Down Comforters: A Guide to Buying & Caring for Your Investment
Ever stayed at a hotel and slept through the whole night, waking on what felt like a bed of clouds? Felt that Goldilocks “just right” feeling…between feeling warm and not overheating? That’s the almost magical effect of a down comforter.
This down comforter buying & care guide was created to help you learn everything you need to know to make a good decision - from "what is real down versus a synthetic down alternative" to "the language of down—baffles, fill power, stitching, and channels." We even cover how to spot the imposters and how to care for this investment once you have it.
So what are you waiting for? If you are ready to give your bedroom that euphoric feeling of a resort, read on to learn all about how to buy and care for your next down comforter!
What is down?
Down is a layer of fine feathers found under the more protective outer feathers on waterfowl. It is the soft inner plumage found on the belly of the goose, duck, and other waterfowl. It consists of fluffy filaments that interlock to trap air and body heat. Down is nature's most efficient insulator, is light and lofty, and breathes to lifting away perspiration.
What is a Down Comforter?
A down comforter, often also called a down duvet, is a top-notch bedding option of fabric filled with these down feathers.
Down combines warmth and light weight. Because of its special insulating properties, a down comforter is usually warmer than a blanket or a comforter that’s filled with feathers or synthetic fiber, all while maintaining a light feel.
The secret to the down comforter's success is that the down plume traps the air between the outside cold and your body, so you don’t get cold but you don’t get too hot either.
Why do people buy down comforters?
Because down is so lightweight, it's one of the most comfortable and sought-after fills for a blanket or comforter. A Northern European luxury tradition brought to the U.S., the down comforter is the first choice solution for people to get through long, chilled winters. However, the traditional heavy down duvet has been adapted for different sizes so that folks can enjoy down year-round. Plus, since it’s breathable, it easily takes you from hot to cold to back again.
Many families choose down not only for its warmth but also for its durability. A down comforter is an investment that usually lasts for about ten years with minimal upkeep.
What about allergies with down comforters?
This is definitely a situation where you get what you pay for. Lower-quality down with low-thread-count covers can harbor dust particles, debris, or other non-down material, causing a reaction in sensitive people.
High-quality down like that produced by Downlite is cleaned extensively according to strict industry standards, is hypoallergenic, and is less likely to cause an issue. If someone in the household is prone to allergies, you may prefer a synthetic down.
Down comforters are not recommended for babies’ beds because you cannot know their allergies at such a young age and because you need to wash baby bedding quite often, which is not optimal for down longevity.
How can I compare a down comforter to a down alternative?
Consider a down alternative comforter if you suffer from allergies. Down alternative comforters are hypoallergenic and, when made of fine materials, are hard to distinguish from authentic down comforters. They usually provide the same level of warmth and comfort, often at a cheaper price. Look for the same features as you would in a down comforter: the warmth level, thread count, and baffling (read on for all of this). Cover your alternative down comforter with a duvet cover, just as you would a traditional down comforter.
The best down alternative comforter is usually filled with Primaloft, one of the many benefits we’ve gotten from NASA. Originally invented for U.S. Army sleeping bags, Primaloft fibers are antimicrobial and repel moisture. It’s extremely durable and easily machine-washable and the closest you can get to the delight of natural down. Plus, unlike a lot of down alternatives, washing doesn’t leave Primaloft flat or lumpy.
Another high-end alternative is best if you have young kids or people extremely prone to allergies—silk is still made of natural fibers but is hypoallergenic. Silk puffs up to draw moisture away from your body at night.
A less expensive option is microfiber, a synthetic filling with hollow or spiral microfibers. Now, since the properties of down feathers are rather unique, it takes far less down to keep you warm than it does polyester. Down alternative comforters have to use more filling to create a similar feel as the natural down. This makes it significantly heavier.
Also, synthetic fibers gradually break down regardless of how well they are cared for, so down alternative comforters need to be replaced more frequently than down comforters.
Processed down, which is used in most bedding and clothing, is a combination of down clusters, down fibers, and plumes, which are small, undeveloped feathers. This is a less than ideal purchase.
What size down comforter is right for me?
Unlike a fitted sheet, a down comforter is often longer than your bed to drape over the sides, finally ending the battle for the blanket and enabling optimal snuggling. This means you should measure a bit wider and longer than your bed, perhaps bending the tape around the sides of your mattress to determine the best down comforter size.
As with most bed sizes, down comforters are usually sized: Twin, Full, Queen, King (a.k.a. Eastern King), and California King. Be careful not to get a “Full/Queen” when your bed is a Queen. In general, as mattresses become thicker, bed sizes become irregular. Always get out that measuring tape before buying.
Common Mattress Sizes
What down percentage is right for me?
A comforter that is pure down may be labeled as such or indicated by the phrase "all down" or "100-percent down." It's important to know the percentage of down in a comforter because it directly affects the warmth, durability, and comfort of the product. Comforters that are not 100 percent down are filled with other ingredients, such as plain feathers. Products labeled as "goose down" are only legally required to contain a minimum of 90 percent real feathers, while products simply labeled "down" may contain less.
To start a mantra we will repeat throughout this guide, always read the tag on your down comforter.
How heavy should my down comforter be? What is ‘fill power’?
All goose down comforters will have a fill power rating—the industry standard to measure the quality of down. Fill power indicates down's ability to loft, or trap air, and the higher the fill-power figure, the better the quality; high-quality down will provide greater warmth relative to weight. A comforter with a higher rating will be warmer than one with a lower rating.
A high rating means that the goose down clusters are large and dense. Goose down products with high fill ratings will be warmer than other products of a similar size. The fill power is one of the best indicators of the quality of the down comforter. A down comforter with a high fill power rating will not only be warmer, but its feathers will also be stronger. This means that the down comforter will last longer.
How is fill power measured? This rating represents the number of cubic inches that an ounce of down feathers will take up. One ounce of down feathers is compressed. When released, the down will expand and fill up a certain amount of space. The amount of space it fills up is normally measured in cubic inches.
Most people will recommend getting a high fill power comforter for cold situations and a lower fill power for warmer situations. However, this is not completely accurate. You must also look at the fill power relative to the total fill weight of the comforter.
For example, a comforter advertised as 500 Fill Power means that each ounce of down fills 500 cubic inches of space. Good comforters normally start at 575 fill power. Better comforters are 650 fill power and up. 1000 fill power is the most luxurious.
Take these two down comforters as examples:
- 350 fill power - 100 ounces
- 700 fill power - 50 ounces
Both comforters are equally warm, but the second one is half the weight because it has a better fill power. eBay provides this excellent chart to help you understand fill weight versus quality and warmth:
- 250-350 FP = Lower quality and very low amount of insulation
- 350-450 FP = Low quality and low amount of insulation
- 450-600 FP = Medium quality and warmth
- 600-750 FP = Good quality and superior warmth
- 750 FP and up = Considered very good quality and incredibly warm
How warm do I want my down comforter?
Well, are you always too hot or too cold when you are sleeping? Do you always kick off the sheets in the middle of the night do you snuggle right in? How hot or cold do you like to keep your room temperature at night?
Down adapts to your body temperature and most people are in that first group of too hot, so a lighter duvet is better for them.
Let’s examine them from lightest to heaviest:
- Ultra Light or Summer Weight: More like a “down blanket,” it isn’t puffy but will keep you warm as that’s just what down does
- Lightweight Duvet, Medium Weight or Four-Season: Works for most people
- Regular Weight or Standard Weight: If you want a puffy and warm duvet
- Deluxe Weight: Very heavy, very hot, perfect if you live in a much colder climate
What fabric should encase my down comforter?
Goose down feathers will last a lifetime (or longer), so you want to make sure that the fabric used for the shell of your down comforter is also going to last.
Most commonly, you will see cotton used as the shell material as it is hypoallergenic, easy to clean and maintain, and easy to repair. An all-cotton shell will breathe, allowing air to pass through to help fluff up the down. The most common kinds of cotton encasing your down duvet are:
- Egyptian Cotton: You probably already know this is the finest, strongest kind of cotton in the world
- Pima Cotton or Supima: Very strong and soft
- American Upland or 100% Cotton: Inconsistent in strength and quality
Like with the feathers, don’t just trust a claim of “100% Egyptian cotton", do your homework and read that label!
What thread count should my down comforter have?
Now, it may seem unimportant for you to have a high thread count in your down comforter because you’ll probably be covering it with a duvet cover or shell, but the thread count dramatically affects the comfort and luxury experience.
Thread count is the density of threads sewn into the comforter per square inch. A higher thread count increases the breathability of the comforter and makes the surface feel smoother, with a light rustling as you move. A higher thread count down shell makes the comforter bouncier. A lower thread count is downright crunchy in texture and sound.
Another point to check: is the fabric shell down-proof? The tighter the weave, the less chance that the down will work its way through the shell. Tighter weaves, measured by thread count or the number of threads per square inch, will also likely wear better. The shell should have a minimum count of 180, but a count of 250 or more is best.
Plus, the higher the thread count, the more tightly woven, which helps keep feathers from poking through and poking you and prevents down from escaping and exposing allergens.
And of course, the better the thread count, the longer your down comforter will last.
How should my down comforter be quilted?
Sewn Through Construction - versus Baffle Box Construction
By now, you’ve realized the business of beds has some complicated jargon. Some of the most baffling bedding terms are around your down comforter’s construction through various stitching patterns.
Sewn through construction makes up the majority of today's comforters. These significantly less expensive comforters feature sewn separations to keep the down in place. Although this prevents the down from shifting around, heat and insulation are lost between the stitching. The down will insulate properly in the individual pockets, but as it is forced down in between the stitching, it will begin to lose heat.
Baffle box construction uses a much higher degree of sophistication. Instead of just sewing the outer layers of fabric into pockets, strips or pockets of fabric—baffle boxes—are sewn into the inner area of the comforter. Very high-quality down comforters will have many different layers of baffle boxes. This means that the comforter will be equally warm throughout, and the feathers are unable to shift much. Baffles allow the down to expand and loft, keeping feathers uniformly distributed throughout, instead of the tendency for the feathers to bunch and lump up. Comforters with baffled shells are better insulators than those whose shells are just sewn through; they are also more expensive.
Quilt stitching means that the comforter is comprised of two pieces of fabric filled with feathers. The pieces of fabric are sewn together in a quilt pattern to create pockets for the feathers. The feathers are then kept in their individual pockets. While this construction reduces shifting, warmth can still escape through the seams.
Channel stitching means that the comforter is comprised of channels or straight lines instead of pockets. A common problem with channel stitched comforters is that the feathers will shift to one side or the other creating hot and cold patches, resulting in nonuniform insulation and comfort.
What are the different kinds of down feather filler?
We’ve gone through size, shape, covering, and construction, but perhaps the most important part of your down comforter is the down itself, which is usually, at minimum, 60 percent of the cost of the comforter. As you probably already know, there are many kinds of geese and other waterfowl, which can lead to varying qualities of down feathers. This means that even in 100 percent goose feather down comforters there are different levels of quality.
If you are looking for the most luxurious, cloud-like comfort experience, the 100 percent pure white down feather is the one you’re looking for. Here are some of the other kinds of feathers to be aware of:
- Canadian Hutterite Down: Canadian white goose down manufactured in Canada. It is very beautiful but won’t be as puffy and light.
- Hungarian Goose Down or European Goose Down: Best of the European down feathers, puffier, more loft, lighter, costs a lot more than a Canadian duvet. Noted for its largeness and density, it is considered to be the best type of goose down.
- Duck Down Feather: Thicker and cheaper, usually with more feathers stuffed in than the goose down, making it also soft, but heavier
- Chinese Goose Down: This is generally considered the lowest quality of goose down because it is harvested from very young geese whose feathers have not had time to mature into large, dense plumes.
- Siberian Goose Down: There is no such thing as "Siberian" goose down, as no geese live in Siberia (except for one rare migratory type of goose that is not used for down). The term Siberia is simply a marketing ploy, and most Siberian goose down is really from China.
- White Goose Down versus Gray Goose Down: This simply represents the color of the feathers. The color has no impact on the quality or warmth of the down.
Where do these goose feathers come from?
Most of the down is a byproduct of the food industry. Ducks and geese to be sold for roasting are plucked after they are killed. Down and feathers, the external plumage, are also plucked from live birds during the molting season, but this is now rare. Before investing in a down feather comforter, it’s normal to want to know its origins.
Cruelty-free goose down comes from geese that were not plucked alive or slaughtered solely to harvest the feathers. It’s good to note that the process of harvesting goose down in China is not as regulated as in Europe and North America. You can only ensure that you're buying cruelty-free goose down when the company can track and trace where their feathers come from.
To reiterate, if the origin of your down comforter is important to you, make sure to do your research and always read the packaging or tag. Also, look for certification tags like these:
What is the daily care for my down comforter?
The most important part of caring for your down comforter is by making sure you always sleep with a duvet cover or down comforter cover on it. A duvet cover is like two blankets sewn together into a pocket with an opening at the end to slide your comforter or duvet into. A duvet cover protects the life of your down comforter and gives you more time between washes. It also allows you to change the decor of your bedroom dramatically and easily.
You can find that there are so-called designer down comforters with a design or pattern instead of the traditional white. This is fine, but we still highly recommend using a duvet cover too. The duvet cover allows you to wash it less often, as it protects it from dust and insects getting in. This is the best way to protect your down comforter for the long haul.
Daily, the comforter should be fluffed by shaking it. From time to time, it can’t hurt to be aired outdoors.
How do I put a cover on my down comforter?
Putting a duvet cover on your down comforter may be, at times, frustrating. Here are some quick tips to make it easier to put on, in case you’re doing it when no one is around to help you.
- Start by turning the duvet cover inside out.
- Put your hand inside the duvet cover and grab the corner of the duvet or comforter.
- Pull the cover over the comforter.
- Repeat on the other three corners.
- Shake the cover to fall smoothly over the comforter.
- Fasten or tie the duvet cover close.
How do I clean my down comforter?
First and foremost, read the instructions from the packaging or on the tag.
Down comforters may need airing out sometimes, but, unless you’ve spilled something on it, it’ll only need to be cleaned once every couple of years. This is especially true if they are kept protected by a cover.
If you have a spill try to spot clean as much as possible. If you ever notice any small tears, go ahead and repair them with a needle and thread.
For comforters that can be washed, the commercial-size washers and dryers found in coin laundries are often recommended. These machines allow enough room for the comforter to tumble about.
If you have a big enough front-load washer, you may be able to wash it at home. If you have a top-loader it should be avoided because the agitator in the middle can add unnecessary stress to your comforter.
Wash your comforter on warm on the delicate cycle. Use a mild detergent and, if your comforter is white, feel free to add some bleach. Put it on at least double rinse cycle. When you take it out of the water, don’t worry if it looks a bit dingy, that’s just the feathers underneath that are wet and showing through—it’ll go back to its normal brightness once it dries.
Dry it on low. To keep the down from clumping, thoroughly tumble-dry, using the gentle cycle. A neat trick is to put new tennis balls in the dryer to help fluff it as it goes. Peek in on it periodically because it could take hours to dry—usually from four up to 12 hours. Feel free to occasionally shake it out and move it around to make sure it dries evenly.
Yes, this does use a lot of electricity, but you only do it every couple of years so, collectively, it uses dramatically less electricity than other kinds of comforters, which have to be washed as often as monthly.
Don’t get tempted to hang your down comforter out to dry. This can cause mildew and lead to a deformation of the comforter’s shape.
Alternately, you can use one of those at-home dry-cleaning kits and only “wash” it in your dryer.
Remember to not over-wash your down comforter—that only serves to break down the feathers. Unless something major is spilled on it, don’t wash it. (Again, this is why we don’t recommend this for any children under four years old.)
How do I know down comforter imposters?
This is a common trick. If you see “100% Goose Down Duvet for $69.99” it’s false advertising. That’s impossible. Down is a rare material. This is more likely filled with chicken feathers or worse. With down, you get what you pay for, and that higher quality comes with a cost.
A down comforter is a long-term investment in your future of luxury, comfort, and sleep.
Are you ready to start having a great night’s sleep every day of the week?
Do you love to travel and relish that good night’s sleep while you’re away? Yes, often when traveling, you’re away from your worries and finally have time to relax, but you also are enjoying a more luxurious experience at a four or five-star hotel equipped with the perfect hotel bedding. We can’t take the stress of the day away, but we can certainly give you the feel of hotel luxury to take home with you.
Downlite is the nation's largest manufacturer of down bedding, providing homeowners and many of the world’s top hotels and resorts with a luxurious night's sleep night after night. Do you remember the perfect night’s sleep you got in that glorious hotel? We provide down bedding to hundreds of hotels. Shop the same Downlite hotel bedding found in luxury hotels and resorts around the world.