Cat inside down jacket
Photo credit: Michael Pollak via flickr

How to Wash a Down Jacket

We know it might feel intimidating to wash your down jacket. We take the mystery out of the process so you can quit worrying and get washing.

Down jackets don’t need much care, but, eventually, they can start to smell funky — especially if you’re wearing your jacket as a midlayer for high-activity winter pursuits. So unless you plan on leading solitary adventures for the rest of your life, you should probably learn how to wash your down jacket.

And with warm summer months ahead, now’s the best time to do it so you don’t put it off until the snow starts to fly again.

Also, you may find the down needs some fluffing as well as cleaning. Here, we’ve put together a guide on how to wash, dry, and fluff your down jacket — without ruining it.

Down jacket

Don’t have a jacket to wash? Then start by checking out our roundup of Best Down Jackets for Men and Best Down Jackets for Women.

How to Wash a Down Jacket

  1. Read the clothing tags. Although the guidelines here should allow you to wash your down jacket without a problem, some manufacturers have particular requirements for certain products. Make sure you’re aware of any specific washing or drying requirements and follow the instructions on the clothing tag.
  2. Use a front-loading washing machine. Top-loading washing machines have a central agitator that can mess up the down insulation in your jacket, so be sure to use a front-loading washing machine instead. If you don’t have one at home, you can go to a laundromat.
  3. Wash your down jacket with down detergent and cold water. There are specific detergents for down products, such as the Nikwax Down Wash Direct detergent. This detergent is designed to help maintain or improve the down’s natural water repellency and insulating properties. Normal laundry detergent may damage the down.
    You might also see warm or cold water recommendations for washing down jackets, both from brands and from other people’s experiences. Check both the down detergent’s directions as well as your jacket tags for advice. But if you’re nervous about ruining your jacket, washing it in cold water is the safest bet.

    Ultralight 850 Down Hooded Jacket
    Photo credit: L.L. Bean
  4. Rinse your down jacket. The jacket should be fully rinsed. If you see any signs of soap, you may want to run it through another cycle of cold water without any detergent.
  5. Dry at low or no heat while fluffing the down. Just as with water temperature, make sure to check your jacket tags for guidelines on how to dry your jacket. Low heat should be okay, but be aware that hotter temperatures may melt the outer layer of your down jacket.
    When drying your jacket, several places, including REI, say to add a few (clean) tennis balls to the dryer. The balls will bounce around as the jacket dries and help fluff the down and keep it from clumping. If you don’t have tennis balls handy, you can use dryer balls or other lightweight, dryer-safe items. If all else fails, you can remove the jacket periodically and carefully pull apart any down clumps with your fingers. Drying your jacket may take a couple of cycles, so be prepared for a bit of a wait.
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Frequently Asked Questions: Washing a Down Jacket

When should I wash my down jacket?

If you are unsure when to wash your jacket, keep an eye open for a few things. When the colors of your jacket start to dull, it’s likely starting to get grimy. Plus, if you use your jacket regularly, you’re probably going to end up spilling things on it.

Also, down will flatten with a lot of use. These are all signs that it’s time to wash your jacket.

Above all, use common sense. If your jacket starts to smell, you should probably wash it.

Can I use normal detergent when washing a down jacket?

We don’t recommend using normal laundry detergent.

A down wash, like Nikwax Down Wash Direct, is specifically designed to protect the natural oils in down that regular detergent strips away. Plus, if your jacket has a water-resistant coating, regular detergent may damage that as well.

Should I air dry my down jacket?

Although it is possible to air dry your jacket, it often takes 24 to 48 hours for it to completely dry. In addition, you will have to frequently unclump the down as it dries so it fluffs up. This fluffiness is part of how your down jacket keeps you warm. If you dry your jacket in a machine, you’re able to add tennis balls or other lightweight, dryer-safe items to help keep it fluffy.

Make sure to use a low heat setting on your dryer to get better results than by air drying.

Does it matter if my down is synthetic?

Jackets can be made with either synthetic or natural down. There are some pros and cons to both, but you wash and dry them the same way. We always recommend checking your tags for any special instructions for your specific down jacket.

Justice Sahaydak

Justice is an avid outdoors-lover who has dabbled in camping, hiking, cross country skiing, and more. She has been mountain biking for over a decade and has raced competitively for several years. She is currently pursuing a B.A. in English at the University of Minnesota, and she’s always up for talking about either bikes or books.