A closeup of a blue down jacket

How to wash a down jacket

Your down jacket is a trusty companion, always there to keep you warm during frigid Canadian winters, early-season backpacking trips and over-air conditioned flights. It even acts as a pillow on overnight hikes and long travel days. And eventually, you’re going to need to wash it – and restore any water repellency while you’re at it.

Over time, sweat, dust and oil from your skin will seep through the material to compromise the fluffy down inside. You might notice that your jacket’s not looking as spiffy as it used to, or it’s not quite as puffy. Or it might not live up to its former warmth. These are all signs that it’s time to wash your jacket.

Find out about:

  • Spot washing: For minor coffee spills or mud splotches.
  • Machine washing: Only do this if you have a front-loading washing machine.
  • Hand washing: A gentle way to get your jacket clean.
  • Storage tips: To keep your puffy jacket as lofty as possible.

How to spot wash a down jacket

Unless your jacket is really dirty, you can often get away with washing only the soiled spots. Spot washing as much as possible also helps your jacket last longer, since a full wash puts it through a lot more wear and tear.

  1. Make a paste of a little mild soap (like dish soap) and water.
  2. Hold the soiled shell or liner fabric away from the insulation, and use a toothbrush or cloth to gently clean it.
  3. Rinse the material carefully to keep the inner fill from getting wet, then let your jacket air-dry.
  4. Make sure it’s completely dry before you put it away.

How to wash a down jacket and restore water repellency

Sometimes, a spot wash just won’t cut it. If you’ve returned from a particularly dirty or wet trip, or your jacket just isn’t keeping you as warm as it used to, it might be time for a full wash. Washing helps break up clumps and restore the down’s fluffiness and performance, but it’s a delicate balance – down is fragile, so you don’t want to wash it too often.

Before you start, read the manufacturer’s instructions on your jacket’s tag. If they differ from this advice, go with their recommendations.

How to machine wash a down jacket

  1. Make sure you’re using a front-loading washing machine with a gentle cycle. Top-loading machines with a central agitator can cause damage.
  1. Rinse out your washing machine’s detergent dispenser, if possible, to get rid of any residue.
  1. Use a cleaner designed specifically for down. Some products wash and restore repellency in a single cycle, while others require two separate cycles.
  1. Check the pockets, then close all zippers and Velcro® attachments.
  1. Follow the instructions on the clothing label or down cleaner bottle to wash your jacket.
  1. Cradle your jacket like a baby as you carry it from the washing machine to the dryer. Down is very heavy when it’s wet, so you’ll want to be careful when moving it so you don’t tear the fabric or stitching. Flatten out any clumping in the down before you put it in the dryer.
  1. Follow the drying instructions on the clothing label; this usually means drying your down jacket in a large dryer on the lowest heat setting. Add two or three clean tennis balls or dryer balls to help it dry faster and restore loft to the down. Check periodically for clumps. If you find any, try to flatten them out before you return the jacket to the dryer.
  1. It’s very important to make sure your down jacket is completely dry before you remove it. This can take awhile, so be patient. We don’t recommend air-drying your down jacket, since it would take several days and could attract mould or mildew.

How to handwash a down jacket

  1. Close all zippers and hook-and-loop attachments. Check the pockets for rogue snacks, too.
  1. Fill a large sink or bathtub with lukewarm water and a small amount of mild soap or down cleaner (see instructions on the bottle).
  1. Submerge the jacket. Push it up and down a few times to work in the suds, then let it soak for a while. If there are any soiled areas on the shell fabric, use a sponge to work them out.
  1. Drain the soapy water out of the tub and press as much as possible out of the jacket. Fill the tub with clean water and press it into the jacket, then drain. Rinse repeatedly until the water is clear and free of soap – this might take six or more rinses.
  1. Drain as much water as possible out of the jacket. A plastic laundry basket makes a handy “strainer.” Don’t twist or wring out your jacket, as this will make the fibres clump together and could tear the fabric.
  1. Cradle your jacket like a baby as you carry it from the washing machine to the dryer. Down is very heavy when it’s wet, so you’ll want to be careful when moving it so you don’t tear the fabric or stitching. Flatten out any clumping in the down before you put it in the dryer.
  1. Follow the drying instructions on the clothing label; this usually means drying your down jacket in a large dryer on the lowest heat setting. Add two or three clean tennis balls or dryer balls to help it dry faster and restore loft to the down. Check periodically for clumps. If you find any, try to flatten them out before you return the jacket to the dryer.
  1. It’s very important to make sure your down jacket is completely dry before you remove it. This can take awhile, so be patient. We don’t recommend air-drying your down jacket, since it would take several days and could attract mould or mildew.

How to store a down jacket

If you’re not going to wear your jacket for a while (hello, summer!), pack it away properly to help it last longer. Don’t leave your down jacket stuffed into its own pocket or in a small stuff sack since that compresses the down. It’s best to hang it in a ventilated closet or loosely stuff it into a large cloth or mesh bag.