Hello camping friends and fellow outdoor enthusiasts! In this post I am going to walk you through everything you need to know to wash your down jacket (and why you need to in the first place). I know – it’s a scary proposition. Your down jacket is your baby. But hopefully after reading this post you will have the confidence you need to take the plunge! And if you still have any questions unanswered, comment below.
Why do you need to wash a down jacket at all?
I get it. You’ve spent an arm and a leg on a wonderful down jacket. It’s kept you warm on sunrise hikes and comfortable around the campfire. It may be your favourite piece of outdoor clothing (I think mine is). But let’s face it. It’s getting dirty. And that’s a problem.
If a dirty down jacket only affected the appearance and the smell, I probably wouldn’t ever wash mine. But down jackets lose their insulating properties when they get dirty. Both dirt and oil from your body accumulate on the jacket. Dirt attracts water, which can can make the shell more prone to water retention which can easily transfer to the down. Wet down is substantially less insulating. The feathers clump together, reducing loft, and the water increases heat transfer by up to 25 times.
This is why it is so important to regularly (at least once a season) wash your down jacket.
What you will need to wash a down jacket
There are only a few items you need to wash your down jacket:
- Front load washing machine (do not use a top loading one)
- A dryer with a low heat setting
- Down wash (like Nikwax Down Wash)
- Three drying balls / clean tennis balls / rolls up wool socks (we’ll come back to this)
- Optional: Nikwax Down Proof
There are a few brands that make Down Wash, but there is only one I trust and that is Nikwax. (That sounded really sponsored – I promise I’m not. Nikwax is just the best one and it is incredibly affordable.)
Important Tip: While these instructions will apply to the vast majority of down jackets, always read the label on yours before washing. There might be specific instructions to incorporate into the washing process.
How to Wash a Down Jacket
Step 1: Remove any particularly dirty stains
This is similar to what you would do if you were using a conventional strain remover before a regular load of laundry. Put a little bit of Down Wash (though don’t add water) in a cup and pick up a bit with the corner of a hand towel. Gently dab the Down Wash onto the areas with stains.
Step 2: Machine wash on warm with Down Wash
First, read the label on your Down Wash to see how much you need – it is typically less than what you believe (Nikwax Down Wash Direct is 100 mL). Put a maximum of two down jackets in the washing machine and add the Down Wash to the clean detergent dispenser. Run the washing machine for a standard or delicate load (a setting with low spin if that is an option on your machine).
Important Tip: Before adding the Down Wash, check in your washing machine’s detergent dispenser. Is there any residual detergent in there? If so, give it a thorough clean before adding the Down Wash. Conventional laundry detergent is not friendly to down products (in fact, detergent will make your Down Jacket less water resistant).
Step 3: Machine wash with only water
Next, repeat the washing process above but don’t use any Down Wash this time. The purpose of this second cycle is to ensure ALL the Down Wash has been rinsed out.
You can, however, add some Down Proof. When your down jacket is new or has been recently re-waterproofed, the Durable Water Repellency (the thing that keeps it water resistant) will be refreshed simply by cleaning it. If you’ve had the jacket for a long time and haven’t washed it in ages, adding a little Down Proof to second load will improve the waterproofing of the outer shell.
Step 4: Machine dry on low heat with dryer balls
Put your down jacket in the dryer (if you’re like me, this is the scariest part) and add in either three drying balls or clean tennis balls. You could also use rolled up wool socks. Since the down is wet, it is clumped together. By adding in a firm, yet gentle, object, we hope to break up those clumps. Next set the dryer to a low temperature setting and press start.
Important Tip: Every ~20 minutes are so (about the time it takes to watch an episode of Friends) take your jacket out of the dryer and give it a little shake, gently breaking up any down clumps with your fingers.
Don’t rush the drying process! The whole thing will take ~2.5 hours, so this is a great excuse to watch a few episodes of that Netflix show you’ve been bingeing. Once you think your jacket is just about done, you can put it on tumble dry cycle. Now that the jacket is drier and less heavy, a quick-speed tumble dry will help force out any lingering water.
Step 5: Check that it is fully, 100% dry
Before you put away your down jacket (and definitely before you try to compress it!) ensure that it is totally dry. I find that the arms and hood usually dry quickly, but where there is more down (like around the chest) it takes a bit longer. You’ll know it’s completely dry when it is fluffy and clump free!
Step 6: Store your down jacket uncompressed
The final step is to take your good-as-new down jacket out for a celebratory hike or congratulatory paddle. After your adventure, however, remember to store your jacket hung up, uncompressed. There’s a lot of force placed on the down feathers when they are compressed, which can break the stems and decrease its warmth. When storing down jackets, always keep them uncompressed.
I hope this has been helpful! Let me know if you have any additional questions.