Tips: How to Care for a Down Jacket

how to care for a down jacket down fills

Now that the cold weather is upon us, it’s time to make sure you’re geared-up to stay warm. Lord knows I’m doing that; it’s been cold lately even by Pacific Northwest standards. Having the right pants, socks, layers and jackets is only part of the equation. If you don’t keep those clothes in good shape, all that insulation goodness is going to degrade. How to care for a down jacket is one question I hear a lot on that front. Fortunately, there are plenty of tips about that, including this handful from Outdoor Research (OR).

According to OR product manager Alex Lauver, one of the toughest questions to answer is about washing a down jacket. After all, other than DownTek and a few others, down isn’t exactly known for playing nicely with water.

“The average lifestyle wearer/commuter/weekend warrior probably ought to think about washing it once or twice a year,” Lauver says. “Someone living in it might consider a few times a season.”

After washing the jacket, it’s safe to pop it in the dryer. In fact, Lauver says running it through the dryer on low heat, even without a wash, can re-fluff any down that’s gotten compressed or misshapen.

If your down jacket has a waterproof shell, running it through the dryer can also reactivate the DWR (durable water repellent) coating. I’ve encountered this several times with down jackets from both OR and Stio, and it definitely works. For future reference, this tactic is also effective for non-down jackets. So, if you’ve got a spring or fall rain shell that isn’t repelling water as well as it used to, try popping it in the dryer for a bit to reactivate the DWR.

Lauver does note that if you’re wondering how to care for a down jacket with a simple stain on it, it may be best to avoid frequent trips to the washer and dryer. Instead, spot-cleaning may be best. As with any clothing item, excessive washing adds undue wear and tear to the garment, which may ultimately shorten its life.

One of the most useful tips Lauver offers, however, is about how to patch a down jacket.

“Don’t pull feathers!” he warns. “Push them back in. The old standby is duct tape, but unless you plan to leave it permanently, that will make it worse when you try to patch it with something else. (It pulls feathers, stresses fabric, and can make the hole worse.) Some companies sell pre-cut patches and adhesive stickers. The best way to temporarily patch, if you’ll give it a better long-term patch later, is using a tape with less ‘tack.’ Plain old Scotch tape or painter’s tape works for a few hours while you figure out what to do next.”

Lauver also advises that down jacket patches be cut in an oval shape or with curved edges, as “points and sharp edges can peel and catch. And don’t patch too big. Just enough to fully cover and seal is enough.”

OR has a few other tips about how to care for a down jacket at this link, if you’re interested in learning more. Also, if you’re wondering a bit more about down jackets in general, here’s a piece I published last winter about what the different down fills mean on the jacket’s label (450, 600, 800, etc.).

Jonas Allen

Jonas spent 17 years covering travel, technology and entertainment for regional and international media. He now writes about gear, clothes and tips to stay warm. He hopes his lessons will help other people who get cold (re)discover the great outdoors.

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