How to Wash Down Ultralight Gear

Trail TalkAli Becker
How to Clean Down Ultralight Backpacking Lightweight Hiking Gear Clothes GGG Garage Grown Gear best

 

Ultralight down-filled garments and gear boast a plethora of amazing technical features that make them a perfect choice for backpacking, hiking and other outdoor adventures. Down offers incredible insulation at a great warmth-to-weight ratio. It’s also packable and breathable. That’s why down is used in everything from quilts and sleeping bags to lightweight jackets, booties and hoods

One of the drawbacks, however, is that these feather-filled finds tend to come with a hefty price tag, albeit one that many of us feel is worth it. Extending the lifespan of our beloved down items and keeping them performing at their best requires routine care and cleaning.

 

How to Clean Down Ultralight Backpacking Lightweight Hiking Gear Clothes GGG Garage Grown Gear best

 

Note: Both duck and goose down feathers are biodegradable and renewable. While not exactly vegan, the down used in ultralight outdoor gear is a co-product, meaning it’s sourced from birds that are raised for meat. Additionally, there are now certifications for ethically sourced down, which requires traceability and no live-plucking or force-feeding.


How Often Do I Need to Wash My UL Down Gear?

How often your down gear needs to be washed depends on how often you use it and how dirty or oily it gets when you do.

If you're just looking to remove last night's spaghetti sauce spill, you can simply spot clean by dampening a cloth with mild detergent and gently blotting the stained area and then letting it dry.

But when the loft starts to decrease, the breathability of your gear is suffering, and things are getting smelly, stained or soiled, you can bet it's time to give it some larger laundering love.

How Do I Wash Down Backpacking Gear?

How to Clean Down Ultralight Backpacking Lightweight Hiking Gear Clothes GGG Garage Grown Gear best

 

The world of washing down gear tends to get divided into two camps — die hard hand washers and technology touting machine users.

In my experience, either option is better than not washing your down at all, and they both have their pros and cons. Let's explore both washing options.

Note: It's important to check with the manufacturer of your garments and gear to get their advice on laundering. Some companies will void the warranty of an item if laundered 'improperly'.

Handwashing Ultralight Down Gear

How to Clean Down Ultralight Backpacking Lightweight Hiking Gear Clothes GGG Garage Grown Gear best

 

Handwashing ultralight down gear is often the preferred method of cleaning due to how gentle this approach is and how delicate down can be once it's saturated in water.

Things You'll Need

- a bathtub or large water basin (smaller items can be washed in a sink)

- down specific detergent (popular options include Nikwax Down Wash Direct, Granger's Down Wash or my personal fav Gear-Aid Revivex Down Wash)

- a dryer that can be set to no heat

- three clean tennis balls to break up the down clumps in the dryer

 

How to Clean Down Ultralight Backpacking Lightweight Hiking Gear Clothes GGG Garage Grown Gear best


How to Hand Wash UL Down Gear

  1. Make sure pockets are empty and zippers are closed. 
  2. Fill your bathtub or large water basin with lukewarm water, then add the recommended amount of down-specific detergent. Be sure not to add excess soap, since you'll have to get all of it out in the rinsing process.
  3. Gently agitate the water to produce suds, then submerge your down gear in the water, pressing it under the water so it fully saturates. Avoid aggressive kneading or wringing of the down while it's wet as this can damage the delicate down clusters. Instead press and lightly massage soiled or stained spots.
  4. Let the garment or gear soak in the water for 15 to 20 minutes (longer for dirtier) to allow the detergent to lift any grit, grease or stains out.
  5. Drain the soapy water and gently remove the water from your down item. Be careful not to wring it out as this can damage the delicate down clusters.
  6. Refill the tub/ basin with fresh water. Again gently massage the soapy water from the down item. Let it sit and soak for 5 minutes before draining the tub again.
  7. Repeat step 5 and 6 until the water is clear and no longer clouded with soap suds.
  8. Remove as much water as you can before putting it in the dryer.
  9. Cradle your wet down gear like a baby as you transfer it into the dryer. Add in your three tennis balls. Turn the dryer to no heat for 60 minutes. 
  10. Periodically check the dryer to see how your item is doing. If it smells moist or gamey, keep the dryer going. Your item can feel dry outside but still be moist inside. Err on the drier side. Depending on the size and saturation of your item, drying can require 4+ hours.
  11. Once it's fully dry, remove your down gear and gently break up by hand any clusters that didn't get worked out in the dryer. Because down fill doesn't always redistribute evenly during drying, you may need to press down piles into their rightful places.

How to Clean Down Ultralight Backpacking Lightweight Hiking Gear Clothes GGG Garage Grown Gear best


Pros of Handwashing

- gentle on delicate down items

- you can target soiled or stained areas

Cons of Handwashing

- time consuming

- can be hard to remove excess moisture after washing leading to longer drying times

- need bathtub or large basin

- uses lots of water

Machine Washing Ultralight Down Gear

How to Clean Down Ultralight Backpacking Lightweight Hiking Gear Clothes GGG Garage Grown Gear best

 

Machine washing your ultralight down items can be an effective and efficient way to give your gear a fresh start — as long as you have access to the right type of washing machine for the job.

Front loading machines or new age top end loaders that DO NOT HAVE A CENTRAL AGITATOR are required. Agitators can — and most likely will — ruin your precious down gear and most UL cottage companies will not warranty the damages.

Things You'll Need

- a front loading OR newer top loading washing machine that does NOT have a central agitator

- down specific detergent (popular options include Nikwax Down Wash Direct, Granger's Down Wash or my personal fav Gear-Aid Revivex Down Wash)

- a dryer that can be set to no heat

- three clean tennis balls to break up the down clumps in the dryer

How to Clean Down Ultralight Backpacking Lightweight Hiking Gear Clothes GGG Garage Grown Gear best


How to Machine Wash UL Down Gear

  1. Empty pockets and close zippers.
  2. Clean any residue out of the washing machine’s detergent dispenser 
  3. Pour the recommended amount of down-specific detergent into the detergent dispenser
  4. Set water temperature to COLD and put it on the gentle/ delicate setting 
  5. Press start and wait for the magic to happen

    How to Clean Down Ultralight Backpacking Lightweight Hiking Gear Clothes GGG Garage Grown Gear best


  6. Once the spin cycle is done, gently transfer your down gear to the dryer. Add three clean tennis balls to help break up the down clumps. Put it on a timed dry for 60 minutes with NO HEAT.
  7. Periodically check the dryer to see how your item is doing. If it smells moist or gamey, keep the dryer going. Your item can feel dry outside but still be moist inside. Err on the drier side. Depending on the size of your item and saturation after the spin cycle, drying can require 4+ hours.
  8. Once it's fully dry, remove your down gear. Gently break up by hand any down clusters that didn't get worked out in the dryer. Because the down fill doesn't always redistribute evenly during drying, you may need to press down piles into their rightful places.

How to Clean Down Ultralight Backpacking Lightweight Hiking Gear Clothes GGG Garage Grown Gear best


Pros of Machine Washing 

- saves tons of time

- often gets more soap out versus hand washing

- spin cycle gets out more moisture making drying time shorter 

- less water consumption

Cons of Machine Washing

- can void the warranty of your gear depending on the manufacturer

- not as gentle as hand washing, can be hard on delicate down items

- need the proper washing machine

Bottom Line

How to Clean Down Ultralight Backpacking Lightweight Hiking Gear Clothes GGG Garage Grown Gear best

 

Whichever way you slice it, washing your ultralight down backpacking gear is an important part of keeping your items performing their best and lasting their longest.

Choosing to hand wash or machine launder will largely depend on how many down items you have to wash, how dirty they are, the size of the item(s), how much time you have, manufacturer’s recommendations, and whether or not you have access to the proper washing machine.

Whatever you choose, take solace in knowing that when you look after your gear, your gear will look after you.

 

 

Ali Becker is a freelance adventure writer and narrative storyteller who shares compelling conversations about personal transformations, overcoming limitations, wellness education and adventurous situations. You can follow her rambling adventures on social at @thisisalibecker

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