HOW TO CARE FOR YOUR DOWN JACKET
Written by Gord Betenia, Shackleton Head of Product Performance
Here at Shackleton we use only the finest European goose down in our waterproof parkas, down jackets and gilets. The down in your Shackleton jacket is an incredibly long-lasting and efficient insulator.
In order to maximise your jacket’s longevity and performance, we recommend the following:
- Don’t put your down jacket away wet. Hang it to dry in an open area. Turning it inside out may help. Storing the jacket wet could lead to mildew, which is almost impossible to remove. If the jacket still seems heavy after drying, then the down inside is still likely wet. Continue hanging or see dryer directions below.
- When storing your jacket for the long-term, it should be fully lofted – not compressed. Larger down jackets like the Haakon Tactical Parka may require upwards of 15 cm of rack space to hang. Light-weights such as the Rothera Down Jacket will still required 5 cm. Avoid storing the jacket on thin-wire coat hangers as this may deform the jacket’s fabric. Wood or plastic hangers with a rod diameter of at least 1 cm do a better job of spreading the load. An alternative to hanging is to store the jacket fully fluffed in a large, highly breathable stuff-sack.
- You can put your down jacket in a small stuff-sack when travelling, but don’t over-compress it. With an appropriately-sized stuff-sack you should be able to stuff (not roll) the jacket into the stuff-sack one-handed with relative ease. Hold the stuff-sack at the top with one hand, with its base on the ground. Stuff the jacket in with the other. You shouldn’t need to apply body weight or get out of breath! Avoid the use of compression stuff-sacks that feature straps on the outside that run through buckles to gain mechanical advantage. Too much compression can damage baffles and seams. Remember to remove bulky, fragile or sharp objects from pockets first!
- You can also store your jacket in a small stuff-sack for the short term, such as while in a pack, travelling or in transit to or from a destination. Avoid doing this unnecessarily. Avoid doing it for more than a week or two when in transit.
- Avoid deforming the hood brim during storage. In some cases, the easiest solution is to flip the brim bottom-side up.
- Occasionally a small cluster of down will leak through the shell, lining or a stitch line. Rather than pulling it out, try to work it back in by pinching it from behind. This reduces the chances of the hole expanding or other clusters also being pulled out.
- Don’t panic if you lose an occasional cluster of down. The jacket is filled with millions of them. You won’t notice the difference from an insulation perspective.
- Down provides no warmth when saturated. It insulates by trapping warm air within its structure but that structure collapses when wet. A saturated down jacket is also exceptionally difficult to dry in the field.
- Avoid wearing your down jacket over exceptionally wet clothing such as a saturated fleece or soft-shell. Doing so is one of the fastest ways of driving unwanted moisture into the insulation. Moisture in down will reduce the jacket’s loft and reduce its insulating properties.
- If you must wear a down jacket over very-wet under-layers, consider wearing a hard-shell rain-jacket or wind-shell over the wet layers but under the down jacket. The additional jacket acts as a buffer to slow the rate of moisture transfer into the down jacket.
- Avoid wearing a down jacket in heavy rain unless it’s protected by a waterproof-breathable shell.
- It is common for down to migrate within individual tubes on a jacket, thus creating temporary cold-spots. This is especially common on the lower tubes of the back where they’re sat or leaned on, as well as in the elbows where joint movement acts to push it aside. This is easily remedied by manipulating it with your fingers or shaking it back into place. In theory adding more down to the tubes would limit the problem, but in reality, doing so makes the jacket stiff and boardy, and the over-filled tubes don’t allow the down to loft to its peak level of efficiency.
- Avoid sweating into your down jacket on cold-weather expeditions. The moisture vapour condenses and freezes within the down before it can exit the outer shell. Over time as the amount of trapped moisture builds, the down starts to lose its loft and the issue becomes a serious concern.
- It’s possible to dry a damp down jacket in cold conditions by airing it out in the sun during cold, clear breaks in the weather. This can be accomplished by laying it out over a pulk or a tent, or hanging it in a tree. Remember to attach it to something so it doesn’t blow away.
- Avoid spilling greasy foods or fuels (camp fuel, gasoline, diesel etc.) on your down jacket. They may permanently stain it or in the case of those with a waterproof-breathable shell, contaminate the membrane, which leads to a loss of waterproofness.
How to wash your down jacket
- The first and most important thing to remember is DO NOT DRY CLEAN your down jacket. Dry-cleaning can strip the natural, protective oils off the down. It can also damage the plumules through heat. This will damage the insulating properties of the down.
- Do not use regular laundry detergent. Normal laundry detergents may (1) strip away those oils, (2) damage the waterproofing layer and (3) be VERY hard to rinse out. This leads to the down becoming sticky and clumping together, thus reducing its insulation properties.
- Use only cleaners specifically labelled as being suitable for cleaning down. These are mild soaps that are formulated not to strip away the natural oils that protect down. We recommend using down cleaning products from Grangers, Nikwax and Revivex. They can be found in reputable outdoor stores or online.
- Soaps NOT labelled as being specifically for down run some risk of damaging the down or waterproof-breathable fabrics.
- There are three methods of cleaning your down jacket:
- The simplest and most frequently needed is the spot wash. Spot washing is the removal of specific stains without washing the entire garment.
- Machine washing is the most practical way of cleaning the entire garment including the down inside.
- Hand washing is an alternative to machine washing if the latter isn’t possible.
How to Spot Wash
- Isolate the stained area and carefully pinch and lift it away from the down. Apply a small amount of down cleaner directly to the stain and gently rub it in with your thumb or a very soft brush. Do not use regular laundry detergent or stain removers (which could damage the down).
- Rinse the area carefully using a damp cloth. Take care not to get the insulation soapy or wet. Hang the jacket to dry.
A benefit of spot washing aside from its simplicity, is that it’s very gentle of the garment.
Machine Washing and Hand Washing
The efficiency of your down jacket is reliant upon the down’s ability to fully loft. If the down becomes dirty and matted with body oils, soil etc, a portion of that ability is lost. Washing the jacket in a manner that includes washing the down inside, typically restores the down to its full potential.
A typical recreational outdoor user using a jacket most weekends, and for one or two week-long trips a year, may be able to go two or more years without a complete wash.
Although counter-intuitive, avoid completely washing your down jacket too frequently, unless of course it truly needs it. Machine washing and drying stresses the light-weight components used in the construction. Washing by hand is less stressful but you still have to purge the water out through highly water-resistant fabrics and then tumble dry the jacket for a couple of hours. If the down seems fully lofted and the only issue is a minor stain, consider spot washing.
Do NOT use a North American style, top-loading washer for washing down jackets. The agitating action of these machines places excessive stress on box baffles, quilt-lines and seams, which may permanently damage or destroy your jacket.
Use only a front-loading, European-style washing machine. If you don’t have access to a front-loader, consider hand washing or using one at a laundrette.
- Set the machine on warm (30 C), on its most delicate setting and longest wash cycle. Place the down cleaner (see above) in the machine tray, following but not exceeding the amount recommended by the cleaner manufacturer.
- If there are stains on the jacket, treat them with a quick spot wash (see above). Empty and close all pockets and secure any Velcro flaps. Reduce tension from all draw-strings. Keep the main zipper open.
- If the jacket has a waterproof-breathable shell, wash the jacket inside-out. This will allow the soap and water to get to the down.
- Squeeze as much air as possible out of the jacket (stuffing it into a stuff-sack and then removing it works well), then quickly throw it in the washer loosely and turn it on. Squeezing the air out reduces the chances of the jacket simply floating for a large portion of the wash. You need to get water into the jacket to clean the down. The waterproof, water-resistant and down-proof materials typically used in down apparel make this challenging.
- Let the machine run through its full cycle including the rinse.
- Do at least two extra rinse cycles. Rinse until you’re absolutely confident that the down inside is free of ANY soap. If you have doubts, rinse again. Soap residue left in the down will make it sticky, which causes it to clump and fail to loft properly.
- After the rinse process above, run the jacket through an extra spin cycle. The goal is to mechanically drive as much water out of the jacket as possible before the drying process. Spinning is likely kinder on the jackets baffles and seams than tumble drying.
How to Wash by Hand
Done correctly, washing by hand is gentler on your jacket than machine washing. It’s also an alternative if you lack access to a front-loading washing machine. Keep in mind you’ll still need access to a dryer to properly dry the jacket.
- Partially fill a tub or very-large sink with warm water. Add the down cleaner per the directions on the bottle. If figures for washing by hand aren’t listed, use those for a machine wash. Do not exceed the amount suggested.
- The jacket should be washed by hand with all zippers open.
- As per the directions for machine washing, squeeze the air out of the jacket and then quickly place it in the water. If the jacket has a waterproof shell it helps to turn it inside out first. Hold it under the surface and gently work the jacket in order to purge any remaining air from its interior. The goal is to draw the soapy water into the down.
- If the jacket has a waterproof-breathable shell, the majority of the hand-wash should be done inside-out. Water and soap can’t be drawn into the down through a waterproof shell. Briefly also reverse the jacket back such that the shell is also washed.
- Move the jacket around in the water for a few minutes and then let it sit for 45 minutes. Move the jacket around some more and then drain the water from the tub.
- Gently squeeze the water out of the jacket, being careful not to damage the internal baffles or seams. On jackets with waterproof-breathable shells, do this with the jacket inside out. Be especially careful with baffles and seams. Do not pick the jacket up.
- Refill the tub with clean water. Move the jacket around some more and then once again, drain the tub. As per #4, gently squeeze the water out of the jacket. The goal is to get ALL of the soap residue out of the down. Don’t forget to properly rinse the sleeves.
- Keep rinsing until the water is clear enough to drink.
Preparation for Drying
- The goal is to remove as much moisture as possible from the jacket prior to placing it in a dryer. There are huge time-benefits to doing this – it’s also gentler on your jacket.
- There are two methods of accomplishing this: mechanical spinning, and squeeze and roll.
- If you have access to a washing machine (even a top-loading, North American machine with an agitator), the jacket can be placed inside and run through a spin-cycle or two. Do not run a wash or a rinse at this stage – ONLY a spin. A top-loader can also be used because unlike the other cycles, the spin cycle doesn’t agitate.
- To do this, VERY CAREFULLY cradle the jacket underneath while it’s still in the tub and carefully place it in the washing machine (front or top loader). The reason for carefully cradling it is to avoid the weight of the wet down stressing the baffles and seams.
- Run a spin cycle. Check to see if much moisture remains in the jacket (judge by weight) and if so, do another.
Squeeze and Roll
- Gently squeeze and roll the jacket on towels (both sides) to purge moisture form the it. Be very careful not to damage the baffles or seams. This may seem like a long process but extra time spent will be rewarded by a shorter dryer time.
How to Machine Dry the Jacket
Note that the machine drying process may take upwards of two to four hours.
- You need a dryer that’s large enough for the fully lofted jacket to tumble freely. Otherwise, you run the risk of developing hot spots and burning the shell.
- Remove the jacket from the washer or work area (hand wash) by gently cradling it. Place large tumble dryers on medium heat (not hot) for the longest cycle possible. If using a combi washer/dryer that shares a common drum, use LOW heat. Combi dryers tend to have smaller drums. Low heat is used to avoid the risk of developing hot spots as the jacket begins to loft and tumble less freely. If the jacket has a waterproof or highly water-resistant shell, start with the jacket inside out, which will aid drying. Make sure any Velcro tabs are firmly anchored. Don’t add additional clothing items to the load.
- We recommend throwing a few “dryer balls” or tennis balls in with the load to help break up clumps of down that formed when it was wet. Dryer balls are available on line or come with some down cleaners. Be aware that there is a slight risk of the dye rubbing off tennis balls and staining the jacket. The balls not only help break up the clumps; they also decrease the dry time. The clumps have a consistency somewhat like hairballs. They have no thermal properties and they temporarily result in areas of the jacket having no insulation.
- Check the jacket every 20 to 30 minutes. It helps to manually break up the down clumps during these checks. Doing so will decrease the drying time. The actual down inside will take much longer to dry than the appearance of the shell and lining would suggest. If the jacket seems heavy or not lofted to its full potential, continue drying. Keep checking for clumps or hot spots where the jacket might not be tumbling freely within the dryer drum. Also, reverse the jacket (inside out to outside in or vice versa) to ensure the opposite shell is dry (especially important in the sleeves). Patiently continue until you’re absolutely confident that the jacket is dry.
If you’re machine drying a jacket that’s just wet from field-use, make sure to empty the pockets and secure any Velcro tabs first.
Air Drying (No Machine)
Avoid attempting to air dry a down jacket after washing. It will take days to dry and likely several hours to work the lumps out of the down. Air drying a saturated jacket also runs the risk of mould or mildew developing before the jacket is completely dry.
Your jacket will benefit from a DWR refresh when water no longer beads on the fabric and rolls cleanly off – instead it leaves a trail of water behind it.
We recommend using a spray-on rather than wash-in treatment for down jackets in order to avoid the possibility of a wash-in treatment soaking into the down and possibly causing clumping issues. Products from brands such as Grangers, Nikwax and Revivex are recommended. Spray only the outer shell. Follow the direction provided with the DWR replenisher but DO NOT heat-set it in a hot dryer. High heat-settings may damage the jacket.
Gord Betenia lives in North Vancouver, BC (Canada). His background includes a combination of 18 years working within the product development sphere of the outdoor industry, balanced by over three decades of experience ice climbing, mountaineering and ski touring. Throughout his career Gord has been fascinated by the challenges of improving comfort and efficiency, especially in highly-demanding cold weather environments. Gord's work at Shackleton involves taking using his acquired knowledge and applying it as a foundation to help drive Shackleton product forward.