Duvet Buying Guide

How to Choose the Right Down Comforter for Your Bed

Cozy down comforter on bed.
The right duvet makes a good night's sleep even better. Ghislain & Marie David de Lossy/Getty Images

Snuggly and warm, a well-chosen duvet will keep you cozy and sleeping soundly through the coldest winter nights, yet not be excessively hot or heavy during the summer. But when shopping for a new duvet, the choices can be a bit confusing. What does fill power mean? Which is better, down or an alternative? Channel or baffle construction? Read on for tips to choosing your perfect duvet.

Duvet versus Comforter versus Duvet Cover

Three terms that might cause you confusion are “duvet,” “comforter,” and “duvet cover.” Though often used interchangeably, there are actually differences between them.

A duvet is typically solid white, filled with down or a down alternative, and used to provide warmth and comfort on your bed. Although duvets are also referred to as “down comforters,” the word comforter is more often used in regards to warm bedding that is colored or patterned, rather than solid white. A comforter might be filled with down, but often is filled with a synthetic material.

A duvet cover surrounds a duvet like an envelope. While duvets are usually white, their covers come in a nearly endless choice of colors and patterns. Duvet covers are sewn shut on three sides, but the fourth side closes with large buttons, ties or a zipper, so you can remove or insert the duvet easily. It’s not essential to use a duvet cover, but most people like their decorative impact, as well as the way they help keep the duvet clean.

Duvet Thread Count

The outer shell of a duvet is typically cotton, and as with cotton sheets, has a thread count that indicates how many threads are contained in a square inch of fabric.

While a higher thread count means softer material -- making it a major factor in sheet comfort -- with duvets, it’s also important because the denser weave does a better job of containing the down. Your duvet should have a thread count of at least 300, but there’s no need to pay extra for much higher than that, especially if you are going to use a duvet cover anyway.

Types of Duvet Fills

There are a couple of choices when it comes to duvet fillings.

Down: When it comes to lightweight warmth and superior breathability, it’s hard to beat the power of down. After all, ducks and geese manage to stay toasty warm in chilly water, so why not put that same insulating, cozy warmth to work on your bed?

When choosing a down-filled duvet, look for the words “100% down,” “Pure down” or “All down.” If the duvet is only marked “down,” it might contain as little as 30% down with feathers making up the remaining 70% of fill. Feathers don’t insulate nearly as well as down, but they are far less expensive, so you’ll need to pay more for an all-down duvet. While both duck and goose down are warm, goose down is fluffier, so generally it’s used in all but the cheapest of duvets.

If allergens are a concern, look for a duvet with cleaned, sterilized down. This removes the majority of potential allergens, making the down suitable for most sleepers.

Down alternatives: If you are highly allergic to feathers, choose a duvet with a down-alternative fill. These are generally synthetic materials, particularly polyester, that have a similar feel to down, but you’ll also find cotton or wool-filled duvets.

These all have the benefit of being hypoallergenic, as well as less expensive than 100% down, but are typically heavier and less breathable than the real thing.

What about Fill power?

You’ll often find a down duvet’s fill power listed on the packaging. Fill power is basically a measurement of the down’s fluffiness: it refers to how much space one ounce of the down occupies. The better the quality of down, the higher its fill power, and the thicker and more insulating the duvet. As a rough rule of thumb, here’s a guide to comfortable fill powers:

  • Lightweight, summer use: 400 or below
  • Great any time of year: 400 to 600
  • In cold weather, or if you easily chill at night: 600 to 800
  • When you really, really need extra warmth: 800 and up

What’s the Fill weight?

The number of ounces of down inside a duvet is its fill weight.

Generally, down with a high fill power will have a low fill weight, meaning that a very warm, high fill-power duvet might actually be lighter than a duvet that’s better suited for warmer weather due to its low fill power. It’s the balance between fill weight and fill power that determines a duvet’s warmth. You'll sleep best when you're not too hot, not too cold.

Look at the Duvet’s Construction

A duvet without construction, or extra stitching, would allow the down to shift, creating lumps and pockets instead of an even spread of fill. To prevent this, duvets have a variety of different constructions to keep the down contained evenly throughout the bedding.

  • Baffle box: The warmest and generally most expensive duvets have baffle-box construction. This means there are small fabric baffles inside the duvet’s “checkerboard” construction to hold the down in place while allowing it to reach maximum loft.
  • Quilt stitching: These duvets have the same quilted checkerboard appearance as baffle box duvets, but without the reinforcing fabric strips. You’ll pay less for this type of construction, which is suitable for lower fill-power duvets.
  • Channel: These duvets have parallel seams only, so instead of a checkerboard pattern, there are “channels” across the bedding. This allows the down to shift somewhat inside the duvet, a good solution if you want more down across your feet, or if your bed partner prefers less warmth on his side of the bed.
  • Gusset: These duvets have fabric “walls” around the sides, giving the duvet more height, and therefore more loft. Gusseted duvets are usually baffle-stitched as well. You’ll pay more for these duvets, but you’ll be rewarded with superior cozy warmth.