How To Wash A Down Jacket To Make It Last For Many Years

Maybe you like to care for your stuff, or maybe you don’t. But I think there’s one thing we can agree on, which is that down jackets are damn expensive. Most of them hover around 300 dollars, which is why many people are scared to try something new. Fear and insecurities take the upper hand and they let their jacket turn into their stinky best friend.

The false fact that many people tend to believe: “don’t wash your jacket because it will make the water-repellent coating go away” isn’t much of a help either. As a matter of fact, it’s quite the opposite. By washing your down jacket from time to time, you restore the water-repellent coating, making it as good as new.

But today you decided to take action. Maybe your stinky best friend is starting to stink a bit too much, or maybe you just like to care for your stuff.

But this article doesn’t only cover washing your jacket. It also teaches you how to dry it safely, how to store it properly, how to reapply a water-repellent coating and more.

So stay tuned and learn how to show love to your stinky best friend.

 

Why You Should Care For Your Down Jacket

Let’s begin with why it’s important that you care for your down jacket. Yes, obviously because it’s expensive, but what happens if you don’t treat it with love? Your jacket will simply become sad and start to lose loft, also known as fill power. That’s basically the efficiency of insulation. You’ll start to notice unevenness and lumps, and this is what you want to avoid.

This often happens to people who get back from a camping trip, throw their compressed down jacket in the closet, and let it sit there until next year.

On top of that, the Durable Water Repellent (DWR) coating will start to degrade slowly but surely. If your jacket is too old, you’ll need to apply a new one. But if your jacket is relatively new, you can simply wash it with a detergent specifically made for down.

And not to mention, your down jacket will begin to smell really bad. People will still look at you while you walk your dog. But not because you wear a nice jacket, but just because it smells horrible. You can achieve this strong smell by drying your jacket incorrectly, for example.

Two hikers and a dog enjoying the view

How Often Should You Wash Your Down Jacket?

This is a tough question because it pretty much depends on two things rather than time alone:

  • How often you wear it
  • What you do to it

But to give you a specific answer: generally, once or twice a year. If you wear it every day, it’s not a bad idea to wash it a few times a season. However, remember to check the care labels. It may mention that you shouldn’t wash your jacket more than, for example, four times a year.

Still, there’s a better way to determine whether your jacket needs a shower or not. Simply judge its current state. Here are a few tips to find out whether it’s time or not.

  • You just got home from a camping trip, which you’re happy about because it was not a fun one. It was raining all the time and your down jacket got soaking wet. Not to mention, it smells really bad.

Down tends to smell bad when soaking wet.  It’s a musty smell and a clear indication that it needs a shower. If it’s just completely soaked but doesn’t smell, you can get away with just drying it. You can find more info about that a bit further down in this post.

  • Over time, sweat, dust and oil from your skin will penetrate the fabric and corrupt the fluffy down inside. Its puffiness decreases, resulting in less warmth.

 

How To Wash Your Down Jacket At Home

There are three types of cleaning, and depending on your situation, one is a better choice than the other. The brand of your jacket doesn’t make a difference. Whether it’s Patagonia, Columbia, North Face or Uniqlo, it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is the care label on the inside. It may mention that it’s not washable and that you should take it to a professional down cleaner. It could also tell you to hand-wash the jacket or wash it on a special cycle.

Maybe you’re wondering how to wash a Gore-Tex down jacket. Arc’teryx has a lot of these, like the Therme Parka. And if you visit the Arc’teryx product care page, you will see that they have two videos: a Gore-Tex washing tutorial and a down washing tutorial. However, you could make the mistake of following the Gore-Tex guide, suggesting that you use a Granger’s product, which could damage the down. If you want to make sure you do not damage the down, use a down-specific detergent such as Nikwax Down Wash Direct. Also, don’t turn your Gore-Tex jacket inside out before you wash it. This can damage the membrane!

So how do you wash your down jacket if it has holes? In that case, you obviously have to repair it first. If you scroll down or click here, you can read ‘how to repair a down jacket’.

 

Spot Washing

This is the best treatment if you spilled some coffee this morning. It’s also the go-to treatment for removing grime, dry sweat and oil from your skin. Soaps like Nikwax Down Wash and Granger’s Down Wash are perfect for this task. Spot-treating stains before you wash down jackets is great to loosen the stains, which makes them easier to remove.

 

How To Spot Wash Your Down Jacket

  1. Mix a bit of mild soap (like dish soap) and water. Make sure that it’s completely dissolved.
  2. If the stains are on the inside of your jacket, turn your jacket inside out.
  3. Now apply the paste with the use of a toothbrush or cloth. Brush it gently. Also, make sure to separate the fabric from the down insulation while brushing it. You can do this by pinching the spot with your two fingers.
  4. After letting it sit for 30 minutes, rinse the fabric with some water. Get every drop of soap out of it. Make sure you don’t wet the insulation. If that’s done, you can let your jacket air-dry. Hang it in a dry environment, your bedroom or closet is good enough.
  5. Before storing it away, make sure it’s completely dry.

 

Machine Washing

Before throwing your down jacket in your washing machine, you want to check a few things.

First, check the care label as I mentioned above.

Second, make sure that you have a front-loading washing machine and not a top-loading washing machine. The difference is easy to spot. Front-loaders have their door at the front and top-loaders at the top.

Why can’t you use a top-loader? Well, your down jacket can’t handle their aggressive agitators. If you don’t have a top-loader, you can wash your jacket by hand. I’ll elaborate on that a bit later in this article.

Third, check your down jacket’s label or product description. It may mention that it’s not washable since it features a certain type of fabric. If that’s the case with your jacket, it should be brought to a professional dry cleaning service, they will take care of it.

And last but not least, make sure you have a good cleaner, specifically made to wash down jackets. Harsh scented detergents or products containing bleach are too aggressive and can damage the down and feathers. Not only that, but they can also strip the fabric from its water-resistant coating. Instead, use something like Nikwax Down Wash Direct.

Six washing machines

How To Machine-Wash Your Down Jacket

  • Remove excess dirt with a brush
  • Fasten all zippers, close hooks and loop fasteners, secure flaps and remove everything from your pockets and close them. Outer shells of down jackets can rip easily when wet. That’s why it’s important to make sure there’s nothing that could potentially tear your jacket.
  • Prepare your washing machine. First, check the detergent compartment. You should clean it of any detergent or softener since some cleaners can damage your down jacket. Second, make sure it uses moderately warm water. Hot water isn’t advised since it could melt the seams and outer shell fabric. Third, set it to a delicate or wool cycle. Remember, your down jacket is fragile! And lastly, pour your specific down detergent into the machine. If you use Nikwax Down Wash Direct, you can find the instructions here. If you’re using any other down detergent, you should find the instructions on Google.
  • After the first cycle, let it run for another cycle but don’t use a cleaner this time. If your machine can run spin cycles with each increasing the spin speed, you should do that. This step is to make sure that no cleaner residues are left in the down and to make it as dry as possible.
  • That’s it, now it’s time to let it dry.

 

Washing By Hand

Maybe your down jacket needs to be washed by hand. Or maybe you don’t have a top-loading washing machine. If that’s the case, follow the instructions bellow and your jacket will be as good as new.

How To Hand Wash Your Down Jacket

  1. First, wipe off all the visible dirt or dust spots with a damp cloth.
  2. Fill a large sink, laundry tub or bathtub with a down-safe detergent and water. Again, check your care label if there are any specific instructions.
  3. Make sure you close every zipper.
  4. Now, lay your jacket in the soapy solution. Gently move your jacket back and forth to make the dirt come loose. After that, let it soak for 15-30 minutes. Maybe set a timer so you don’t forget it.
  5. Push your jacket out of the water, don’t just pick it up. You could damage it due to the weight of the water. Instead, push or pull it to the sides of the sink and take it out in a gentle way. Get rid of the filthy water and fill the tub with clean water.
  6. Let your jacket soak again for five to ten minutes. Then for a second time, remove it gently from the sink.
  7. When you’re sure you’ve rinsed every last drop of soap, squeeze out the excess water. Don’t wring it! That will damage the down feathers.

 

How To Dry A Down Jacket

After you’ve washed your down jacket, you obviously want to dry it. This may not sound like a big deal, but you really want to get this part right, or all your work has been for nothing. If you dry it properly, it should smell nice and be free of clumps of down.

You can either air-dry or tumble-dry your down jacket. Air-drying is the second choice in this case since it’s a bit riskier. Not only does it take a very long time, but you also risk to end up with clumps of feathers. And if it takes too long to dry, it’s possible that your jacket will smell really bad. If you ever forgot to let your freshly washed clothes dry, then you know what smell I’m talking about. It’s the smell of growing mold spores, which smells so bad that I almost have to puke just by thinking about it.

So I highly recommend you use a tumble dryer if you have one. If you don’t have one, you can use the air-drying technique that’s described a bit further down in this post. If you follow the steps below, you won’t run into any problems.

Growing mold spores

How To Tumble-Dry Your Down Jacket

  1. First, you want to squeeze out excess water. This will speed up the drying process. Just remember to not wring it as this could damage your jacket.
  2. Place your jacket in the dryer. Make sure that it’s the only clothing piece in there. Give it as much space as possible. Other clothes may crush the fluffy down, which is something you want to avoid.
  3. The next step is to set your dryer’s temperature to low. Remember when I said to not use hot weather when washing your jacket? The same can be said for hot air. It can seriously damage the down, seams and fabric of your jacket. Since you have to use the low-temperature option, it’s going to take a few hours to completely dry your jacket.
  4. When that’s done, it’s time to throw three tennis balls in. Make sure that they’re clean and dry. Otherwise, they could corrupt your down jacket in the form of stains, extra moisture and bad odors. Of course, you can also use some dryer balls. So what if you don’t have tennis balls or dryer balls? Alternatively, you can tie some t-shirts into a ball or put two shoes in clean socks and use that. So what’s the meaning of this? Well, these balls or shoes will bounce around and help make your jacket fluffy again. Down tends to clump while drying, and for a big part that’s what these balls/shoes prevent from happening. On top of that, they also make your jacket dry faster and more evenly.
  1. Okay, if all that is done, you can turn on the dryer. Let it dry for a total of 3 hours. You should hear a banging sound, which is normal. If you don’t, there’s something wrong with your tennis balls.
  2. Now you’ve arrived at the annoying step. Every 30 minutes you want to fluff your down jacket. Your goal here is to break up any clumps that have formed in the down. There are a few ways to do this, but these are the most effective ones:
  • Shake it to break up any clumps
  • Gently massage the clumps of down

You may also notice that some feathers loosen and try to break out. I know that pulling them out is satisfying, but you really shouldn’t. If you pull them out, you make a bigger hole, which allows more feathers to escape. Instead, just push them back in.

So how many of down-massaging sessions is enough? You can stop when the down stops forming clumps and the jacket feels light and fluffy. The bad news is that it will definitely take 3 hours. If your jacket still isn’t dry after those 3 hours, continue the work until it’s completely free from moisture.

 

How To Air-Dry Your Down Jacket

  1. You want to start with squeezing your down jacket. This will remove the excess moisture. Again, I can’t stress enough how important it is to not wring it. This will damage your jacket!
  2. Proceed with putting your jacket on a hanger and letting it dry. The optimal environment is a cool and dry room, possibly your wardrobe, basement or bedroom. If it’s the right weather for it, let it dry outside. You can let it dry faster with a little help from your radiator. Just hang your jacket on your radiator, but make sure it isn’t set at the highest temperature. Every 30 minutes you want to inspect your jacket and confirm that the fabric isn’t burning.
  1. Here’s the annoying step again: fluff your jacket every 30 minutes. Shake your jacket and massage the clumps of down. Remember to not massage it too hard or you could compress the down.

You should let your jacket dry for a minimum of six hours. If it’s dry and fluffy after those six hours, you can store it away. Which brings me to my next point: storing your jacket.

 

How To Store A Down Jacket

While storing a down jacket is easy to do, there are some things to keep in mind. If you do it wrong, you could reduce your jacket’s puffiness, which you need to maintain its insulation.

The most important thing to remember is to give it enough space. By compressing it, you can damage the feathers and reduce its lifespan. It’s not a big deal if you let it sit in your backpack for a few days, but when you get home, make sure you hang it in your closet. While compressing down is not as bad as most people think, I would advise you not to leave down compressed for more than a week.

It’s a different story when your down jacket is damp. Compressing damp down is something you really don’t want to do. It could permanently damage your jacket’s insulation, so always make sure it’s completely dry before packing it.

Keep in mind that the more often you compress it, the shorter its lifespan will be. Over time, you’ll notice that your down jacket won’t be as effective as it was before. If washing or tumble drying doesn’t help anymore, it means that you’re in need of a replacement. Down is an organic material and does degrade over time, and compressing it speeds up the process.

The longer it’s been compressed, the longer it’ll take to re-loft and provide the same level of insulation. If you kept it compressed for a long time, you can simply throw it in your tumble dryer together with your tennis balls, and most of the fluff will return.

Also, remember to store it in a cool and dry environment when you get home. Another great thing to do is covering the top of your jacket with light paper. This will protect it from light damage and dust. If there’s no space in your closet, you can place it in a laundry bag and store it somewhere else. Whatever you do, just don’t wrap it in plastic!

A stuffed up sleeping bag

How To Stop A Down Jacket From Leaking Feathers

Both quality and trash down jackets start to spill some feathers after a certain period of time. However, if the entire goose is trying to escape, you may want to return your jacket. If it are just a few feathers, or the warranty has expired, then simply push the feathers back inside. It’s like what I mentioned a few hundred words back in this guide, if you pull the feathers out, the holes become larger, making it easier for the other feathers to escape.

Okay, but this won’t really solve this problem, right? Luckily, I got an extra trick up my sleeve. If you wear your down jacket frequently, the feathers will start to compress, become flattened and look for ways to break out. If it really starts to become a problem, you may want to throw your jacket in the dryer and choose the no-heat fluff cycle. Don’t forget to throw in some tennis balls too! This treatment fattens them once again, which makes it more difficult for them to fit through your jacket’s fabric.

 

How To Re-waterproof A Down Jacket

Well, let me just say that most down jackets are not waterproof but more like water repellent. It keeps you dry in passing rains, but you will get wet in a thunderstorm. The Durable Water Repellent (DWR) coating is what keeps you safe. It helps to form drops, which then just slide off your jacket. If you notice that your DWR coating is wearing off, it’s probably due to dirt, or because you washed it with a conventional detergent. So why are dirt and these normal detergents bad for your DWR coating? Well, dirt attracts water and normal detergents leave behind residues that also draw in water. This means your jacket will become damp in humid conditions, it doesn’t even need to rain. And as you already know by now, damp down doesn’t do a good job at insulating, so it’s crucial to keep this from happening.

 

How To Restore A Durable Water Repellent Coating

Fortunately, there are some things you can do to make the DWR coating as good as new. This first tip is only for relatively new jackets. Wash your jacket with Nikwax Down Wash Direct. This down-specific detergent removes dirt and residues of normal detergents. Not only that, but it also restores the DWR and down insulation. In other words, it’s the perfect detergent for the job. Just remember to always check the care label of your jacket before washing it! Also, if you have a down jacket that features Gore-Tex, don’t turn your jacket inside out before washing it. That can damage the membrane!

In case your jacket is already pretty old, you can use Nikwax Down Proof. This detergent is specifically designed to improve the DWR coating and is therefore the best choice for an older jacket. You can use my instructions to wash a down jacket and use this Nikwax detergent. You can find more information like how much to use on this page.

After washing your jacket, you can tumble dry it to restore the DWR coating even more. Just make sure you use the lowest heat setting and follow the instructions above.

If this doesn’t restore your DWR coating, it’s probably because it’s completely degraded. If that’s the case, you want to reapply a DWR coating.

 

Applying A Durable Water Repellent Coating

There are two ways to do this. You can get yourself a liquid spray or give your jacket a wash-in treatment. So which is the most effective option?

While a wash-in treatment is in most cases the most effective way, you can’t really do that with a down jacket. You want to apply the DWR coating to the outer shell of your jacket. And by giving it a wash-in treatment, most of the insulation (down) will absorb the DWR coating, and that’s something you want to avoid. A wash-in treatment is therefore only interesting for shell-style jackets, like a raincoat.

Using sprays or aerosols is something I like to avoid as much as possible since it’s unhealthy for nature. But in this case, it’s necessary because buying a new jacket is even more unhealthy for nature – and for your wallet.

The best water repellent spray to use for this task is the Nikwax TX Direct Spray-On. Be careful that you don’t confuse this product with the TX Direct Wash-In.

 

How To Apply A Water Repellent Spray

  1. Wash your jacket by following the instructions that I gave you in the beginning of this article. Don’t dry it yet! This is important. If you accidentally dried your jacket, just make it damp with a water spray. Then wipe off excess water with a clean cloth.
  2. Zip up all zippers
  3. Put your jacket on a piece of clean cardboard or something else that can be exposed to the water repellent spray. These sprays can be harmful to your health, so please to this in the open air. Make sure that the piece of cardboard it’s bigger than your jacket.
  4. Hold your bottle at a distance of 6 inches (15cm) from your jacket.
  5. Apply your spray evenly. You do that by spraying while stroking to the left and to the right. Make sure you don’t miss any spots, especially the spots prone to moisture, like the hood, shoulders and sleeves.
  6. Wait about two to three minutes.
  7. Remove any excess spray with a damp cloth.
  8. Check again if you didn’t miss any spots, especially the important ones.
  9. Finally, let it either air-dry or tumble-dry. Make sure you follow the instructions above.

Here’s a video about someone using the same product. At the end you can see the result. Looks pretty good to me!

How To Repair A Down Jacket

Since many down jackets are so fragile, it’s no surprise that you’re reading this now. Maybe you bumped into a sharp stone, or maybe you got caught on a branch. Now there’s a big tear in your down jacket – what should you do?

Two words – duct tape. Really, I’m one of those people that believe duct tape is the greatest invention ever. It’s such a useful product in all kinds of situations, and it will solve your problem once more.

Yes, I know, duct tape on the outside doesn’t look so nice, and that’s why we’re going to tape it on the inside – to make it almost unnoticeable. Not only that but if you tape it on the outside, it will easily curl up and fall off in a week or so. So here are the instructions:

  1. Rip off a piece that’s larger than the tear in your jacket.
  2. Make the corners round with a pair of scissors. This prevents the corners from curling up.
  3. This is the hard part: try to get it in with the sticky side facing you. Make sure that there’s no down fill between the tear and your duct tape.
  4. Once you managed to get it in place, push the tear on top of the duct tape. Make sure you push and rub it enough.

You may wonder why not just use needle and thread? Well, that’s not a good idea since that creates new holes, which are new escape routes for the feathers.

Alternatively, you can use precut patches or adhesive stickers.

You can also use fabric glue to bond the edges of the tear together. However, this kind of glue should be flexible and waterproof. I suggest you ask your local craft store or look it up online.

You can also use fabric repair tape if the hole is quarter-sized or even larger. Gear Aid Tenacious Tape is probably the best tape for the job.

 

That’s it for this post! I hope that it was useful to you. Let me know in the comments how it went. If there’s anything to add, please contact me through this page. The same can be said if you have any sort of question. I’ll be happy to help.

Stay safe and keep exploring!

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