How to Wash a Down Jacket Properly So That You Don't Ruin It!
I remember the first time I bought a down jacket. It was one of the biggest investments (clothing-wise) I had ever made and I was proud of that thing! It was my first piece of outdoor-optimized gear and I wore it everywhere. I freaking loved that jacket. In fact, I recommend everyone put a good down jacket at the top of their essential backpacking gear list! Eventually though the day came… after many adventures into the mountains and around campfires… that I could no longer ignore the fact that my dearly beloved jacket needed a bath. Like badly needed it.
The thought of washing my down jacket was terrifying though. This thing wasn’t cheap! What if I ruined it? What if it got all clumpy and didn’t return back to it’s normal fluffy warmness? Would I have to buy a new one? Would I be able to fix it?
Maybe I should just not wash it…
Alas, the day came where I had to be brave enough to wash my down jacket, and put my faith in what I read on the internet to teach me the ways of down jacket care. And now, after years of successfully washing my down jackets and down sleeping bags (in the washing machine), I’m popping in here today to share these techniques and tips with you my friend.
So fear no more! We CAN wash our down jackets the lazy way and still get our beloved friends back in their same fluffy condition afterwards.
And washing your down jacket won’t just help get rid of the smells and stains, it will also help rejuvenate the fluff in the feathers, so it’s good to wash this from time to time (but don’t overdo it). Washing your jacket and restoring it’s fluff will ultimately help improve the performance of your jacket because the fluffier it is, the more insulating your jacket will be, which is the whole point of a down jacket in the first place.
This is the first of a series of gear “spring-cleaning” blog posts I have lined up for you for the next couple of weeks, so if you’ve been neglecting your gear and not cleaning it, nows the time to do a bit of freshening up before the summer backpacking and climbing season begins.
GRAB MY ULTIMATE OUTDOOR ADVENTURE STARTER KIT
I created an awesome Outdoor Adventure Starter Kit for you (for FREE). It's filled with 14 pages of hiking, backpacking and rock climbing tips, techniques and inspiration to help you hone your outdoor adventure skills and become the ultimate outdoor badass. You can get immediate access to it below. What are you waiting for?
How to Wash a Down Jacket
I’ve got this post broken down for you in two ways: A quick video showing you my favorite way to wash a down jacket, and then some step-by-step below for reference (plus some common Q&A around washing your down jacket).
Video Tutorial on Washing A Down Jacket:
Now in the steps below I’m going to walk you through the exact process you need to wash your down jacket in the washing machine without ruining it.
Note: This post may contain affiliate links.
The beauty about washing your down jacket is that you don’t actually need a ton of fancy supplies. I just use what I normally use to wash my clothes, plus 6 tennis balls in the dryer!
Gentle Laundry Detergent. So I typically use what I have on hand (which is my Trader Joes brand detergent)… now, this may not be the best detergent for down, but I wanted to share what I do just to show you it’s not the end of the word (my jackets have been going strong for 4+ years now). However, if you are looking for something more specific for down, Patagonia recommends Granger’s Down Wash. Outdoor Research recommends Nikwax Down Wash Direct because they say that, “Normal detergents can strip down feathers of their natural oils,” and apparently those feather oils help keep your down in it’s lovely fluffy state! Another recommended brand is Gear Aid Revivex Down Cleaner.
Four to Six Tennis Balls. I typically throw in about 4 tennis balls PLUS I have 2 llamas wool dryer balls (because I learned that dryer sheets are no bueno in general!), so 6 balls into the dryer for me.
Step-by-Step: How to Wash a Down Jacket
As always, before doing anything with cleaning your outdoor clothing, it’s always highly recommended to read the tags on your clothing to make sure there aren’t any specific instructions detailed for your specific clothing item.
Below are the 4 super-simple steps I discussed in the video to washing your down jacket without ruining it’s beautiful fluffiness.
Step 1 - GET YOUR JACKET READY!
Get your dirty down jacket ready to go! Check all the pockets for those leftover treats you might have stuffed in there on your last trip and brush off any dirt. It’s also a good idea too zip up any zippers and fasten any buttons. If you have any “particular” stains on your jacket, you can also spot treat your jacket before putting it in the wash by spot cleaning it with your detergent beforehand.
Step 2 - THE WASHING
Go to your washing machine (preferably a front-loading machine, though I have used a top-down machine before with no issue but the “agitator” of a top down can potential ruin the down feathers), and put your jacket into the washing machine on gentle to normal wash setting with cold water. Use gentle detergent, as recommended in the supplies section above. Do not use bleach or fabric softener (or attempt to iron your down). If you only have a top-down machine, consider taking a trip to your local laundromat if your not willing to risk it. It is also recommended to wash your down with a second cycle of just water to make sure all the soap is removed (but I don’t always do this). If your washer has the option of “second rinse” then choose that.
Step 3 - THE DRYING
When you pull your jacket out of the dryer you might notice that it’s wet and clumpy… no fear, this is normal! Once your jacket is done washing, put the jacket into your dryer with about 4-6 tennis balls (yes, it will be loud), and machine dry low to no heat (I usually put mine at a low heat setting). This could take a few cycles. The tennis balls will help restore the fluff in your jacket. The reason you don’t want to use a higher heat setting here is that you could risk damaging or melting the seams of your outer shell fabric on your down jacket. The drying process can take a couple hours, so just be patient.
Note: if you have any “patches” on your jacket just be aware that this process may require you to add a new patch. To reduce the need to re-patch your jacket, use a lower heat as suggested in the dryer.
Step 4 - ENJOY!
Enjoy your clean and newly restored beloved down jacket!
Pro Tip: Always store your down uncompressed with room to stretch out. For instance, if you have a down jacket you aren’t using, keep it on a hanger so that it can breathe and maintain its shape better. Try not to keep your jacket in its stuff sack until you go out on a trip and need it compacted down. Keeping your jacket stuffed down too long can damage the feathers and their ability to spring back to life.
FAQ’S ON WASHING YOUR DOWN JACKET
1) Do I have to use special down jacket detergent? You certainly don’t have to, just try to use a more gentle detergent on your down. As I mentioned in the “supplies section” above, Patagonia recommends Granger’s Down Wash, but I usually just opt for my normal Trader Joe’s brand detergent.
2) Can I dry clean my down jacket? I wouldn’t dry clean your down jacket unless there were specific instructions on your jacket that instructed you to do so. Dry cleaning uses harsh chemicals that could damage your down jacket.
3) Can I air dry my down jacket? Unfortunately air drying your down jacket will likely leave your jacket clumpy, not to mention could take 24-48 hours (with constant needed attention to make sure there is no clumping). Instead you’ll want to dry your jacket in the dryer as described above.
4) How would I hand wash a down jacket? You could opt to hand wash your down jacket if you’d rather by soaking in a sink for about an hour, just be sure to never wring your jacket dry and instead follow the drying method described above to restore its fluff.
5) How frequently should I wash my down jacket? Keep this to a minimum. Washing too frequently will eventually wear on your clothing and degrade it. For me it honestly just depends on the conditions I’ve been using my jacket in. Sometimes in the winter I can use it for a long time without washing and feel fine. However, when I do a lot of backpacking my jacket can start to get stinky more frequently, so I just base it on how grimy/smelly it is starting to get. There’s no “magic” timing, just do what feels comfortable to you. If you are heavily using your jacket each week, maybe consider washing it at least once a month.