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Cleaning and Caring for your down gear

Cleaning and Caring for your down gear

Posted by Richard Lievaart on 11th Feb 2021

All of the gear we own and use outdoors is designed to be light and flexible but also strong, waterproof, warm and durable depending on what the product is.

In this series of blogs, we will take you through what we find to be the best ways to look after your tents, waterproof shells, down jackets, boots and backpacks.

Great all round tips I have always tried to stick to with gear:

  • Avoid – Avoid damage ( take off the down jacket before you walk through a bush)
  • Store correctly – Keep tents dry, don’t leave your Down sleeping bag in its stuff sack
  • Maintain – Use the correct products to clean and look after gear regularly
  • Know the lifespan – Eventually your tent will just be too old and it’s time for a new one

If you have a hole or a gash in your down jacket or sleeping bag, you can easily repair this with some tape. Good Old Gaffer or Duct tape works well as a temporary fix when in the field but won’t look very pretty. Tenancious tape is a great permanent solution. Remember to cut the tape into a circle or at least round off the corners so they do not peel. Make sure the jacket or bag is properly dry before applying the tape. If the down is falling out then stuff it all back in before taping it up.

Sewing on this material is possible but as the material is quite soft and it may not hold. If you are an over fixer then you can try sewing and then taping it.

Down gear is designed to be light and very warm. We know that we should not get it wet because the down will then not insulate as well but what about when it gets dirty or when it does get wet by accident, what do we do then?

To avoid needing to clean and treat your down gear, do not store it in a compression bag. This will damage the down overtime and will impact its ability to insulate effectively. Ideally store it in a cool dry place in a mesh bag or on a shelf. Don’t store it hanging because the down will then move away from the points in contact with the hanger. When you do travel with it use the compression bag and or put the bag into a dry bag that can be compressed.

To clean your sleeping bag or jacket you will need Nikwax Down Wash, a large basin or bath and a soft bristle brush (a toothbrush works well)

Fill your tub or bath with lukewarm water and add in the Nikwax, follow the instructions on the bottle for the amount to put in. Submerge your jacket or bag into the water slowly allowing the water to soak in everywhere. Use your brush on any stains or tough dirt. Be gentle and avoid ringing out as this will damage the feathers. You can gently massage the jacket to get the water to move around. Then let the bag or jacket soak for about an hour before taking it out. Empty the soapy water from the bath and then rinse out all the soap by adding clean water, massage the jacket or bag to get the soap out. Keep doing this until all the soap is out and the water is clean.

Now for the fun part, getting it dry and fluffy 

There are two ways to dry it – A tumble dryer or hang it. For both methods you will do some more massaging to now get the water out and the dripping to stop. Do not ring the gear – this damages the down.

If you have a tumble dryer then put the gear in there with 4 to 6 dryer balls or regular tennis balls. The balls will be loud but will agitate the down and get it to be fluffy. Put the machine on to no heat or as low as possible. Set it for 15 min and let it go. After 15 min take the gear out and shake it up, give it a fluff, move the down around so it is even and then repeat the drying. This process will take about 3-4 hours to dry, depending on if it’s a sleeping bag or jacket.

If you do not have a tumble dryer then you can hang your gear in a cool dry space. Again you will need to check it regularly, every 20 to 30 min and shake it up, pull the fibres, massage it and get the down to be evenly spread. Repeat this every 30 min or so until the gear is properly dry. Avoid a room that does not have good air flow or if you hang it somewhere humid then it may begin to smell. I have used a normal house fan to help with this process which worked very well.

Most sleeping bags have two loops that are useful if you need to air or dry the sleeping bag.

Some Tips:

  • When you are taking your bag or jacket out of the water make sure that you support it from the bottom so you do not damage the seams. Water is heavy.
  • Play with the down fibres so they break up easily when drying. The more fluff you have the warmer you will be.
  • When you are using your jacket or sleeping bag, after taking it out the compression bag, give it a chance to breath and it will swell up. This is the down getting fluffy.
  • Do not store your jacket under anything heavy. It’s like bread – when its flat its useless
  • If you have repaired you jacket with some tape then the above process may remove the tape. Be ready to re repair it.
  • For the tumble dryer method – only put one article in the machine so the down has as much room to move around as possible.
  • You can add TX direct spray on to the jacket or sleeping bag when it is dry to give it a protective layer.

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