As your jacket, sleeping bag, and other down insulation gear ages, it slowly loses the insulating ability it once had when you first bought it. Mud, dirt, and body oils begin to work their way into the fibers and reduce the lofting ability of down. This is unavoidable, but also treatable.
Washing your gear can help restore down’s superior insulating qualities. We recommend you wash your down no more than two times per year. Follow these guidelines that will keep you from damaging your expensive gear.
What You Need
Nikwax Down Wash – Using normal household cleaners and detergents can actually damage the delicate down feathers and remove the water repellent coating (if your jacket has that). Nikwax Down Wash is designed to clean and maintain down feathers; it does not damage the structure of down. It helps increase the down’s lifespan, maintains water repellency and breathability.
Tennis Balls – Down has a tendency to clump together when wet and lose its loft. Add tennis balls to the front loading dryer to help reduce clumping and fluff the down.
Front Loading Washer and Dryer – The agitator in top loading washers and dryers can damage the down permanently. To avoid this, use a front loader instead.
Before Washing – Make sure the front loading washing machine is clean of all previous used detergents and cleaners. Check the detergent compartment if you have one and clean it as well. Also wipe down your jacket or sleeping bag to remove any dirt or mud.
Wash – Follow Garment and Nikwax Instructions! Each garment might have it’s own specific instructions, so play it safe by following them. Nikwax will tell you how much cleaner to use for your specific load. Generally it will require cold water and a delicate wash setting.
Dry – Don’t hang dry! Down has a tendency to clump together when it is wet, so putting it through a good drying cycle is important to help unclump the down clusters and regain its loft. This is why clean/new tennis balls come in handy. Again, follow garment instructions to know what settings to use for the dryer. Generally a low tumble and a low heat are required. If you don’t have tennis balls you can try removing the garment every 20 minutes or so and fluff it. But we highly recommend using tennis balls.
Store – Down jackets and sleeping bags are known for their ability to compress down to incredibly small sizes that make them much easier to pack for backpacking trips. This is fine for short durations (a few days to a week), however, it’s a bad idea to store them in their packed down size for long periods. They will as a result take much longer to regain their loft. Store them by hanging them up in a closet.