Admit it, how many of you outdoor lovers are running around this winter with totally smelly, greasy down coats on because you’re too afraid (or just too lazy) to wash them?
Been there, done that! Actually, more recently than I care to admit. I had put off washing my down jacket and sleeping bag for a long time after my most recent move because we suddenly had a top loading washer instead of an old trusty front loader (more on that later.)
When to wash a down jacket
There may be differing opinions here, and I guess it does come down to personal preference, but I strongly believe the less you wash your down gear, the longer it will last. I usually end up washing mine twice a year, maybe.
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Wait to wash it until it really needs it, for example, if the down has become too compressed and it’s not very warm anymore, or you accidentally wore it with just a tshirt on under it and it got super sweaty and smelly, or maybe some doofus spilled a beer on your down coat – dang it! It happens.
How to wash a down jacket
- Empty all pockets, zip all zippers and secure any velcro.
- Repair any tears or holes with Tenacious Tape before washing.
- Add down-safe soap like ReviveX Down Cleaner to your washer, add your down jacket(s) or down sleeping bag and wash on a WARM, GENTLE/DELICATE cycle.
- Run an extra warm rinse cycle to make sure there is no leftover soap sticking to the down.
- Toss your down jacket in the dryer with clean tennis balls and run on a LOW, DELICATE cycle until dry.
- Revel in your clean, fluffy, good as new, down jacket.
Taking care of your down jacket
Chances are you invested a good bit of money into your down jacket – be careful with it. Try to always wear proper layers underneath your jacket to prevent it from getting too oily and sweaty, which will also lead to fewer washes over time and less wear and tear overall.
If you think there will be a likely chance you may scrape against branches or other sharp objects, wear a rain jacket or hard shell over your down jackets to help protect it from tears.
Repair any holes or tears as soon as you can to prevent it from tearing even more and prevent feathers from coming out. I’ve used Tenacious Tape on mine and it’s stayed in place and kept my holes in my down jacket sealed for years!
Wash only when needed to restore loft or clean stains/spills. Be sure to only use soap specifically for down, these are usually very mild, natural soaps that won’t strip the down feathers of their natural oils.
It is usually recommended to only use a front loading washer, however, I have been using a top loader without incident. Use a top loading washer at your own risk!! I suspect one of the biggest dangers of washing down in a top loader is the tall agitator that goes up through the middle of the washing machine – even I would not risk washing my down jacket or sleeping bag in one of those washers. Luckily, my top loading washer does not have a tall, spiral agitator in the middle, so it has worked fine for me so far.
Don’t think you can get away with not using tennis balls (or something similar) in the dryer. That is what fluffs the down back up and prevents clumps after going through the wash.
Never store your down jacket compressed. If you put your winter coats in storage in the summer, be sure to hang it, lay it flat or just loosely fold/roll it so the down keeps it’s loft and does not become permanently smushed.
Where to buy a down jacket
I hemmed and hawed for a long time about spending the money on a down jacket (and down sleeping bag back in the day) but down is so, so, so worth it! My down gear is too light, warm and fluffy to trade back to synthetic and it’s not nearly as hard to take care of as I thought it would be.
Luckily you may be able to find some awesome down gear on a budget. Definitely check out discount sites like MountainSteals.com and SteepandCheap.com before you buy anything full price. That’s where I got my Isis down jacket that I use and love.
One thing about buying your first down jacket, and my only regret about mine, is that I didn’t get one with a hood! Even though I love my current down coat, I’ll be excited to replace it with a hooded down jacket when the day comes that it needs to be replaced.
For more tips on backpacking clothes and gear, check out:
- How to take care of your backpacking gear
- What to wear hiking in winter
- Best clothes for hiking
- Easy DIY backpacking gear projects