If you’re anything like me, you wait until the last possible moment to wash your down jackets. It feels risky to just toss it in the wash, yet that pasta sauce from your backpacking trip last summer is still faintly visible on your sleeve, beckoning you to buy that special detergent and get it over with.
Why Wash Your Jacket?
Washing your beloved puffy will bring new life into it: not only will it be free from residual trail snacks, its insulation will also be revamped. A dirty down jacket will also significantly lose its insulation properties when it’s weighed down by a build-up of dirt and body oils.
But, more often than not, cleaning a down jacket is certainly more laborious than tossing it into the washing machine. Some can be washed in a front-loading machine, but others require a more delicate approach: handwashing. Your jacket should tell you what method would work best; refer to the cleaning notes — hopefully sewn into the interior of your puffy. If you don’t have a front-loader, you can use a top-loader by putting your jacket in a mesh bag to protect it.
Washing a down jacket is vital, but also important to get right. Screw it up, and you could end up with a lumpy, poorly insulated excuse for a puffy.
What You Need To Wash Your Down Jacket – The Materials
Down detergent is the key ingredient in this operation. Regular detergents can be too harsh on the down, stripping oils from the feathers and compromising the effectiveness of your insulation. There are a few brands out there, and most aim to protect the insulating properties of your down-filled jacket and help maintain its water repellency. Reputable brands of down detergent include Nikwax, Granger, Gear Aid Revivex.
Front-Loading Washing Machine.
This is absolutely preferable to a top-loader, but if you’re in a pinch, you can make it work by putting your jacket in a mesh bag.
Drying machine with a low-heat setting. Don’t melt your precious puffy — keep it on low heat the whole time.
CLEAN Tennis Balls
Two to three tennis balls will help you break up the loose clumps during the drying period.
Step-by-step Guide To Washing Your Jacket:
- Batten down the hatches. Zip your zippers, button your buttons, fasten every clasp and fastener. Materials filled with down can be easily ripped when wet, so it’s best to secure all parts of your jacket before diving in.
- Spot clean. Start by spot cleaning the jacket to attack any big stains — a stain remover or your special down detergent will work for this.
- Prepare the washer. If your washing machine has a detergent tray, make sure you take it out and give it a quick clean to make sure there’s no residual detergent remaining.
- Load it up. Then, put your jacket into the washing machine — preferably a front-loader — and set it on warm. Be sure to use a down-specific detergent, using the amount recommended on the bottle. If you don’t have a front-loader, snag a mesh bag and put your jacket in there to keep it safe from vicious spinning antics. Or, just go in search of a laundromat that has a front-loader.
- Double wash. After your jacket has run through one cycle, run it again without detergent to remove all extra soap.
- Tennis balls for the finish. Once your jacket has taken two spins through the washer, you’re ready to dry. Make sure you use the lowest heat setting possible on your dryer and put in two or three clean tennis balls to help break up any feather clumps within the jacket. If you don’t have access to a dryer, you can air dry your jacket. Just be aware that it may take a long time, and you’ll need to de-clump the down feathers by hand.
- Slow is pro. Every half hour or so, take your jacket out of the dryer and fluff it up a bit, breaking up clumps with your fingers. Do this gently; the fabric is more prone to ripping when wet. On low heat, it could take up to a few hours to dry, but don’t rush it; if you turn up the heat you could damage the fabric and ruin your lovely jacket.
Hand Washing Your Jacket
If you’re truly boondocking and a laundromat is nowhere to be found, or your jacket warns against washing machines, you can do it by hand. Here’s the nitty gritty:
Zip it up. Secure all zippers, buttons, etc. before you start.
- 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.
- Bath time. 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.
- Second bath. 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.
- Squeeze it out. Post-bath, remove your jacket and gently squeeze the excess water out.
- The long wait. Chances are, if you don’t have a washer available, you also probably don’t have a dryer around. If that’s the case, 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.
Storing Your Jacket
Regardless of your washing method, be sure to store your jacket properly to extend the life of its down: keeping it uncompressed is best, in a clean and dry area. Compressing your jacket for too long can damage the feathers and reduce its insulation properties and lifespan.
The best option for storage is to hang it in a closet, with plenty of room to breathe on all sides. If you have to compress it to take it up your next multipitch, wait until you’re absolutely sure it’s dry, and remember to hang it back up when you get home.
Need to wash your sleeping bag? Check out our guide to washing your sleeping bag.
Meghan Walker is a freelance writer who, when not writing about the outdoors, is typically climbing in the canyons dotted along the foothills of the Front Range. Meghan has several year’s experience writing about the tramping (aka hiking) scene in New Zealand, where she avidly explored the trail and hut network that spreads over both the North and South Islands. As a recent transplant to Boulder, Meghan is now soaking up the plethora of outdoor opportunities in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.