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How to Wash a Down Jacket or Sleeping Bag

When I first started researching how to wash a down jacket, I was pretty nervous about the whole process to say the least. Washing down has a bad reputation. A lot of people I asked would ask me “What are you getting yourself into”. Or talk about elaborate methods involving bathtubs and days of drying and massaging down. Eventually I just decided to jump in the deep end go with what made most sense to me

Now that I’ve gone through the process a few times with both down jackets and a sleeping bag, I can say with confidence that’s it’s really not scary at all. Quite easy actually. Here’s how I wash a down jacket (or sleeping bag).

How to wash a down jacket or sleeping bag

How to wash a down jacket – How to know it’s time

First things first. A down jacket is not a sweater. Even though washing down is not as scary as you might think, over-washing can shorten it’s lifespan. If properly taken care of, you shouldn’t have to wash a down sleeping bag more than a few of times in their lifetime (or at all). A jacket however is something you wear when you’re sweating, cooking, eating. It’s bound to get dirty. Dirt (and oils from your skin) will eventually kill your jacket, so an occasional washing is actually good for it. Just not too often.

I aim to wash my jackets no more than once or twice a year to limit the damage.

My jacket had a bunch of smudges on the cuffs (probably from food and dirty tables). A strip of dirt on the bottom from rubbing on my pants. And stains on the collar from the oils of my face. It also smelled a bit musty and was less puffy than it once was. Time for a wash!

How to wash a down jacket – Choose your machine and detergent

I’ve been told by many people that you need to wash down by hand, flat in a bathtub. Since I don’t have a bathtub, I decided to give a machine the benefit of the doubt and haven’t had anything but success with machine washing since.

To make sure you don’t damage your jacket, never use a top loader. Use a front loader only. Put it on a delicate cycle and only use cold water. Hot water can shrink, melt and generally damage your jacket.

Never use your normal laundry soap to wash down. Go for a down specific detergent instead. I like to use Granger’s Down Wash as it’s Bluesign Approved and doesn’t leave any kind of scent to your gear, yet does a pretty good job at removing odors.

To treat the stains on the cuffs and collar, I sprayed them with Granger’s Gear Cleaner a few times before throwing my jacket in the wash to help them fade more easily. Once you’re ready to wash, turn your jacket inside out and close all zips. There’s a good change the outside is treated with a DWR (Durable Water Repellent) which will prevent the water and wash from properly soaking through your jacket.

How to wash a down jacket – The drying process

When your washing cycle is done, be very careful when removing your jacket from the machine. Down gets very heavy when it’s wet. If you carelessly pick it up at an edge, the weight of the wet down could rip straight through your delicate baffle walls.

Instead, carefully roll it in ball and gently place it in a laundry basket or big beach towel to transport it to your dryer. Your jacket is probably looking pretty flat and scary, but don’t worry. It will start looking like itself again soon.

Place some dryer balls inside your machine. These will help fluffing up the down and prevent it from clumping. Set your dryer to a “no-heat” or “airing” cycle. If your dryer only has a low heat option, do a test run first to make sure it doesn’t get warm in there. Heat will shrink and damage your jacket.

Now grab a good book, because this is going to take a while. If you put your down jacket (or sleeping bag) away damp, the feathers will clump and loose performance. Not to mention the mold that might start to grow in there. The actual length of drying time depends on the amount of fill and thickness of the shell. My Patagonia Down Sweater took about 4 hours to dry on an airing cycle with no heat.

I check my down gear every half hour to an hour to make sure there’s no clumping. It’s normal for the feathers to stick together when they’re still wet, but after a couple of hours they should start to separate and loft nicely. If there is a clump after that time, gently massage it out and start checking (and massaging) your jacket more regularly. Once you THINK it’s dry (after about 3 hours for the Down Sweater), put it through another hour long no-heat cycle. Just to make sure you thoroughly dried every last feather.

How to wash a down jacket – Extra precautions for sleeping bag

To wash your down sleeping bag, you pretty much go through the same process. This time however, you might want to think twice before doing it at home. If your own front loader just takes a single load of washing, go to a laundromat that has those big industrial machines that takes 2 or 3 loads. Make sure it has a cold/delicate cycle. Check the soap compartment to make sure there’s no detergent left in there. If there is, wash it out thoroughly or put the machine through an empty cycle.

Since a sleeping bag contains a lot more down, there’s a lot higher chance the baffle walls might rip. So extra caution when transporting your wet sleeping bag is needed. I like to roll mine in a big beach towel while it’s still in the machine and gently carry it to the dryer as if it were a baby.

You want the dryer to be a big industrial triple loader as well. Again, chuck 3 or 4 dryer balls in there with it. Since there’s a lot more to dry, this could take even longer. Don’t be surprised if you’re sitting there for a good 6 hours. Better bring entertainment!

And that’s it. You’re done! You should now have a fresh yet unscented down jacket or sleeping bag that lofts as if it were new again. If you have any questions (or tips of your own) on how to wash a down jacket or sleeping bag, make sure to leave them in the comments below.

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