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Down Jacket 101

Your puffy keeps you warm, dry, and looking fantastic all winter long. Return the favor and give it some hard-earned TLC.

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They get dirty, spilled on, bled on, ripped, stinky, crushed and sat on, so it’s no surprise that down puffies are a classic favorite.

That’s why SKI caught up with a handful of experts to find out how to make sure your puffy keeps giving.

Øyvind Vedvik: outdoor category manager, Helly Hansen

Erin Menor:senior quality engineer, Eddie Bauer

Rick Griffin: quality director, The North Face

Bob Upton: founder, Rainy Pass Repair, which does warranty repairs for brands like Arc’teryx, Helly Hansen and Mammut

What’s the most destructive, yet unintentional, abuse you can subject your puffy to?

Øyvind Vedvik: The biggest mistake most people make is to stuff it away for the season in a tiny bag. Storing down compressed takes away its loft. And if you manage to store it wet, the down can rot since it’s a natural material. 

Erin Menor: Leaving it damp is one of the worst things. It is important to thoroughly dry down if it is wet, because if you don’t properly dry your jacket, it may cause permanent damage to the down.

Rick Griffin: One of the cardinal sins with down is to bleach it. It is such a small fine fiber, that bleach can actually microscopically disintegrate it. Also, make sure to read the care label.

Bob Upton: Drying a down jacket in a hot dryer. If you put it in a dryer with a lot of other stuff, it could get stuck against the metal drum, which is hot enough to melt the fabric. Some jackets you can’t dry because they are so sensitive to heat.

How do I get the beer stains and grime off my puffy without ruining it?

OV: Down is washable, but your best bet is using a down-specific soap. Then to dry it, a large-capacity dryer works the best. Put in a tennis ball or some other object that is suitable to pound the fluff back into the down. Make sure to use a low heat setting. Lighter cases of sweaty odors can go away by just hanging it outside for a couple of days—but that doesn’t always work when you have a really smelly après ski spilled all over.

EM: Follow the assigned care to the garment.

RG: Most consumers don’t realize that most food stains are water-soluble. However, anything greasy should be carefully cleaned with solvent or taken to a professional cleaner. Also, make sure to wash it separately from other garments.

BU: Depends on the stain; you can apply stain remover, but always make sure to test it on a concealed piece of fabric. Never dry-clean down, or you’ll end up with a matted, clumpy jacket.

Can I patch a hole with anything besides good old duct-tape?

OV: Yes. Spinnaker tape is really great—it sticks, it’s soft, and it comes in several colors.

EM: Adhesive-backed ripstop nylon works really well, especially if you use a bit of seam-seal glue around the edges. Both of these items are generally available at outdoor stores.

RG: There are some types of after-market iron-on patches that you can find. There’s the old cotton iron-on patch that you can apply with low heat onto a synthetic. Some even have adhesive backs ready to attach onto lightweight nylons.

BU: We never recommend duct-tape; the adhesive is the hardest thing to remove. There’s a clear tape, called Tenacious Tape, which is a great repair tape for most applications. You can also send it into us (Rainy Pass Repair), and we can patch it for you. We stock fabrics from a wide variety of manufacturers.

What can I do to revive my deflated, lifeless puffy?

OV: Wash and dry tumble—or at least puff, shake, and air it out regularly.

EM: Periodic cleaning is essential to helping maintain maximum loft. Down garments will last indefinitely if cared for properly.

RG: One of the best things you can do with a down product is keep it as clean as possible. A good laundering with a secondary rinse to remove all detergent, is necessary to maintain water resistance.

BU: Usually after a good cleaning, a jacket can be brought back to its original loft. If you’re laundering it at home, use a front-load washer and dryer only, and only use detergent if the jacket fabric is a non-Gore-Tex material.