Down items can be expensive but if cared for properly, down retains its loft and insulating properties up to three times longer than most synthetic fillers. However, it must be handled correctly because if the feathers are left damp, they will absorb and retain odors and, even worse, mildew.
How to Wash Down-Filled Items
It may be those horror stories about wet down that are keeping you from washing your own down items. But, they can be safely washed as long as you also dry them properly. For pillows and comforters, washing is important to curb allergic reactions. What seems to be a feather allergy could actually be a reaction to dust mites that have permeated the down. Washing will remove the mites and make the items usable for years to come.
Down items are fully washable unless the outer covering is dry clean only. Check the care label and follow those guidelines. All you need to wash down are:
- Liquid down cleaner: A down cleaner like Granger's Down Wash or Nikwax Down Wash is formulated to remove soil and odor while retaining the moisture-repellent qualities of the feathers. If you do not have down wash available, use a gentle, low-sudsing detergent. Harsh detergents can strip the feathers of their natural oils.
- Front-load or HE top load washer: A washer without a center agitator is preferable for washing down-filled items because it is more gentle on the outer fabric. Plus, front load washers have a higher capacity and will accommodate large items like comforters, sleeping bags, and pillows.
- Dryer with low heat setting: Down can never be dried at a high temperature. If your dryer isn't working reliably on low heat, go visit a neighbor. Drying must be done low and slow.
When you're ready to wash, pretreat any heavily stained areas with a bit of the down wash. If you have tough specific stains, follow the recommendations for that particular stain. Work it into the soiled area with a soft brush and allow it to work for at least 15 minutes before washing. Use cool or warm water and the permanent press setting. Don't use too much detergent. If the item feels "sudsy" when the cycle is over, you've used too much and need to put the item through an extra rinse cycle.
If the item is heavily soiled all over, allow it to soak in the water and detergent solution for an hour or so before washing. If your washer won't allow a presoak cycle, use the bathtub or a very large plastic storage tub.
Plan to spend some extra time near the dryer as you dry the down item. Place the down-filled item in the dryer and add several wool dryer balls (or clean tennis balls) to help break up the clumps of feathers. You will need to remove the item from the dryer every ten minutes to manually fluff it up. Your hands are the best clump busters around.
If you must air dry the down item, place it flat on a drying rack and fluff often. Air drying can take several days up to one week. Be diligent about turning and fluffing to prevent souring of the feathers or mildew growth. Do not place in direct sun but be sure the area is warm and well-ventilated. A circulating fan will help.
How to Choose the Best Down Fill
If you're looking for a way to stay warm and dry during the coldest of climates, just turn to our feathered friends for inspiration. The same soft, fine feathers that insulate birds from cold winds will do the same thing for us.
You can find down in coats, vests, pillows, comforters, and sleeping bags. There are several types and varying quality levels of down. The three most common offerings are:
- Goose down: Geese has the largest down clusters, with the Hungarian Goose producing what is most widely considered to be the finest down. Due to the size of the goose down, the larger clusters offer more loft and insulating qualities.
- Duck down: Since ducks are smaller, their down is smaller and more coarse than that of a goose. However, eider duck down is larger and considered to be of good quality.
- Feather-down combinations: Because down can compact with use and age, many pillows and heavy usage items are filled with a combination of down and feathers. The feathers add bulk and stabilize the down.
Clothing and household goods that contain down in the United States are regulated by the Federal Trade Commission. A product labeled "100 percent down" must contain only down feathers. Products labeled "down" can contain a mixture of down, feathers, and other fibers. Any product labeled as "goose down"—usually the most expensive—must contain at least 90 percent goose down and feathers.
Controlling Dust, Dust Mites, and Other Allergens in Your Home. University of Michigan Health.