How To Wash & Waterproof A Down Jacket

Updated: Jun 6, 2019

Purchasing a down jacket is a rite of passage for us outdoor types.

It’s the quintessential uniform for all mountain towns, cold winter commutes, basecamps, belay sessions, and a go-to layer for all chilly situations.

Buying a down jacket represents achieving the “next stage” of outdoorsiness. Anyone who spends time sleeping, skiing, hiking, climbing, or otherwise exploring outside understands that a down coat (or bag, or booties, or gloves, or, yes, even hats) can mean the difference between basic survival and enjoyment. Down offers an unbeatable warmth to weight ratio.

It’s perhaps the best insulator out there.

Did we mention it’s cozy?

It also requires care and attention to extend its lifespan.

Here’s the good news: Washing your down jacket is easy, affordable and guarantees a long lifespan for your gear.


Wash: Gear performs better when closest to its original, pristine state. Case in point: the birdbath. Birds know that their down insulation will best protect them when it is clean. Down, specifically, requires a gentle, detergent-free cleaner. We recommend our very own, Nikwax Down Wash Direct, which is specially formulated to clean down feathers without weighing down the loft.

IMPORTANT: Always follow the care label on your individual garment as the main source of instruction for water temperature, special care instructions, etc. Then, simply substitute in Nikwax for standard laundry detergent, which erodes the water-repellency, breathability, and performance of technical outerwear.

Rinse & Spin: You can use your washer at home or one at a local laundromat. As long as there isn’t a center-mount agitator on a top-loading washer, a special washing machine isn’t required for down gear. That being said, if you can find a front loading washer, that's preferred. If the washer is large enough to handle the load, it’s good to go. The hard and fast rule is rinse, spin, then spin again. Get as much water out before drying as possible.

Dry: Relax to the rhythmic sound of a couple tennis balls tumbling through the dry cycle on low temperature or tumble dry. The down will be clumpy from its time in the washer, and drying it completely is critical. Tossing a clean tennis ball (or two) in the dryer provides a gentle “smack” to break up the clumps. Fair warning: this is not a short process and you will likely have moments of clumpy terror when you check on the progress. Keep resetting the timer until your beloveds are lump-free and fully dry.

Results: When you pull your newly revived jacket out of the dryer, not only will it be gleaming with cleanliness, it will also be puffier then when you began the day. By gently cleansing the delicate feathers, Nikwax Down Wash Direct revives loft and reinvigorates the down’s ability to trap air once again. Voilà!

Store: Hang it all out there. Just "say no" to storing down gear in tight stuff sacks. Over time, perpetually “squished” down feathers will become more resistant to re-lofting to their original air-trapping excellence. Store down apparel and sleeping bags freely, with plenty of space or hanging in large, breathable bags.

Additional resources:

Down is only effective when dry.

To waterproof the outer shell and the actual feathers inside the jacket, periodically apply Nikwax Down Proof. It revives the outer fabric’s DWR, and adds water repellency to the down feathers themselves, without adversely affecting the insulating properties.

REMEMBER: Always read and follow the care label instructions on your garment first, for temperature and other considerations.

Here’s a handy guide to care labels:



5 Tips For Everyday Exploration

5 Tips For Better Experiences Outdoors

5 Tips For Getting Into Trail Running

How To Clean & Waterproofing Hiking Boots

How To Re-Waterproof Your Rain Jacket