How to Clean a Down Coat or Vest

Yellow, green, blue and black down coats hanging on white metal hanger

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 15 mins
  • Total Time: 4 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Down-filled or puffy coats and vests are stylish, lightweight, and incredibly warm. Whether you choose true down or a vegan down alternative, the same principle of soft, fine feathers that insulate birds from cold winds does the same thing for us.

Some think that excessive exposure to water will ruin a down garment. But think about ducks, they spend much of their lives in water. The key to successful down cleaning is in the drying. If left wet or damp for too long, down can absorb and retain malodors and will, eventually, mildew.

Down coats and vests are fully washable unless the outer fabric is one that is labeled as dry clean only. Always check the care labels before you proceed! All you need are a few supplies and a bit of time to make sure the down filling is completely dry.

How Often to Clean a Down Coat or Vest

If your coat is smelling a little funky or the outside has visible soil and stains, it's time for a wash. If you get caught in a downpour and your down feels very heavy, go ahead and give it wash and dry to prevent problems later.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Washer—preferably with no center agitator
  • Large sink or tub
  • White microfiber cloth
  • Clothes dryer
  • Dryer balls
  • Sturdy hanger

Materials

  • Enzyme-based stain remover
  • Down wash

Instructions

Velvet hangers with dryer balls and down wash to clean down coat

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  1. Read the Care Label

    Almost all down coats and vests have an outer fabric that is washable. However, there are a few that have suede or natural leather that shouldn't just be tossed in a washer so always check the care label.

    Care labels being read for black down coat

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  2. Check for Rips and Holes

    Always take a few minutes to check the garment for any rips or holes. Washing might make them worse and you'll have a washer filled with feathers. Making repairs now will save you lots of headaches.

    Black down jacket rip with feathers coming out next to roll of string for repair

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  3. Pretreat Stains

    If there are visible food stains or heavily soiled areas, place a dab of enzyme-based stain remover or down wash on a white microfiber cloth. Rub the stained areas with the cloth to help lift the stains. Wait at least 10 minutes before washing to allow the cleaner to fully penetrate and begin lifting the stains.

    White fiber microcloth dipped in enzyme based cleaner to pretreat stains

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  4. Hand or Machine Wash?

    Down garments can be washed by hand or by machine. The best choice for machine washing is a front-loading washer or a top-loading washer without a center agitator. These machines are much more gentle on clothes than a top load washer with a center agitator.

    If washing by hand, use the bathtub or a very large sink so that the entire coat has room to move in the water so it can get really clean.

    Green and blue down coats inside front facing washing machine

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  5. Select the Correct Cycle and Water Temperature

    Choosing the best cycle depends on how dirty your coat is. If only lightly soiled, the gentle cycle will be fine. If it's pretty grimy, use the normal cycle to keep the coat in the cleaning solution longer.

    Always use warm water—not hot or cold—for washing down.

    Warm water cycle set on washing machine to clean down coats

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  6. Use the Right Detergent

    Down contains natural oils that help keep the feathers waterproof, separated, and fluffy. Most commercial detergents contain ingredients that will strip away those oils leaving the feathers stiff and brittle.

    Opt for a down wash (Nikwax, Granger, or Gear Aid ReviveX are brand names). If you don't have a down wash, choose a gentle detergent like Woolite or Castile soap.

    Down wash added to washing machine for cleaning down coats

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

    Tips

    • Follow the down wash dosage instructions carefully. More is not better. You do not want to leave an excessive residue of any kind in the down.
    • Do not add fabric softener to the washer.
  7. Load the Down Garments

    Before you toss the coat or vest into the washer, close buttons, zippers, or Velcro fasteners to prevent snags. Do not overload the washer.

    Black down coat zipped up before loading to washer

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  8. Set the Dryer Temperature

    Set the dryer to low heat. NEVER dry down on high heat. This is a low and slow process. For a large coat, the process may take two or three hours. You will know it is dry when the coat feels light, fluffy, and clump-free.

    Drying machine set to low heat for down coats

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  9. Add Dryer Balls

    During the wash cycle, many of the down feathers will clump together. Add wool dryer balls in the dryer to help break apart the clumps. If you don't have wool dryer balls, use three or four new tennis balls.

    To help speed the drying process, take the coat out of the dryer every 15 to 30 minutes and give it a good shake. Use your hands to help break up the clumps of feathers.

    Dryer balls added to down coat load in drying machine

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

  10. Hang to Finish Drying

    When you think your coat or vest is dry, hang it on a sturdy hanger so you can be sure that it is fully dry. If you are packing the coat away, let it hang for 24 hours. Never store a damp coat!

    Down coats hanging on white metal hanger to air dry

    The Spruce / Meg MacDonald