Well, the summer solstice was just a couple weeks back, which means the days are getting shorting and winter is on its way. With that, it’s time to start getting ready for ski season. For me, the first step to getting ready means cleaning all that smelly gear you just tossed into the old gear shed and forgot about. On this week’s cleaning how-to, we’ll be focused on your down filled garments like jackets, pants, sleeping bags and vests.
The Fluffy Details
First off, washing down garments is not only complicated but it’s also controversial. Some people will tell you never to wash your down garments, other will say once as seasons and some say as needed. Personally, I’m a once-a-season kind of guy because I’m kind of smelly.
The controversy around washing comes from the old belief that it is detrimental to the insulation, which both is and isn’t true. Down feathers are very delicate, and too much washing will break down their structure and hamper the half-life, however, too little washing will allow for the buildup of oils and moisture that, to simplify it, gets “sticky,” which causes clumping and inhibits performance. My personal opinion, the once-a-season theory prevents any major buildup of oils but doesn’t do too much damage over the long run. To give you an idea, I bought my favorite down jacket 8 years ago and have washed it 8, maybe 10 times.
The delicate nature of the feathers means you also need to be sure you’re using a gentle detergent. With most outdoor gear, it’s usually okay to get away with a generic non-residue detergent like Tech Wash or Wool-lite, however, with down it’s particularly important to use a detergent specifically for Down, like NIKWAX Down Wash Direct. When washing down, you’re attempting to separate oils between the tiny, soft plumes of a feather without damaging the feather itself so you want to be sure you’re being as careful as possible.
The cleaning part is easy. First, you’ll want to take your garments and zip up all zippers, close all buttons and secure all the velcro. Then, simply find a front load washer, or a top loader without an agitator and run them in accordance with the instructions provided by the manufacturer.
This is where the process gets a little tricky. When down gets wet, the feathers clump together which drastically inhibits the performance, so, when drying it’s important to ensure that you’re able to fully restore the feathers to their original, separate state. Just a note, this is nearly impossible to do, but there are a couple different methods.
The first method is pretty simple. Again, ensure that you’ve zipped all zippers, closed all pockets and secured the velcro. Second, gather 3-5, clean tennis balls and run your garments through the dryer. The tennis balls are designed to bounce around message the feathers so they separate. This might take 1-3 cycles of bouncing around so make sure you use low heat and have a couple hours.
The second method is technically the “correct” method. It takes more than a couple cycles through the dryer and some class participation. Essentially, you’re going to act as the tennis balls. Run the garment through the dryer until they feel dry to the touch. Then, take them out and break the clumps by shaking or massaging the jacket by hand. Then start them on a second cycle and repeat as many times as necessary. Your jacket should feel clean and extra “puffy” when fully restored to their original state.
The best place to get answers is the manufacturers as they’ll be able to give the best answer, however, you’re always welcome to call our friendly service team and they can help you out.