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How to Care for Down Jackets

Jackets and other outdoor apparel pieces with down insulation are relatively easy to care for, but require a little bit of special handling in order to keep these items looking and performing as good as new. In this Expert Advice video, Backcountry Edge Gear Specialist Becky offers several important tips for proper laundering and storage of your down-insulated outerwear. Got some minor damage or feathers migrating through the outer fabric? Don’t worry; we’ve got help for those issues, too!

How to Care for Down Jackets

Storage

Down jacket hanging from a clothes hanger
Store your jacket uncompressed, such as hanging from a hanger like this.

The most important thing to remember when storing your down jacket is not to allow it to remain in its stuff sack or self-stowing pocket for long periods of time. Many technical down jackets have the ability to compress to a very small size and stow into a pocket or stuff sack, which is great for allowing you to bring the jacket while backpacking or traveling and not have it take up precious space in your backpack or luggage. Whenever possible, though, and especially when you return your jacket to your closet after a trip, remember to unstuff it and hang it in its uncompressed state to avoid permanent loss of loft in the down plumes, which renders them unable to insulate effectively.  Long story short, your jacket will be less warm for you over time if it’s stored as a tight little ball instead of jacket!

Washing and Drying

Don’t be afraid to wash your down jacket regularly; while many jackets feature a DWR (Durable Water Resistant) finish that helps protect against wear and tear, dirt and scrapes, your natural body oils and environmental pollutants encountered through repeated wear will leave your jacket looking dingy and less than fresh. Following all directions on your particular jacket’s care tag is the best way to be sure you’re properly laundering. Can’t locate that information? Simply machine wash your jacket in cold water on a delicate setting with a small amount of down-friendly detergent (Nikwax Down Wash is a good choice that’s designed to prolong the life and performance of down apparel).

To dry your jacket, you can hang it to air-dry or put it in the dryer on a no-heat setting. When air-drying, you can restore the loft to your jacket by vigorously shaking it once it is thoroughly dry. When using the dryer, just add a few tennis balls to help agitate and move the down around in the jacket. Above all, remember to be patient, as it can take down more time to dry than other types of fibers you may be more used to caring for.

Mending and Defending

Feather poking through the seam of a down jacket
Feathers poking through like this are an easy fix with a little effort.

Sometimes individual feathers that make up down insulation can appear to be poking holes in your trusty jacket. Don't panic—migrating down plumes can easily be returned to their interior home through the exterior fabric of the jacket without making a hole. Just remember not to pull the feather out! Instead, try to grip the offending feather from the opposite side of the jacket’s face and carefully tug it back into the insulation. By using this method, you can minimize any damage to exterior fabric and keep from creating a large hole that could become a problem later on.

If you do end up with a small hole in your down jacket, you can use a product like Seam Grip [link = https://www.backcountryedge.com/mcnett-seam-grip.html] or other types of seam sealer or fabric glue to bond the edges of the hole together and repair your jacket.

For larger tears, a fabric repair tape product such as Tenacious Tape is more suitable. Make sure to cut the fabric tape larger than the hole you're trying to repair and round the edges as much as possible to help reduce possible peeling. (Trying to sew a patch on a down jacket is not recommended. Using a standard needle and thread on your jacket’s face fabric can create more holes over time).

Is that a Stain?

It's not a stain, it's probably just a feather!
Sometimes darker feathers are visible through the fabric. Don't worry! It's normal.

Down plumes are duck or goose feathers, which vary in color. Sometimes, darker colored plumes show through the face fabric of lighter colored jackets and appear to be stains on the jacket’s exterior. Be sure to look closely if you think your jacket has an unexplained stain; it’s likely just a dark feather showing through. You can move the plumes of down around inside your jacket to get the darker down away from the face fabric with a little hand-massaging, but you might want to consider a darker colored jacket if this is something that will be bothersome to you.