How to wash a down jacket

I was getting out my cold weather gear a couple of weeks ago and realized that there was a time when I had no idea how to wash a down jacket. I would actually pay through the nose to get my down jackets cleaned at the dry cleaner and once got a jacket back with a broken zipper! So I thought I’d walk you through the process and show you just how effective home laundering in your washing machine can be for down garments.

Now, in an ideal world I would wash my down jackets before putting them away for the season. But in reality I am always so eager to make space in our tiny coat closet for summer wear that I end up sticking everything in the spare room closet, washed or not. But thanks to that I have a great example to work with.

Dirty down jacket

That’s… pretty dirty

I always wondered why anyone would buy a white down jacket – how impractical, right? But then I saw this one on clearance at Land’s End for less than $30 and decided that even if it lasts me one season it would be worth it. And here we are 3 years later. This is a knee length down jacket that I lovingly call the “giant white caterpillar”. I mostly wear this down jacket on super cold weather dog walks, so it tends to get quite dirty (as you can see).

Disclaimer here is that before washing you should check the tag to make sure the garment allows machine washing (I have washed “dry clean only” down jackets with good results, but I’m a laundry risk taker and was prepared for possible damage), and that front loading washers are preferable for this since they are gentler on clothes and have higher spin speeds. If you have a top loader I’d recommend going to a friend or a laundromat, otherwise proceed at your own risk!

Here’s what you will need for washing a down jacket (or any other down garment, including comforters) at home:

  • A specialized down wash – I personally use Miele Down, other options are Nikwax Down Wash, Granger’s Down Wash and GearAid ReviveX Down Cleaner. Please note that you CAN NOT safely use your regular, enzyme-containing detergent to wash down, and you should use a liquid, not a powder
  • An old tooth brush and/or a mild stain remover (I use  The Laundress’ Stain Solution)
  • Some dryer balls (I use Nellie’s)
  • A couple of old hand towels and a laundry bag (optional)

Washing a down jacket

Here are all the supplies you’ll need to wash a down jacket at home

If you have any bad stains, you can pretreat those with a toothbrush, warm water and mild stain remover or just using the liquid down detergent and let sit for about 30 minutes before washing. I also detach the hood and place it in a laundry bag to keep the metal parts from making noise.

Ready to wash

Stains pretreated, hood detached and in a laundry bag – ready for washing

The jacket then goes into the washer – I will sometimes add a couple of hand towels to help beat the air out of the down “pockets” and provide more washing power.

Loading the washer

You can add some hand towels to the load to help with the wash

The Miele Down Wash  requires only a half cap for a Euro-sized HE load. Please do NOT use your regular detergent – the enzymes in it are harmful to the down and feathers, and it lacks the ingredients in specialized down detergents that condition down.

Down detergent

A half capful of the Miele Down Wash goes into the main wash compartment

I normally wash all down garments on the Pillows cycle of my Miele W3038 – it does a high RPM spin first to settle the down garments and make them more water permeable. I also sometimes run a Beach Towels cycle with no detergent first. The Beach Towels is a quick cycle with high agitation and spin speeds that can prepare the down garment for washing by getting all the air out and saturating the down with water.
In a regular front loading washer I’d probably start with a Delicates cycle and go from there (you might need to run an extra spin cycle afterwards).

Washer Settings

Settings: Pillows cycle, Very Warm (50C/120F), High Spin

I chose Very Warm (50C/120F) for the temperature, although I have washed this jacket on Hot (60C/140F) in the past. You might want to stick with Warm if this is your first try!
At first the down jacket will poof up and appear to float on top of the water. This is why a specialized cycle is great – it has pretty aggressive agitation that beats the air out. If you don’t have that option, throw in a couple of hand towels (make sure the colors won’t bleed). Once the down jacket gets wet and the air comes out you can leave that to soak for a while.

Washing a down jacket

Once the water and detergent solution permeate the fabric this is what it will look like; at this point you can turn off the machine and leave it to soak if you prefer.

Your previously poofy down jacket will come out of the washer smelling of bird and looking very, very sad: all the down will be in lumps and you will probably think that it is ruined forever. But this is where the dryer comes in! Throw it in there with some dryer balls and keep running low heat cycles till there are no more clumps of down left (I use the 45 minute timed cycle in the Miele T8023C). After that air dry overnight and throw in the dryer for a No Heat tumble the next morning.


Load into dryer with dryer balls and run as many cycles as needed till there are no more clumps of down left

So remember where we started? The gross yellow stains that had been sitting in a closet for over 6 months, sinking in?

Dirty jacket

Here’s what we have after the wash:

So now that you’ve seen how to wash a down jacket at home maybe you’ll be able to save some money on dry cleaning! Seriously, it’s super easy to do and the most annoying/time intensive part is the drying. After washing and drying the jacket is nice and fluffy, and as you can see all the stains are now gone.

Best of all, the same principle applies not only to washing down jackets, but to all washable down items: down vests, down comforters, down pillows and so on and so forth. So find an old down garment in your donation pile, buy some down wash and experiment!

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