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How to Wash a Down Jacket (Patagonia & Others)

If you live in a place with cold weather or lots of snow, or love to visit snowy spots, then chances are you’re no stranger to down jackets. They’re one of the best types of jackets to keep you warm without making you feel like a marshmallow!

But inevitably, it’s going to get dirty and will need to get cleaned. So how do you wash a down jacket without ruining it? We’ll share all the secrets here.

I’m sure you’ve heard horror stories of well-meaning mothers (or just responsible adults) washing their down jacket only to finish the wash and dry cycle to find their precious down jacket is now in clumps with no fluffy down to keep them warm.

red amazon jacket

Let me just say, it’s happened to the best of us! I’ve been washing down jackets my whole life and one time I forgot and thought I ruined my new, expensive down jacket. Never fear – it can be reversed! Keep on reading.

We buy our kids’ Patagonia down jackets since they collapse down much better than a typical winter jacket. This makes it easier to use in the car seats.

We’ll spend a bit more money on our kids jackets to both keep them safe when they’re wearing their jackets in their car seat since you can tighten the straps nice and tight and also not have to remove their jackets every time we put them in the car!

2 kids in front of a snowman

But as you can imagine, toddlers and just about any article of clothing gets dirty and quick. The last thing I wanted to do was ruin these expensive jackets!

(You better believe we pass them down from kid to kid to get a ton of use out of them.) I wanted to make sure I washed them right.

How to Wash Down Jackets

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Luckily, I was born and raised in the tundra (haha!) and washing down jackets was something my mom taught me how to do early on. I’ve not only watched and helped her do it for years and years while I was a kid but have been washing my own down jacket and my kids (and husbands!) jackets as well.

What you need to wash your down jacket

First let’s start with what you need in order to wash your down jacket. (And don’t worry, it’s not a lot).

1. Gentle laundry detergent

down jacket with down wash direct detergent

Patagonia recommends using either NikWax Down Wash Direct or Grangers Performance Wash laundry detergent.

They don’t recommend using regular detergents because it can be hard for it to get rinsed out and it can strip the natural oils in down. If you’re planning on keeping your down jacket for years and years it’s worth spending the extra money on a down specific laundry detergent. 

2. Tennis balls

You’ll need about 3-6 tennis balls (depending on the size of your load). Putting tennis balls in the dryer will help the feathers to fluff up again after washing them.

3. Front loading washing machine

Front loading washing machine

If at all possible, use a front-loading washing machine to wash your down jacket. In case you don’t have one or can’t borrow a friend’s, a top loading one is ok to use for down jackets but it’s ideal. If you’re washing a down sleeping bag though, you must use a front loading washing machine.

How to Wash Down Jackets

Now on to the fun! Let’s wash those jackets and get them clean again.

1. Prep your jacket

First up, you’ll want to prep your jacket. Remove any items from the pockets so you don’t accidently wash slime or a crayon in with your jacket!

How to Wash Down Jackets

Then zip up all of the zippers including the main one in the front. If you leave a zipper unzipped it could catch the fabric and cause a tear.

If there’s a really dirty spot or stain, spraying it with a fabric stain remover will help get that spot clean.

Turning your jacket inside out is another good idea so nothing gets caught during the wash cycle.

While you prep your jacket, check the care label! This will give you specific instructions on how to wash your down jacket (not all down jackets are created equal although most can be washed using these care instructions).

2. Put it in the washing machine

Like mentioned above, put it in the front loading washing machine. Add the correct amount of gentle detergent (also mentioned above) for your washing machine and load size (don’t put too much in!).

Do NOT use bleach or fabric softener when washing your down jacket.

You’ll want to wash your down jacket on the permanent press or gentle cycle on your washing machine and use cold water. It’s best to steer clear from warm water or hot water when washing your jacket.

If it’s really dirty, you can pause your washing machine halfway through to let it soak for an hour or so.

It’s recommended that you run your down jacket through a second rinse cycle to ensure that all of the detergent has been rinsed out. I’ll be honest in saying that I never do that but it’s definitely not a bad idea!

3. Dry your down jacket

Now comes the scary part (for newbies). The drying part.

As you move your down jacket from the washer to the dryer, the next step is the most important. The best way to get your jackets back to their fluffy self, is to put in 3-6 clean tennis balls or dryer balls in with your jacket!

The tennis balls will help break up the down clumps and leave you with a freshly clean, fluffy down jacket once again.

Patagonia Down Jackets with tennis balls and detergent

Another thing to remember is to use low heat when drying. If you’re using a laundromat, be sure to check on your jacket frequently since those can get really hot really quick!

One final trick is to leave the article in the dryer until it cools down. This assures that it’s completely dry! You don’t want to take out your item too early before it’s fully dry.

If you have multiple jackets or just want to not wait for a long time for your jackets to be dried, here’s a trick. Open up your dryer from time to time during the dry cycle and separate clumps with your fingers.

This will not only speed up the amount of time in the dryer but also ensure that all of the down is being separated and not clumping.

The best tip I’ve learned is to ensure it’s 100% dry. You don’t want to put it away or packing it for a trip when the down is still wet. The drying process takes much longer than it seems since down can hold so much water so make certain it’s dry before packing it away.

How to Wash Your Down Jacket FAQ

1. Can you dry clean your down jacket?

It is not recommended that you take a down jacket to a dry cleaner. While, yes, there are likely some dry cleaners who can do a great job, the odds of you getting your down jacket back and it not being fluffy is highly possible.
Also dry cleaning chemicals are very harsh and you don’t want to ruin your favorite jacket by having someone else handle it in the wrong way! Just wash it yourself!

2. Can I air dry my down jacket?

While in theory, yes, you can air dry your jacket, you’ll get the best results by putting it in a dryer. If a dryer is not an option, here’s what to do.
First find a warm, dry and sunny spot. Lay a towel down and lay your down jacket on top of the towel. You’ll need to pull apart the down clumps from time to time to both decrease the amount of time it takes to dry your jacket but also loosen the clumps. You’ll also need to flip the jacket over from time to time as well.
This process, while effective, will take the longest. Air drying will take anywhere between a few days to a a few weeks depending on humidity, amount of sunlight, etc.

3. How often should I wash my down jacket?

The least amount of times the better! You don’t want to over wash your jacket and cause unnecessary wear and tear on it. Typically I wash our jackets about one time a season and before I pack them up in the spring.

4. Can I hand wash my down jacket?

Yes, you can. If you don’t have the ability to machine wash your down jacket in a front-loading machine, you can always hand wash it. Just be sure to dry it the recommended way to make sure it gets back to it’s optimal fluffiness and never wring it out after washing it. Just put it directly in the dryer.

3 kids in front of a snowman

Hopefully this helps you feel confident washing your down jacket with success. Just remember the key points – take your time, don’t forget those tennis balls and make sure it’s completely dry before packing it away.

When done correctly you’ll pull out your favorite jacket next winter with a smile knowing it’s fresh and clean and ready for another season of fun in the snow.

Want more cleaning fun (I mean, who doesn’t?!). Check out these posts:


Free printable weekly cleaning checklist

1 thought on “How to Wash a Down Jacket (Patagonia & Others)”

  1. I just washed my Sorel duck down jacket and put it in the dryer. It came out of the dryer with the down clumped together. I noticed later that the tag says not to tumble dry and that it was supposed to dry flat. I’m afraid that I runed my jacket. Is there anything I can do to fix this?


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