Here in the Pacific Northwest, Winter is already rearing it’s head. I hate to sound histrionic, but with snow falling in the mountains and temps below freezing, it’s true. With storms in the forecast, now is a great time to shower your down pieces with a little TLC.
Contrary to popular belief, washing your down pieces is critical to ensuring a long, efficient, happy life. With repeated use, oil, dirt, and other gunk accumulates on the feathers, decreasing their ability to loft and keep you warm. The solution? Wash them. Generally speaking, once a year should be sufficient to keep them in prime shape.
Here’s what you do:
Look up the manufacturer-specific guidelines on washing your piece and take note of any mandatory information (ex: washing in cold versus warm water).
Check all of your down pieces carefully for holes, patching any you find before you give them a wash. Bonus points: you might find a chapstick or $20 bill in a hidden pocket!
Spot clean! If you find some particularly greasy spots, give them some extra loving attention. This is common around hoods, the opening of your sleeping bag, the ends of your sleeves, and the footbox of your sleeping bag. Grab your down cleaner of choice (we’re a Nikwax family) and apply with a soft bristled toothbrush, moving in a circular pattern until it dislodges. If this is the only dirty spot on your down piece, you can wipe off the cleaner with a damp sponge but if you’re washing the whole thing, don’t worry about removing the soap.
Once your pieces are prepped, load them into a front-loading washing machine (don’t use a top-loading machine as they are prone to ripping the seams). Be sure that you don’t overload for max cleanliness.
Load your down tech wash into the machine and select warm water and the gentle cycle, unless otherwise specified by the manufacturer.
When the cycle is completed, remove your pieces and load them into the dryer, squeezing out any extra water if necessary. Toss in some down balls or tennis balls to assist in the drying process.
Set the dryer to low heat and let ‘er rip. You should expect your down pieces to take several hours. If you check and there are clumps in the down, continue drying until your pieces are fully lofted and fluffy as can be. Clumps are usually a sign that the down hasn’t dried completely and are easily fixed with additional time in the heat. Whatever you do, don’t store your pieces until you ensure they are fully dry.
Voila! That’s it. Now store your lovingly washed items away until you’re ready to get out and get after it.
Things to consider:
Avoid fabric softeners or harsh chemicals like bleach.
Similarly, avoid dry cleaning unless you frequent an establishment that specifically launders sleeping bags and other technical gear.
If you discover holes or other defects that you can’t fix, consider contacting the manufacturer or a local gear repair shop. They can often fix things that you can’t, which is both wallet-friendly and environmentally responsible.