In the run up to our Alpine adventure, Wally and I spent a lot of time sorting and preparing our kit for the cold weather we hope to enjoy. This included washing and repairing our down jackets. Care for down equipment in cold weather is very important- as important as looking after your boots or any other bit of essential gear. Down jackets are filled with light and compressible feathers that keep you cosy by trapping warm air. They don't like getting wet, as this makes them heavy and they loose their fluffiness, or "loft". However, dirt, grime, sweat and body oils can have the same affect over time, so every now and then they need a good careful clean. In this blog post, we will take you through the step by step process that we use, and share some pointers that we have learned along the way.
What down equipment is suitable for home cleaning?
First of all, read the cleaning instructions on your garment care label. We strongly recommend that you DONT wash sleeping bags. These items are too big and bulky for domestic washing machines and tumble dryers. If possible, use a professional down cleaner with experience of cleaning technical sleeping bags. Smaller items such as down jackets can be cleaned at home. What you need are the following things:
- Specialist down detergent (available from all good gear shops)
- Washing machine
- Tumble dryer
- Two tennis balls (or tumble dryer balls)
Preparation and washing
Make sure that you have a day or a long evening in front of the telly planned! You'll want to be on hand to ease the process along. Before washing the jacket, check that there aren't any holes where feathers can leak out. If there are, you may wish to consider repairing these with a dab of seam grip and leaving this to set overnight. Larger holes could mean that you need to put your cleaning plans on hold as these will require careful patching before laundering.
Ensure that all zips and hook and loop closures are fastened. Put the jacket in the washing machine on it's own, and wash at 30 degrees with your down cleaning agent. I prefer to turn the spin cycle down as wet feathers are heavy and spinning could damage lightweight stitching and baffles. When the washing machine has finished, your down jacket will look like a cat that has just got out of the bath. At this moment, things are a bit scary. Did I mention that down jackets really don't like being wet?
Now the hard work begins.
Put the jacket in the tumble dryer on low with a couple of tennis balls. You should not go far from it for the next few hours, checking on it every 20 minutes or so and giving it a gentle shake. As it dries, you will notice that there are clumps of soggy feathers and empty areas where there are none. This is where your care and attention is essential. Take the time to shuggle and coax the down in to areas where it is needed, and with your fingers fluff the clumps gently. It's worth doing this each time you check on the jacket. The amount of time your jacket takes to dry will depend on the amount of down inside and the air permeability of the shell. Wally's vintage first generation Gore-Tex Mountain Equipment Annapurna jacket takes a lot longer than my light weight Jottnar Fjorm.
Eventually, it will start to feel normal. Don't stop! It's still not dry yet. I like to give a few more goes in the tumble drier until it feels fluffier and better lofted than it did before. The final round in the drier makes all the difference.
Finally, to maximise the lifespan of your down jacket, be sure to store it in a dry place, where it has plenty of room to expand and loft. It's definitely not a good idea to store it for any length of time in a stuff sack, even if it is supplied with one. Hopefully with these top tips, your beloved jacket will keep you warm for years to come!