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Down and Dirty: How to Clean Your Down Gear

Greetings RRT Adventurers! The Bear here with another gear update.

We know that the thought of your down gear is probably the last thing on your mind in the dead of summer, but that is precisely why we thought it would make for a good blog topic. We neglect our gear for months, cramming it into a closet, bag or stuff sack until we need it in the colder months and climes. What better time than now to give your down some TLC than when you know for sure you won’t need it immediately.

The following directions are geared mainly toward sleeping bags, as they are normally the garment we need to clean most often. However, down cleaning rules apply to any down garment (puffies, etc.) and will keep your gear feeling like it did the first day you bought it for years to come.

Before we dive into the bathtub of down-wash, let’s cover a few basics. First, make sure you have a down drying bag handy for any piece. Most jackets don’t come with a laundry bag, so keep a cotton pillow case around to use in its place. Remember to tie it shut before throwing it in the dryer. Second, if you notice your plumules (down feathers) sticking out of the garment, make sure not to pull them out. You are increasing the diameter of the hole each time you pull one out, and it is the nature of a down garment to have at least a few quills poking through. Instead, grab the protruding culprit from the other side of the garment, like the inside sleeve or bag liner, and pull them bag into the baffles. Finally, regarding storage, many sleeping bags and garments don’t come with store sacks. Kelty sleeping bags, for instance, come with a stuff sack but no storage sack while Sea to Summit and Big Agnes come with both. This isn’t an issue; it just means you need to store in hanging up. This will prolong the life of the bag and/or garment by allowing the down to maintain its loft.

Now, onto the nitty gritty…

Hand-washing

1. Fill tub with water.

2. Soak down garment in tub.

3. Pour an amount of down wash into the water; different washes will have different measured amounts, be sure to consult the specific wash you are using.

4. If bag or garment is heavily soiled, let it soak for up to an hour so the down wash can work its way through the soiled fabrics and plumules.

5. GENTLY knead the bag or garment from top to bottom while it is still submerged in the water. The goal here is to press loose dirt particles through the cloth into the water. Depending on the amount of grime, you may need to repeat this process a couple times. DO NOT pick the bag or garment up while it is wet.

Down companies have many variations on filling their products, but they are typically all done via a wand blowing down into the baffles, one by one, until the garment is full. Down, when it’s dry and fully lofted (fluffy) cannot push back through the openings the manufacture used to fill them. However, when wet (as you have seen in our dry down vs. standard down video on YouTube), down clumps together, and gravity and/or centrifugal force will pull it through the baffle openings. This results in uneven distribution as your down dries, sometimes in whole baffles being empty. So how do you avoid this?

6. Drain the tub, press the garment flat against the floor of the tub and roll it tight toward the drain.

What you will be accomplishing here is flattening the down inside the garment while simultaneously wringing the water out. This flattened down will not move, so long as you keep tension on the rolled garment. Think of it like wringing out a rag; the tighter you squeeze it, the more water it sheds. Be sure not to let up on it when you move to the next step.

7. Take the still coiled-up garment out of the tub and place it immediately in the laundry bag supplied with your down bag.

DO NOT dry your bag without one of these laundry bags. Gravity + Loose, Wet Down (even the compacted stuff mentioned above) + rapidly spinning cylinder = bad news. Set the drier to medium, and make sure to periodically stop the cycle and break up clumps from the washing process. Keep it in the bag, dry it until it is completely dry, like hot, fluffy dry. No moisture. Period.

8. You’re done! You know that awesome feeling you get from clean sheets? Exactly. If you’re going to store it, put it back in its storage sack (the bag you bought it in.) Otherwise, cram that thing back in your sleeping bag compartment and get yourself outside!

***

Machine Washing

DO NOT USE A TOP LOADING WASHER!!

Trust us on this one, front-loading only.

1. Follow the same rules for soaking as in hand-washing, spot treat directly with down wash to heavily soiled or stained areas and soak for up to an hour.

 

2. Turn the garment inside out prior to washing. Water will push through the lining material on the inside of the bag or garment more easily than it will through the shell as the shell is designed to be water repellent. Hence, if it won’t let water in, it won’t let water out either.

 

3. Use the normal, cold water cycle, with a cold water rinse

 

4. Run through a complete second cycle without soap. This will make sure the soap has completely washed out.

 

5. Wring as much water out of the bag as possible before attempting to pull it out of the washer.

Push and squeeze it into the bottom of the drum a few times; just make sure the bag isn’t sopping wet when you take it out of the washer. The baffles are sewn on with either a single or up to a triple stitch per baffle, but neither the thread nor sewing techniques are designed to support suspended weight. If you’ve picked up wet clothing, you know how drastically different the weights are. Water is heavy.

6. Follow same steps for drying as hand-washing. Wring out, put in drying bag, hot and fluffy, etc.

There you have it! Now, stop reading and go outside!

 

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