Here’s How To Wash Your Down Jacket at Home
Down jackets can be washed at home successfully with the right products and tools. Here are a few tips and tricks to keep in mind when you wash your down.
For many outdoor enthusiasts, the down jacket is an important piece of technical clothing that enables adventures to be enjoyed even in colder weather. Down jackets are usually a piece that requires significant financial investment, so the idea of damaging them is terrifying.
But what happens when a down jacket gets dirty? Is it possible to wash down? Will the washing machine destroy it? Does it need specialist care? The fear of ruining these expensive and delicate items of outdoor clothing often results in jackets going unwashed for a long time, becoming smelly and dirty beyond recognition.
Fear not, down jackets are not destined to be stinky and coffee-stained till the end of days; they can be washed at home successfully with the right products and tools.
The first thing to remember, as always, is to check the manufacturer’s washing recommendations and follow their instructions first and foremost. Ignoring the manufacturer’s advice may void any warranty a jacket might have and ruin the down jacket in the process.
Washing versus Reproofing; what’s the difference?
- Down does not fare well when it’s wet, so most down jackets will use an outer fabric with waterproof properties known as a DWR coating. This coating will lose its efficiency over time.
- Dirt and grime build-up can clog the fabric and reduce the effectiveness of the DWR coating. Often, the DWR coating simply needs a good wash to restore it. After a few washes, however, a wash is not enough, and the DWR needs replenishing with special reproofing treatment.
- A downwash and a down reproof are not the same. They are separate processes that require different products and application techniques. Knowing the difference is important as it is relatively common for people to reproof their outdoor equipment unnecessarily.
- DWR coatings do not need reproofing as often as they need washing. Reproofing can be an expensive and time-consuming process, and the fabric will not benefit from having a reproofing product applied when it is not required. It is worth remembering this and deciding if a product needs reproofing or if it just needs a good clean.Reproofing is a topic that deserves a separate discussion. Here, the focus is on washing down products.
How often does a down product need washing?
There is no standard formula for how often to wash a jacket, as it depends on the frequency and type of use. If worn regularly, during intensive activities and in environments that expose it to lots of dirt and grime, 2-5 times in a season (a season is around 4-5 months over fall, winter, and spring) is reasonable consider.
For a more casual user, whose jacket spends more time on the back of a chair at the pub than it does stuff into the bottom of a backpack, once or twice a season may be a sufficient number of washes to maintain maximum efficiency and cleanliness.
Regardless of the amount of wear, it is always advisable to wash the jacket before storing it away for the warmer months. Mud, sweat, skin oils, grime, and pollutants like wood smoke can break down technical fabrics over time, so storing it dirty risks damaging your jacket.
Washing Down Jackets
“With heavy, weekly use of your down, we recommend washing your jacket once a month,” says Melanie Sirirot, Outdoor Research Apparel Product Manager.
An appropriate detergent, such as Nikwax Down Wash Direct or Grangers Down Wash
Tumble dryer with a low heat setting* Dryer balls, tennis balls, or something similar to agitate the jacket during drying.
*Down products can be dried without a tumble dryer, but it’s a lengthy and involved process that may not achieve the optimal result, so it will not be covered here.
Cleaning the washing machine
Cleaning the washing machine is an important step that should not be ignored. This removes residual build-up from regular clothes washing detergents and fabric conditioners, which may contain chemicals that can damage down products or prevent the DWR coating on the outer fabric from repelling water.
Remove the detergent drawer from the washing machine and wash it by hand using the soda crystals as directed on the packaging.
Replace the drawer, then add the directed amount of soda crystals to the washing machine and put the machine on the longest, hottest cycle it offers. Ensure the machine is empty for this process.
Washing the jacket
Make sure there are no items in any pockets on the down jacket. Ensure any drawcords are loosened off entirely and fasten all zips and other closures. Check the jacket for any damage and repair any tears in the fabric before washing to avoid down escaping. If the item has removable parts, for example, faux fur trim on the hood, remove it and wash it separately by hand.
Place the jacket in the machine and add the down detergent as directed on the packaging. The packaging should state how much product to add per garment and recommend a wash program to use. Generally, items should not be washed at temperatures exceeding 40c. Usually, it is recommended to skip the spin cycle and use an extra rinse if the machine offers these options.
Wait for the cycle to finish and carefully remove the jacket. Do not wring out the jacket.
Drying the jacket
The jacket will come out of the machine with all the down clumped together, appearing as though it has no filling. Do not panic; the drying process will fix this.
The jacket can be placed directly in the drier; however, it may be dripping wet due to the lack of spin cycle. It may help to lay the jacket out on a flat surface and allow the excess water to drain off for an hour before placing it in the dryer.
Add dryer balls, tennis balls, or whatever items you have on hand to agitate the jacket during the drying process. It is advisable to use at least three balls. This will help the down to fluff up and distribute itself throughout the jacket and is an essential step that should not be skipped. This makes the drying process very loud, so if excessive noise is a problem, avoid drying overnight.
Put the dryer on a low heat program for as long as it will allow. The jacket is going to take several hours to dry. High heat settings may damage the jacket as the glue is often used to seal seams.
Check-in on the jacket at regular intervals to check the progress, for example, every hour or so. Remove the jacket and inspect it to ensure no damage is occurring and that zips/closures remain fastened. If there are clumps of down, break them up gently by hand before returning the jacket to the dryer. The dryer program may need to be reset several times. Some types of dryers may have a water tray that requires emptying during this process.
When your jacket is fully dry, it should be plump and fully lofted, just like the day it was bought. In rare cases, down may need some manual manipulation to distribute it more evenly throughout the product. If the jacket had adhesive repair patches before washing, check to ensure they are still intact. Occasionally the wash process may have disturbed the repair.
How to store a down jacket
If you’re not going to wear your jacket for a while pack it away properly to help it last longer. Don’t leave your down jacket stuffed into its own pocket or in a small stuff sack since that compresses the down. It’s best to hang it in a ventilated closet or loosely stuff it into a large cloth or mesh bag.
Following these tips should result in a clean, fresh jacket and as warm and fluffy—no need to endure a smelly and dull down jacket any longer. Wash with confidence, and get back outside and enjoy more adventures!
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