Besides making it clean again when it’s visibly dirty, washing a down jacket regularly has an important role in increasing its lifespan and maintaining its insulation properties. First, when down is dirty, it holds moisture more easily, which means the jacket is going to lose some of its loft, or ‘fluffiness’. This is a big issue because having more loft is what traps the warm air around your body, keeping you warm. Secondly, the down getting dirty, especially if it gets wet, can become a suitable place for mold and bacteria to grow. Lastly, wearing the jacket regularly will inevitably make the down more compacted, making it less effective in keeping you warm and keeping the moisture out. Washing it properly will help it restore its fluffiness.
How to Wash Down Garments
A common misconception is that down jackets are not washable at home and need to be taken to dry cleaners, but that is not the case. Any type of down garment, whether it’s a vest, jacket, coat, or sleeping bag, can be washed at home, if you know how.
Can you put a down jacket in a washing machine without ruining it? Yes, you can. We’ll take you through the machine washing process step by step.
What you need:
- A down-specific detergent: Do not use regular detergent as it will strip away the natural oils that down feathers have and make them more susceptible to moisture. Nikwax Tech Wash and Grangers Down Care Kit are two popular options.
- Dryer balls or 3-4 tennis balls: Add balls to the dryer to help the jacket dry faster and restore loft to the down.
- A dryer: Hang-drying down jacket not only takes a really long time and the perfect conditions for drying, but it will also cause down to dry in clumps.
STEP 1 – Pre-treating the stains: If there are stains on your jacket or you are dealing with a heavy build-up of sweat and body oils, as often happens near the chin and neck you need to treat these first. Soak and brush the stains to lift them, using laundry soap or stain removing product. Just remember to rinse that area thoroughly before putting a jacket in the washing machine.
STEP 2 – The washing cycle: Ensure the detergent compartment is thoroughly cleaned (to get rid of any damaging detergent) Do up any zips or velcro and close any flaps, so nothing snags on the jacket liner. It’s best to turn a jacket inside out. Set the washing machine on a low/cold temperature for the likes of delicates or wool. Set the machine to rinse a few times on the slowest/longest spin cycle to ensure no cleaner residues are left in the down.
OPTIONAL – Reproofing: If a down jacket is new cleaning it properly is enough to restore its performance. However, if you have been wearing your outdoor jacket for a long time, and it is starting to show the signs of the outer fabric absorbing water it is maybe time to improve its DWR (Durable Waterproof Repellency). Even though most down jackets are not waterproof, just about every outdoor jacket comes with a coating of DWR, and over time, mainly due to contamination, the coating will lose its effectiveness.
After the washing is done, while your jacket is still wet, add a recommended amount of down-proof product in it and repeat the washing cycle.
Front-loading or top-loading machine?
For washing down-filled outerwear it is better to use a front loading machine. Top-loading washing machines have an agitator that can damage the jacket material. If you have no other option, you can wash a jacket in a top loader, just put it in a mesh bag to protect it.
Hand-washing a down jacket
Most down jackets are machine-washable, but if you prefer the gentleness of handwashing, that is also an option.
What you need:
- A tub: You can stopper up your bathtub, especially if you’re cleaning more than one jacket at once. If you have only one jacket to work on, though, you may prefer to use a smaller, stand-alone washtub to save water and use less soap.
- Down-specific cleaner: There are dedicated products for outerwear and down – do not use laundry detergent.
- Room-temperature water: It’ll be easier on your jacket (and your hands) to use water that’s not very hot.
- A towel: Choose one large enough that you can roll your jacket up into it, so you can squeeze out excess water and speed up your drying time.
- Drying rack: You can finish up your jacket in the dryer, but air-drying at least part of the way helps your jacket last longer. You can pop it onto a clothes-drying rack if you have one. If you don’t, setting your coat over the back of a chair will also suffice.
STEP 1 – Spot clean: Before you dive in, spot clean any dirt or debris from the outside of the jacket. Also take this time to address any tough stains, using your down detergent. A good tool for spot cleaning is a toothbrush: after you apply the detergent, scrub the area gently, using a circular motion. Let it set, and wipe away detergent with a clean cloth to check your progress.
STEP 2 – Soaking: After a gentle spot clean, it’s time to give you jacket a nice long soak in warm water. Fill a sink, basin, or bathtub with warm water and submerge your jacket, gently agitating it with your hands. Then, let it soak for 10 to 15 minutes — this will help remove any excess dirt, debris and soap from the spot cleaning.
STEP 3 – Rinse and repeat: After its initial bath, drain the water, and refill it with clean water. Gently agitate again, and then allow it to rest for another 5-10 minutes.
STEP 4 – Squeeze it out: Drain the water, remove your jacket and gently press out as much water as possible. Then employ the towel-rolling method: Lay a bath towel flat, lay the garment on top of said flat towel, and then roll both together, squeezing to get more water out.
How to dry your down jacket
By far the best way to dry your down jacket is in the dryer. Dry the down jacket in a dryer with a drum large enough so air can circulate around it. Set the dryer to low or air dry. Toss in a few dryer balls or clean tennis balls to keep the item tumbling and prevent down from clumping. Every so often, remove the item, break up any clumps, shake it out to redistribute the down, and put it back in the dryer. Expect the process to take several hours and multiple cycles. No matter how tempting, don’t try to line dry or remove your down item before it is completely dry.
If don’t have a dryer available, you can air-dry your jacket by hanging it in an area that gets plenty of fresh air, and gently break up the clumps with your fingers as it dries. You can place it near a heater to help speed up the drying. Note that air drying is typically not recommended — it can compromise the loft of your down and take far too long to fully dry.