As an outdoorsperson, your down jacket is likely one of your most prized possessions. But living in your down (something we’re all guilty of in the winter) inevitably exposes your favorite jacket to grimy, gritty dirt. Even that post-climb beer — or three — sometimes results in a little unintended spillage.
To keep your prized puffy working well and lasting year after dirt-filled year, it’s essential to wash your down layers. Daunting, we know. But it’s not as overwhelming as it seems. With a little know-how and a little specialized wash — like Nikwax Down Wash Direct™ — your down jacket will come out looking like new and performing as well as it did the first time you put it on.
Why wash your down jacket?
Face fabrics that make up the exterior of your jacket are sometimes treated with a durable water resistant (DWR) finish. This coating is hydrophobic, meaning it repels water to keep the lofty, luscious down feathers protected from their kryptonite: water. But while a DWR treatment is a barrier, dirt, body oils, abrasions and regular use will reduce its performance. Even if your down jacket isn’t treated with a DWR finish, washing your down jacket can rejuvenate the insulation.
Below: A dirty, grimy down jacket (left side) and a clean, rejuvenated down jacket (right side)
“With heavy, weekly use of your down, we recommend washing your jacket once a month,” says Melanie Sirirot, Outdoor Research Apparel Product Manger.
Some companies recommend sending down jackets to a professional down cleaner. But we know DIY is A-OK.
Here’s how to wash your down jacket at home:
- Find a front-loading washing machine; the agitator of a top-loader can damage down feathers. If you don’t have a front-loader at home (or wherever tonight’s bivy might be), head over to the local laundromat.
- Set the dial to cold water, and add a touch of a down specific cleaner. We recommend Nikwax Down Wash Direct, which is specifically formulated to work on down products. “Normal detergents can strip down feathers of their natural oils,” says Sirirot. “This oil is what allows down feathers to maintain their fluffiness; if you strip them they become brittle and breakdown.” Nikwax Down Wash Direct doesn’t strip down of their oil and does not inhibit the water repellence that exists on the outside of the fabric.
- After the wash cycle, make sure the jacket gets a thorough rinse; maybe set it for an extra cycle.
- Once done, pop the jacket in the dryer on a low heat cycle. You want your products to come out fully dry so it might take a few cycles. Throwing a couple of tennis balls in the mix will help restore the fluff of the down. “But don’t use anything heavier than tennis balls,” says Sirirot. “ It could damage the delicate down feathers.”
Additional notes: Do not use bleach, fabric softeners or an iron on your down jacket. Bleach and fabric softeners can damage the fabric and an iron will, well, burn or melt it. Remember the ol’ battle of down vs. campfire? It never turns out well ...
Shop Nikwax Down Wash here.
Top photo by Elise Giordano.