As I was looking through online reviews of Nikwax products, one review really caught my eye. It simply stated, “Don’t ever wash down. The benefit is never worth the cost.” Now, I couldn’t disagree more, but it got me thinking about how nerve-wracking cleaning expensive outdoor gear can be. I thought to myself, “Self, how can we make this process easier on our friends out there?”

So, here is the first in an ongoing series of Gear Care posts, where I’ll put my own beloved gear on the line to provide detailed instructions and photographic evidence of the results of good gear care. So here we go, read on to learn how to clean and care for your down jacket.

I’d like you to meet my Moonstone puffy down jacket. This jacket is SO AWESOME that once, while I was standing at a bus stop, an otherwise sane looking man stopped his car in traffic to talk to me about it.

100% nylon shell, 100% polyester lining, 100% goose down insulation

The Situation: I’ve owned this down jacket for about 5 years and since I got it secondhand, it’s likely older than that. To my knowledge, with the exception of getting caught in a surprise rain shower (I know, this is Seattle, is it EVER really a surprise?), I don’t think this down jacket had ever been cleaned. Evidence below.

Gross streaky stain

The above picture is a bit hard to see, but I’m hoping that you can tell that something had been poured down the left shoulder/sleeve. I can’t tell you WHAT this is – given my lifestyle it is most likely beer or coffee, but it’s impossible to know for sure. Many down enthusiasts may be tearing up at this point. “It is LOST,” they lament. “Retire this one to the great gear garage in the sky!” these folks might exclaim. Not so, I say!

The Washing: My beloved down jacket was tossed in our office washing machine (a front loader) accompanied by 50mL (just shy of 2 oz or 1 cap-full) of Nikwax Down Wash. I then ran a regular/normal cycle.For a front-loading HE machine - 50mL/ a scant 2oz/1 cap full

The Proofing: Then, because I think the idea of water-resistant down is the neatest thing since sliced bread, I followed up with 150mL (5 oz or 3 cap fulls) of Nikwax Down Proof. This went right into the washing machine detergent dispenser while my coat was still sitting inside – all wet. I ran a second regular/normal cycle.

150mL/5 oz/3 cap fulls

The Drying: Now, because all Nikwax products are water-based they do not require heat to cure or activate them. However, your down gear loves your dryer like a backcountry junkie loves fresh untracked  pow – it’s meant to be. Drying down takes a long time, so be patient. I always put my down in for one more drying cycle after I think it’s dry, just to be sure (damp down = clumping issues and mildew down the road).

This jacket spent about 3 hours in the dryer on medium heat.

IF your gear is particularly old or gnarly OR it has been cleaned improperly in the past, toss a couple of CLEAN tennis balls in the dryer to help re-separate and re-loft the feathers ( I didn’t on this one).

The Result: The stain (whatever it was) is gone. And, though I took no scientific measurements, it seems like the jacket is puffier than it was before! Check it out for yourself.

Left arm post cleaning… no more grossness!
Check out that beading action!
Still fluffy!

The Moral of the Story: If you don’t clean your down gear (properly) you are not getting the maximum performance. The stuff we excrete (sweat, body oil), the stuff we get into (mud, dirt, dust, pond scum, beer or coffee) and the stuff we put on (hairspray, perfume, body lotion, cologne) will all inhibit the performance of our technical gear. SO WASH IT!! 🙂

Stay Dry (and warm)!

We welcome your gear care questions! Follow us or chat us up on Twitter @professornikwax

8 thoughts on “Get DOWN with yo’ bad self! (Or how to clean your down jacket).”

    1. Hi Dan,
      You certainly can let your jacket air dry! If it is a down jacket, like in the post, you will have to let it dry for quite a while. Once it’s dry, you will then need to fluff it back up by hand. That’s it!

    1. Hi Mike. Yes, you have to be very fastidious about the drying process if you air dry. You must constantly fluff the item and gently massage the down clumps to help break them up so they dry out faster. A sunny, breezy day will help too. I have done this before with success, but it did take hanging around with my sleeping bag all day (it was for science!). Also, if you live in a very humid climate, air drying will be even more difficult. All in all, we absolutely advise if you have a dryer at your disposal to use it! It will make life much, much better.

  1. Hi,
    Can I use a top loading washer? I should use a gentle cycle? I have a lot of down jackets that I need to wash :-/

      1. Yes! You can use Down Proof in a second cycle after cleaning if you want to add water-repellency to you down jackets.

    1. Hi William,

      Unless it is one of those newfangled top loaders without an agitator, use a front loader for down. This is because the agitator can be very harsh to down feathers, and can also tear baffles. You can certainly handwash down items as well, or, if you have a bunch, take them to a laundromat. Use the Down Wash Direct to clean, then, if you want to add water-repellency, you can use Down Proof in a separate wash cycle.

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