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.
Equipment / Tools
- Washer—preferably with no center agitator
- Large sink or tub
- White microfiber cloth
- Clothes dryer
- Dryer balls
- Sturdy hanger
- Enzyme-based stain remover
- Down wash
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!