How-to Guides

How to Wash A Down Jacket

hippo in mud, eyeing your down jacket!
Hippos and mud: the two mortal enemies of down jackets!

Hiking is hard work. With the sheer physical effort associated with hauling your gear through forests and over mountains comes the inevitable post-trip aromas! Your trekking gear will achieve a degree of ‘ripeness’ normally only associated with that six week old salad hiding at the back of the fridge. With that unpleasant thought in mind, we’re going to walk through how to wash a down jacket.

This step-by-step guide is part of a series of posts designed to help you look after down equipment (including a collection of reviews of the current best down jacket offerings. Each one has been written with a specific question, or topic, in mind and is aimed at helping you choose, maintain and understand various aspects of down-filled jackets. If you enjoy the posts please do let more people know by sharing on social media, or linking to the content you like.

Okay, you’ve just back from your latest big hike. Your hiking pants and base layers now have a breezy freshness, the scent of home that will reinvigorate you halfway through your next long distance hike. Carefully following the instructions for washing your Sealskinz cold weather socks (links to a review) has dispelled the lingering odour of sweaty feet.

Now it’s time to start cleaning you down…

The Best Way To Wash A Down Jacket

Most manufacturers provide semi-detailed instructions and maintenance information for the gear they make. But this information is only part of the equation.

Down clothing, which may be externally robust, can be easily damaged. Here are a few points to consider:

  • High fill-power jackets can be easily damaged if washed at a high temperature, or not dried in the correct way;
  • Washing machine spin cycles can cause stitching to fray, or burst;
  • Removable attachments, such as hoods, are liable to breaking if not detached prior to washing;
  • Drying the garment in a way that preserves the insulating capabilities of the eider is important (and time-consuming);
  • Sending any kind of down-filled garment or piece of gear, such as a down sleeping bag, to a dry cleaning company is a bad idea.

The recommended way of washing will be shown on the label stitched to one of the seams.

But as there are other considerations, and the label contains only limited information, here’s a full guide.

  1. Remove excess dirt;
  2. Wash out the detergent compartment of your washing machine;
  3. Choose a cold wash setting;
  4. Use only the recommended amount of washing liquid;
  5. The Drying process.

Remove excess dirt

Clothes are magnets for dirt, especially kids’ outdoor gear (but the latter is a topic for another day). No matter how hard you try, you’re going to get dirty. Before you wash your down jacket you need to remove any excess dirt by using a soft brush.

Tips: check the inside of your jacket for loose/excess mud and dirt. Turn the pockets inside out to remove any debris, then zip them closed.

Wash Out The Detergent Compartment

Some cleaning products are harmful to down. Improvements in the construction process have created clothing that is hardy and resistant to damage. However, the filling is still relatively fragile and needs particular care. Some detergents will reduce loft and strip the down of any water resistance it might have.

Tip: you can either flush the compartment with hot water or, if necessary, run the washing machine on a short, but hot, cycle.

Choose A Cold Cycle

You should always wash a down jacket on a cold cycle. Some ingrained dirt might remain after the wash, but by keeping the temperature low you’ll reduce the risk of damage to the down. I’ve read some reports that top-loading washing machines can cause the stitching to burst so steer clear.

Tip: I put mine inside a mesh cotton washing bag to reduce the stresses that come during the spin cycle.

Use A Recommended Cleaning Product

Most manufacturers will recommend a cleaning product that is suitable for your down jacket. Nikwax sells Down Direct Wash, made for regular and hydrophobic down filling, and I highly recommend this as an all-around cleaner.

Tip: Don’t use regular detergents.

Drying Your Jacket

In a tumble dryer, at a cold setting. And throw in a few tennis balls – the ‘massaging’ effect will help restore ‘fluffiness’ to the filling. Some companies sell wash kits that include ‘drying balls’; but why pay the price when a couple of old tennis balls work just fine? Don’t be tempted to turn up the temperature as the hot air can damage the shell and seams.

how to wash a down jacket effectively - throw a few tennis balls into the mix
A few used tennis balls are a cheaper option than buying washing balls.

Tip: Hanging your down jacket on the washing line, or a drying rack, is not a great idea. Not only will it take a long time to dry, but the feathers will clump together and the insulating capabilities will be non-existent.

Even when you add tennis balls into the mix, I recommend that you pause the drying cycle every so often and tease out any clumps of feathers. It’s a tedious, but vital task.

Store Your Freshly Washed Down Jacket

Most down clothing comes with storage bags that don’t compress the fill. If you don’t have one, the next best option is to hang your jacket somewhere where it won’t be compressed. Squeezing it into a compression sack is not recommended as a form of long-term storage because the crushing effect can damage the filling.

Tip: A coat hanger will do just fine.

Takeaways: The Quick Guide To Washing Your Down Jacket

Washing a down jacket might seem like a complex topic, but it’s not. Here’s a summary:

  • Clean off loose dirt and don’t forget to empty the pockets;
  • Use only recommended cleaners;
  • Always use a cold wash cycle;
  • Dry in a tumble drier with the temperature set to low;
  • Reduce the risk of compressing the down by storing your jacket in a storage bag, or on a hanger.

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