How to Wash a Down Jacket: 5 Easy Steps
Need help cleaning your down jacket?
YOU ARE in the right place.
Down is one of the best natural, lightweight, and effective insulating materials in the world.
Mountaineers, hikers, climbers, skiers, and outdoor fanatics have been using down jackets for decades, in their pursuit of staying warm.
Down is an extremely lightweight insulation option, and it can be compressed into fractional volumes, making it very packable.
Being lightweight and packable makes down jackets desirable for many backpackers, thru-hikers, mountaineers, climbers, explorers, and alpinists.
But down’s biggest superpower is its ability to trap air.
When down is formed into clusters, thousands of criss-crossing fibers create countless micro-pockets of empty space within the insulation.
These micro-pockets trap air, which is warmed by the natural body heat we create while exerting energy.
This process creates an insulating layer of warm air around the body.
CLEAN IS BETTER
In order to continue performing at its maximum, down needs to be clean.
There is a reason why birds take “birdbaths” to clean their plumage…
It’s not only so they look pretty.
Just like with other high-performance insulation or material, dirt particles, sweat, and other things (snot, tree sap, smoke, etc.) can all inhibit the function of down, and if left uncleaned and ignored, they can significantly decrease the lifespan of a down-filled garment.
In the outdoor community, wearing a ripped, hole-filled, duct-taped, patched-up, grimy down puffy is often just “virtue signaling” or seen as a “badge of honor” to show off.
Truthfully, the amount of dirt, sweat, and grime embedded in your down jacket has nothing to do with your level of ability and your level of passion for the outdoors.
If cared for in simple ways, our down-filled garments will last a long time, function properly for longer, and keep us warm for years.
No need to endure the stench and grime of an unwashed jacket.
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In our world, we should all be striving to be responsible consumers, taking steps in maximizing the useful lifespan of our outdoor technical garments, instead of replacing them prematurely and unnecessarily.
A little care goes a long way.
Below, we have provided a simple outline for cleaning your down jackets.
It is as simple as a load of laundry, but with a few small (and important) tweaks.
HOW TO WASH A DOWN JACKET
STEP 1: READ THE CARE LABEL
Locate and read the manufacturer care label on your jacket(s). Be careful to follow any guidelines the manufacturer has included regarding water temperature, products to avoid, etc. For Helly Hansen jackets, that label is most often found on the left hip of the jacket.
The common “DO NOTs” for down-filled garments:
- Do not use a top-loading machine with an agitator
- Do not bleach.
- Do not dry clean.
- Do not iron.
- Do not use standard laundry detergent.
- Do not forget to close all velcro straps and zippers.
- Do not use fabric softener.
STEP 2: INSERT JACKET
Place jacket(s) into front-loading washing machine. You can use a top-loading machine, but only if it does NOT have an agitator in the middle. You can also wash other down-filled items like pants or sleeping bags. Simply use the same process.
TIP: All technical apparel should be washed by itself or with same-category items. For example, multiple down jackets may be washed together, but do not mix in other types of garments (cotton, rain shells, baselayers, denim, wool, etc.). Different fabrics require different care and cleaners.
STEP 3: ADD Down-specific TECHNICAL CLEANER
Avoid laundry detergent. Instead, replace it with a gentle technical cleaner specifically designed for cleaning down without weighing down the loft or leaving behind any residue. We would recommend Nikwax Down Wash Direct, or similar product. For specific amounts and directions, consult the back of the bottle. Each product has their own measurements.
STEP 4: RUN WASH CYCLE
Most often, use medium temperature water, and a medium-strength cycle. Consult care label to be sure. We might recommend adding a second spin cycle, just to get as much water out of the garment(s) as possible, before transferring to dryer.
STEP 5: DRY JACKET
Most importantly, follow the care label for specific drying instructions.
If instructions are not clear, a common method is to tumble dry the garment(s) on low or medium heat. We recommend tossing a few dryer balls or tennis balls in with the jacket(s). They can help break up clumps of down, that are having difficulty separating and regaining loft on their own. You may need to run a couple low-to-medium temperature drying cycles until the garment is completely dry and evenly re-lofted.
TIP: Be careful not to overheat down jackets. They almost always have some synthetic components (i.e. pocket liners, outer shell fabric, hood brim, etc.). Extremely high heat can damage some synthetic fabrics and materials. Opt for medium heat temperatures, instead.
EXTRA BONUS: Add Water Repellency
Remember, keeping down dry is key to its insulation performance, and wet down has very little insulation functionality.
Most down jackets have some type of Durable Water Repellent (DWR) layer (added to the outside of the face fabric during manufacturing) to give the jacket some level of water resistance. Over time, that DWR layer can fade and water can start absorbing into the jacket and into the down insulation.
So, if you’d like to add some water-repellency to your down and to the outer fabric that contains the down (nylon, polyester, etc.), then we would recommend using a product like Nikwax Down Proof.
First, you need to clean your down jacket as described above in the 5 steps.
Next, you need to do the whole process one more time, but use Nikwax Down Proof instead of Nikwax Down Wash Direct.
You might see some water start to bead up on the surface of your down jacket next time you are out in light precipitation, and you will know that your insulation is staying dry and working properly.
Now, after you wash and dry…
HOW TO STORE A DOWN JACKET
Let. It. Breathe.
Since down is compressible, the temptation might be to pack it away in a compression sack or smashed into a gear tub.
Down will eventually lose its loftiness if compressed too much over time, so it is best to preserve the function of your down by storing it freely and loosely.
Hanging down jackets from a rail, in closet, etc. is a great way to keep your down garments from being crumpled and compressed.
This picture above shows the closet of mountaineer and explorer, Nate Brown. He hangs all his technical jackets so that they can “breathe” and also remain accessible.
We also recommend storing down garments in a space that will remain dry, and not be susceptible to moisture, mold, or stale air. So, if you go the closet route, don’t forget to keep the closet door cracked.
Thanks for reading!
What if my jacket is a MIXTURE of down and a synthetic insulation like HH Lifaloft or Primaloft?
First, consult the individual garment’s care label for any specifics. Then, lean toward caring for the more sensitive insulation or material… in this case, down is more sensitive. It is extremely common to have down mixed with other materials… after all, most all down jackets use synthetic fabric for at least the shell part of the jacket, if not additionally as a complement insulation.
My down jacket isn’t a fancy, technical outdoor down jacket. It is just a lifestyle down jacket. Any difference in care?
As a general rule of thumb, gear care is centered around fabrics and materials, not the activity for which a garment was originally constructed. In short, if a garment has down insulation, you want to use a down-specific cleaner and dry thoroughly, similar to the 5 steps above.
For very large down parkas and over-sized down garments, you may want to look into using a commercial laundromat with bigger washing and drying drums.
Otherwise, there are no major differences.
What if there are clumps in my jacket after I wash and dry it?
We recommend tossing in a few tennis balls or dryer balls to help break up down feather clumps, in the drying cycle. If it finishes drying, but there are still clumps, try gently massaging the clumps by hand, until the clumps begin to flatten or break apart. Then insert back into dryer for additional time, to help provide loft back to the insulation. Repeat as necessary.
What if I’ve been washing my down jackets with all my other normal clothes, using standard detergent?
No need to panic. A couple washes with a gentle, technical cleaner (ex. Nikwax Down Wash Direct) will remove all the residue left behind by your standard detergent, allowing your down jacket to be refreshed in its loftiness and warmth integrity.
Some people are against using down as an insulation. What is Helly Hansen’s stance on using down?
We should all be constantly looking for ways to create and incorporate more sustainable and ethical manufacturing processes. That is something we are committed to doing, company-wide, here at Helly Hansen. 100% of our down insulation is RDS-certified (meaning it adheres to the Responsible Down Standard), which is the top standard for down sustainability and ethical practices across the outdoor industry, and much of it is sourced through Allied Feather & Down.
For more on Helly Hansen’s sustainability practices and policies, check out our SUSTAINABILITY page.
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Images c/o Eric Gachet, Emrik Jansson, High Mind Studios, Nate Brown, Jack Harding, and Moment Studio
Looking for more gear care tips?
For any additional gear care questions, please contact our Customer Care team in your region.