Do Down Jackets Lose Their Warmth?

by Derrick | Last Updated: March 11, 2022

Down jackets are known for their warmth and durability, but as you may have experienced, not all down jackets are created equal. Depending on the quality, you may find that a favorite jacket loses its warmth at a faster rate than you’d like, or it simply won’t keep you warm at all. Does the insulating power of down diminish over time?

Do down jackets lose their warmth? A down jacket can lose its warmth after a while, mainly because of dampness. Down is an organic material that loses its effectiveness while wet. Besides getting wet, your down jacket might lose its warmth because it is filled with low quality down. Additionally, down jackets filled with artificial polyfill or synthetic down do not have the same heat retention power as good quality down.

Down is the warmest natural insulator on the planet, and it is the stuff that gives your down sleeping bag its loft. Let’s take a closer look at down, down fill power, and how to properly wash your down jacket to keep its insulating power for as long as possible.

A second common reason why down loses warmth is compression, which is when the down is packed together so tightly that it can’t loft properly. This generally happens over time as the jacket gets older and the fill power diminishes.

What is a Down Jacket?

A down jacket is an insulated jacket filled with under feathers from ducks or geese. These under feathers are also known as down, and they make the jacket retain heat during the cold season.

Besides down, a down jacket can also be filled with synthetic polyester. Down jackets are usually durable and can be worn over a long period. However, you might realize that the jacket doesn’t keep you as warm as it should after a while.

What is Down Fill Power?

The best way to know whether your down jacket is efficient is to check the down specs. This includes the quality of the down and the weight. The fill power rating of a down jacket is its ability to bounce back and loft or thicken.

You can normally find this information on the tag when purchasing the jacket.

You can tell the quality of your down jacket by the fill power rating, which is displayed by a number from 300 to 900+. The higher the number, the higher the down quality and the warmer the jacket. Usually, any jacket with a fill power rating of 600 and above is considered high quality and warmer.

The weight of the down also plays a crucial role in making your down jacket warmer. It is usually displayed in grams or ounces and tells you how much down was used to insulate the jacket. The more down used in the jacket, the warmer it is and vice versa.

Note that a down jacket with a low power fill rating can be warmer because of the quantity of down used to fill it. For example, a down jacket with a 300 power fill rating can be warmer than a 500 power fill rating because large quantities of down were used to insulate it.

Because down is an organic material, a good down jacket will cost you a pretty penny, and you don’t want to wash it and end up ruining it. However, no matter how much you avoid it, a time will come after several mountain climbing and camping adventures that you will have to wash it.

How to Care for Your Down Jacket (so it Doesn’t Lose its Warmth)

Unfortunately, you will not always find laundry instructions on one of the labels on your down jacket. Other than your jacket, you probably have other down products such as duvets, quilts, pillows, and more. How often do you wash those?

You will not be washing your down jacket as often because you wear it mostly during the cold season. The point is water is not the enemy you think it is. Experts say you should wash your down products at least twice a year, and here’s how you should do it:

1. Check the Label

Many manufacturers always put laundry instructions in the form of symbols or written instructions on the label. Some laundry symbols to look out for include:

  • Small tub means the jacket is machine washable
  • Three dots indicate water temperature (one for cold, two for warm, and three for hot)
  • X mark on the tub means the jacket is not machine washable.
  • A circle on the tub means you can only wash it in the machine.

Note that the laundry instructions usually have more to do with the outer fabric material than the down filling.

2. Use the Right Machine

A down jacket, among other down products, can easily get caught on something inside the washing machine.

To avoid any damage, use a large machine, preferably one without an agitator, so that the clothing can move freely.

3. Time to Wash

Ensure that you zip all your zippers to prevent your jacket from getting caught on something that can cause a tear of the outer fabric. You can take extra precautions by changing your jacket inside out.

If your jacket has a removable hood, detach it and wash it separately but together with the jacket. If necessary, treat collars, pockets, and cuffs with a prewash spray of your choice. Use a mild detergent because it has less harmful chemicals that will not damage the down.

4. Rinse Thoroughly

A gentle cycle with warm water should suffice. However, you should also choose the extra rinse option to remove any residue that might be left on your down jacket.

We don’t recommend using fabric softener because it might affect the waterproof qualities of your down jacket.

5. Drying

Drying your jacket can be a slow process, but it is worth the time. It will take you multiple cycles, and you will have to remove the jacket mid-drying to remove clumps and shake it out so the down can redistribute properly. Throwing in a few dryer balls can also help reduce the clamps in your jacket.

You need air to circulate your full garment, so dry your jacket in a large drum with a low or air-dry setting.

Line drying is not recommended. However, if you decide to go this route, do not unhang your down jacket until it is completely dry.

6. Storage

One last tip to help you preserve the efficiency and functionality of your down jacket is storage.

Unless you are traveling, do not compress your down jacket while storing. Put it on a hanger in your closet so it can maintain its shape and breathability.