Puffy down jackets probably win the prize for most confusing piece of clothing to wash. It’s definitely intimidating to thrown one in the wash. What if you ruin it? What if it isn’t fluffy anymore? They’re expensive, so no one wants a laundry catastrophe.
Here’s how to properly wash a puffer jacket so you can keep it clean and fluffy for years to come.
The wash cycle
Best case scenario: you have a washing machine that doesn’t have a center agitator, like a front-loading machine. No agitator is best for a down jacket, since there’s no agitator to pull at it.
Second best case scenario: you have a plain top-loading machine with the regular agitator. This is what I’ve always used for jackets and I’ve never had an issue.
No matter what machine you use, set your washing machine to a cold wash on the most delicate setting.
If you’re still worried about your jacket, here’s another tip. As an extra precaution, put the jacket inside a mesh laundry bag to protect it from rubbing against the agitator and other items in the wash. I use this set of bags, which includes a bag that’s large enough to accommodate my smaller, hoodless jackets. If you’re washing other things with the jacket, the bag will also help protect it from rogue zippers and such.
One last washing option: hand washing. If you have a very special jacket and you’re very paranoid, or if your washing machine has a habit of eating your clothes, this will protect your jacket from aggressive washing machines. Obviously, you just have to be willing to take the time and you have to have a large enough sink for your jacket. That said, after hand washing, I recommend putting it in your washing machine for a spin cycle only to remove the bulk of the water. This will help it dry faster, which is important for reasons I’ll talk about in the drying section.
Which detergent to use
For best results, most jacket experts agree that you should look for a down-specific detergent to maintain maximum fluff and to prevent clumping. Another advantage of using these detergents is that they will not degrade any water-repellant finish your jacket might have. Here’s the down detergent I’ve been using, and here’s another option that’s even cheaper.
But don’t worry, regular laundry detergent won’t instantly kill your jacket! I’ve washed mine numerous times with regular detergent, and they’re still going strong. But if you want your jackets to last as long as possible, spending a few bucks on a specialized detergent isn’t such a bad idea.
The detergent you use won’t make or break your jacket, but a specialized detergent may help it to last a little longer and perform its best.
To tumble dry or not to tumble dry?
After you pull your jacket out of the wash, it will look flat and deflated. Don’t panic! This is normal. It will be back to its original fluffiness soon.
Most puffy jacket experts recommend that you put your jacket in the dryer instead of air dry. The trouble with air drying is that it can lead to clumping and moisture retention inside the jacket. Moisture retention is bad, since it can lead to mildew growth inside your jacket, which is impossible to clean. In other words, you want your jacket to dry quickly, not over several days.
With that in mind, be sure you move your jacket out of the washing machine and into the dryer (or hung to dry) as soon as possible. Do NOT leave your jacket wet and crumpled in the washing machine overnight.
That said, if you’re worried about other elements of the jacket getting ruined by the dryer, you may be able to get away with air drying. I’ve air dried my lightweight puffy jackets in the past and have not had problems thus far. Generally speaking, air drying is only a viable option for thinner jackets that can be dried in a low-humidity environment. In other words, these two factors mean the jacket will dry very quickly, which is good for minimizing moisture retention in the down clusters. If your house is quite humid and/or your jacket is heavy and thick, it might take too long to dry. In that case, you’re better off with the dryer.
If you do air dry, my preferred method is to gently drape the jacket over a drying rack or a shower curtain rod, spreading it out as much as possible. I don’t lay it flat, since this can lead to wet spots that dry too slowly. The advantage of using a drying rack or rod is that the air circulates on all sides of the jacket. This will speed up the drying process.
When you do put your jackets in the dryer, set it to the low heat or delicate setting. If you used a laundry bag, take the jacket out of the bag so it can tumble freely. Be sure you throw in a couple of dryer balls, too. They will agitate the jacket as it tumbles, which helps restore the down’s fluffy loft. If you don’t have dryer balls, you can use tennis balls instead.
To restore fluff from an air-dried jacket, put it in the dryer for about 10 minutes on the no heat setting with dryer balls. Tumbling with no heat shouldn’t damage even the most delicate jackets.
The short version
To boil all this down, here are the 3 steps you need to remember for washing your puffers:
- Wash on cold water using the delicate cycle.
- Use a mesh laundry bag and/or down-specific detergent, if you have it.
- Immediately after washing, tumble dry on low heat, and don’t forget dryer balls.