How to clean your Ultralight Down Gear

Enlightened Equipment quilt

As ultralight enthusiasts we all know the value of our precious down-filled jackets, sleeping bags and quilts. They offer unmatched insulation with an excellent warmth-to-weight ratio, down is the cornerstone of ultralight backpacking, hiking, and outdoor adventures. Its packability and breathability make it ideal for everything from sleeping bags and quilts to jackets and booties.

However, if we want to keep enjoying our puffy down gear, we also have the responsibility of maintaining our fluffy quilts, bags and jackets. By cleaning it you will prolong its life and performance. We have written up a few tips on how to care for your ultralight down items.

Cleaning Frequency

Your down gear’s cleaning schedule totally depends on how intense you use your hear and how much you expose it to dirt and oils. Spot cleaning can address minor spills, but a thorough wash is necessary when the gear loses loft, breathability, or starts to smell (nobody likes smelly gear). For example you can keep your quilt a bit cleaner when you use a liner (but that also brings extra weight, so leave that at home most of the time)

Washing Ultralight Down Gear: a few tips

Hand Washing

Our preferred method for washing is by hand. It is especially suitable for delicate down items with very fine down (800+ quid) and thin fabrics (10D and under). Use a bathtub or large basin with lukewarm water (don’t make it too hot, feel with your elbow) and a down-specific detergent/soap (there are several good brands we like, Grangers for example). Gently massage and rinse until clean, avoiding wringing. Push the water out and let the item air dry with no heat. I often lay it in the shower on a flat drying rack. You can also use a dryer on a cold program. toss in a couple of tennis balls (yes, with your quilt or bag in the dryer) to break up clumps.
Let’s break it into a few easy to follow steps:

  • Before you start, check if you don’t have anything left in your pockets, close zippers and get ropes and stuff tucked away.
  • Use a bathtub or a big bucket (we have used a large cement mixing bucket from the DIY shop) and fill with Luke warm water.
  • Add a down-specific soap. Don’t put too much soap in it.
  • Put your gear in, pressing it gently to ensure it’s fully soaked. Take it easy and gentle, don’t go rough to protect the delicate down clusters.
  • Let it soak in the soap and water for at least 15 minutes (longer if it is really gross), thus allowing the detergent to work its magic on dirt and stains.
  • After this drain the soapy water and push it gently out of your down item, avoiding any twisting or wringing to prevent damage.
  • Re-fill the tub or basin with fresh water and gently massage the down item to rinse away any remaining soap residue. Let it sit for an extra 5 minutes before draining.
  • Repeat the rinsing process until the water runs clear, this can take a couple of turns
  • Take the gear out of the water and be careful not to let the down clump together at the bottom. Push the water out gently.
  • To pre-dry, gently press or roll your down gear in a clean towel (or sandwich it between two dry towels) to remove excess water.
  • Leave to drip on a flat serface if still very wet or transfer your wet down gear to a dryer, along with a couple of tennis balls to help fluff it up (yes, that works perfectly). Set the dryer to a ‘no heat’ or ‘low heat’ setting.
  • Check periodically to ensure the drying progress, extending the time if necessary until your item is completely dry. Remember, even if it feels dry on the outside, moisture could still be trapped inside.
  • Depending on the size and wetness of your item, drying may take several hours.
  • Once dry, remove your down gear from the dryer and gently break up any clumps by hand. You may need to pat down any areas that are still uneven to help them regain their shape.
  • Leave to air dry for a couple of days (that is at least something we do, to ensure it is fully dried)
  • Always store in a big bag in a dry place.

Machine Washing

If you happen to have a good front-loading washing machine with a special program. In that case machine washing can be efficient and effective. Use a cold water program, a gentle cycle (no centrifuging), and again a down-specific detergent. Let it drip dry flat to remove the excess water first and after a while transfer to a dryer on a no-heat setting with tennis balls to fluff the down.

Pros and Cons

Hand Washing:

  • Gentle on delicate items
  • using your hands can prevent lumping the down
  • You can focus to clean specific areas
  • Cons: Time-consuming, requires manual effort

Machine Washing:

  • Time-efficient, easier soap removal
  • Shorter drying times due to the spin cycle
  • Cons: Potential warranty issues, not suitable for all machines

Conclusion

Maintaining your ultralight down gear through proper washing and care ensures it continues to provide the exceptional warmth and comfort essential for your outdoor adventures. Whether you choose hand or machine washing, the effort will extend the life and performance of your valuable gear, keeping you ready for whatever the trail brings (and it smells a lot nicer ;-).

Remember, taking care of your gear means it will take care of you, enhancing your outdoor experiences and ensuring your adventures are as lightweight and comfortable as possible. And always read the manufacturer’s label to see the washing instructions and be careful not to void warranty. Happy trails.