. After this, you can choose to store the Jacket. Only store the Down Jacket when it is fully dry, storing prematurely can promote mold growth.
Question—Should You Iron your Down Jacket?
A. No, ironing will ruin the shell of the Jacket.
Question— Should You Wash the Jacket with other items?
A. You are encouraged to wash the Down Jacket on its own.
Question—What if you don’t have a tumble dryer?
A. You can fully dry the Jacket using a radiator. Keep shaking it to distribute the down filling. This will bring the loft back.
Question—There are no radiators out here in the wilderness, how can I dry my Down Jacket
A. Fortunately, you have the greatest drying machine of all time, and that is the sun. Start by hanging the washed Down Jacket in direct Sunlight. After about thirty minutes, take the Jacket off the line and proceed to shake the Jacket to distribute the feathers and disperse any clumps.
Hang the Jacket in the sun again, but this time upside down. After thirty minutes in direct Sunlight, take the Jacket off the line and proceed to gently shake it again. Repeat this process of drying, shaking, and hanging until the Jacket is fully dry.
Question—Drying Down Jacket without tennis balls, is it possible
A. Yes, it sure is! Just follow the previous step above. Instead of using sunlight you can make use of a dryer instead. Place the Jacket on low heat into the tumble dryer for about half an hour.
Take the jacket out and shake for three to five minutes and then place it back into the dryer again. Repeat the process until the Down Jacket is dry clean and lofty.