When it comes to women's outerwear, down reigns supreme. The feathery fluff of down jackets offers the ultimate insulation for frigid days, keeping you toasty and warm. However, this magical fiber needs some extra love and care to keep it looking fresh.
Down is made from the fine, insulating plumage of ducks and geese. This natural middle layer of feathers keeps the birds warm in cold water like an undercoat. The delicate fibers work to trap air in thousands of tiny pockets, warming it like a heater. This process, called loft, is what makes the warmest down coats for women so snuggly and insulating.
Natural oils in the animals' feathers also act to repel water, and in down outerwear, manufacturers sometimes use a synthetic element to reinforce the down's waterproof quality. This is because when down gets wet, any absorbed water reduces the space inside for air, making the loft disappear. Loft is the most important quality of down: the trapped air keeps us warm! Therefore, when we care for down outerwear, our goal is to protect the loft.
Though it's a more sensitive material than synthetic insulation, caring for down isn't very complicated. If you want to play it safe, you can always buy a waterproof down jacket for some peace of mind! Follow a few easy rules of thumb, and you'll keep your down coat looking good as new.
First, store your down coat on a hanger with plenty of space to breathe. You don't want to compress or smush your jacket or vest, since that forces air out of the down. This causes the loft to disappear and can eventually damage the down's structure. Compressing your packable down coat for a short time while you travel is okay—just don't keep it that way in your closet. Remember, your coveted down jacket won't be as effective if you pop it on right after it's been compressed. After a few minutes of expansion (or hours, depending on how long it's been mashed in your bag), the loft should return, and all that warm goodness will bounce right back.
If rips and tears happen, down jackets are easy to mend with a simple patch kit, or you can send the coat in to have it fixed. One big rule with down is to never pluck feathers out of a jacket. Instead, try to push them back into any small openings. Down loves to cling to itself, so when you pull at it, more will start to flow out, making the problem worse.
Unlike your favorite pair of jeans, when it comes to fully washing down outerwear, less is more. Washing your down jacket won't necessarily hurt it, but if done often, it can degrade some of those waterproof coatings and the down's insulation can start to weaken, causing it to lose its loft over time. A good recommendation for the casual wearer is to wash it twice a year. If you work outdoors and live in your down coat, consider washing it a few times each season.
Dust, dirt, and mud are common causes of build-up on a women's down jacket, but these can mostly be removed with a good wipe-down or spot treatment. Larger stains or the residue from constant wear may warrant a seasonal cleaning. Given a little care, your down jacket should remain a staple in your winter wardrobe for years to come.
For really dirty jackets and big stains, you'll want to give your coat a thorough wash. First, you'll want to use a special detergent designed for down outerwear. Second, you'll want to use a front-loading washing machine. Top loaders with agitators can be too rough on down: if you don't have a front loader, wash your women's down jacket by hand in the sink.
Place the appropriate amount of detergent in the washer and set it to the gentle or delicate cycle. Next, toss your jacket in the dryer with a tennis ball on the lowest heat setting. The tennis ball helps to re-fluff the jacket and restore that warm loft we love so much. Check on the jacket about every half hour or so until dry. Then, hang it up (or put it on).
Caring for your down jacket isn't rocket science, but it does require some extra TLC to keep your outerwear in tip-top shape this season.