Buying Guide to Down (and Down Alternative) Comforters

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Fluffy, cozy down comforters are a luxurious, all-natural bedding option that’s beloved for keeping sleepers comfortable year-round. Most are made of what some people call “nature’s best insulator,” down (the super-soft, quill-free, insulation from under a goose's feathers). This guide can help you find the right one for your optimal snuggling.

These plush covers are more expensive than many other options, but they are a good value over time: A quality down comforter can last for years if properly maintained, and it’s easy to update (with a new duvet cover) when you want to transform it to create new look for your bedroom.

Here’s what you need to know to find the right down comforter for you.

DownComforters

What temperature do you like to sleep in?

The comforter you choose should be constructed so that it provides you with optimal insulation (this can mean keeping you comfy in the summer as well as the winter). Are you typically cold or warm when you sleep? A down comforter comes in a range of weights that define how warm the comforter will be. If you’re planning to keep the comforter on the bed all year, you’ll want a light- or mid-weight comforter that can be used year-round; if you will only use it during the winter, you may opt for a heavier weight comforter for maximum warmth. (Please note: Weight is not the same as fill, see the Details section for a fuller explanation.)

Do you have allergies?

Few people are actually allergic to down. Most likely, you are allergic to the dust, dirt and other allergens in the down. Look for allergy-free down comforters that are cleaned with a process that eliminates the impurities from the down and your worries, making them hypoallergenic.

What is a down alternative comforter?

This is a comforter filled with synthetic or natural filling materials that are almost as warming as down. If you are allergy-prone, alternative down, made from hypoallergenic materials is suited for you. Down alternative comforters are constructed similarly to down comforters, except the filling fibers are different. The type of insulation can range from synthetic microfibers to natural fibers such as cotton, wool or silk. Most down alternate comforter are machine washable and can be dried in a dryer.

Do you prefer quality?

It’s important to note that quality will be reflected in the material and construction of the comforter, so it’s a good idea to get the best quality you can. Look at down quality, thread counts in the cover fabric (better fabrics will protect the down inside and prevent down from escaping and wear better over time), and practical construction (e.g. baffle box to make sure the down won’t pool anywhere in the cover).

There are a few key areas of difference between down comforters. All center on one of three things—the down filling, the fabric of the cover, or the construction of the comforter itself.

Features to Look For

The Down:

Fill Power:
This is the measure used on comforters to indicate the down’s insulating power and quality. Down is measured in ounces and fill power measures how many cubic inches are filled with an ounce of down. For example, a comforter with 500 fill power occupies 500 cubic inches of space. Fill power numbers range from about 400 to over 700, and the higher the fill power of your comforter, the better its insulating ability and loft (another word for the fluffiness/airiness factor). Fluffier down will create a better layer of insulating air around you that will make you more comfortable, whether the weather is warm or cool.
Fill Weight:
Not to be confused with fill power, fill weight is how many ounces of down are actually in the comforter. This may sound like fill power, but it is used to explain the comforter’s heaviness, not its warmth. Comforters can have a high fill weight and a low fill power, which may be an ideal combination for people in warmer climates. A high fill weight makes the comforter heavy, but a low fill power prevents it from being uncomfortably warm. Light warmth comforters are often a better fit for people who have milder winters or are typically warm when they sleep, while an extra-warmth construction can help those who face frigid winter nights. In the middle are the all-weather weights, which are ideal for people who want to use their comforters year-round or are typically cold when they sleep.
Allergy-Free Status:
There are very few people who are actually allergic to down itself, so to make down comforters a sneeze-free option for people with allergies, some manufacturers have developed special methods of cleaning the down to remove all dust, pollen, and other impurities from the raw material. If a down comforter is labeled allergy-free, it’s been sanitized to remove common allergens. This is also sometimes called X-treme Clean Technology.

The Fabric:

Thread Count:
Usually ranging from about 100 to 600 or more, this number represents the number of threads per square inch of fabric. All other things being equal, higher thread count means better quality, because more threads provide softness and durability, as well as luster and superior resistance to shrinking. Higher thread counts also mean the fabric is less permeable—so the down stays in, and dust and impurities stay out. (Losing down from a comforter is sometimes also called fill leakage.)

There's one exception to the thread-count measurement, however: batiste. Batiste is a European fabric weave designed to provide all the softness, luster, and durability of higher thread-count fabrics, without sacrificing the lightness of the fabric by adding additional threads.
Barrier Weave:
A barrier weave is a special fabric that is tightly woven to be up to two to three times more leak-proof than other fabrics—and it muffles the sound of down settling when you move as well. It's also designed to be more durable, so that comforters last longer. Baffle Box Construction: Baffling is the term for a constructing of the comforter with little cloth walls inside, keeping down in specific areas in the comforter. This prevents the down from shifting and causing cold spots. Adding more stitches to a comforter's construction is a time-consuming process, so it may be a more expensive option, but it makes for a cozier comforter.
Weight:
Not to be confused with fill, a comforter's weight describes the amount of warmth the comforter is designed to provide: Light warmth comforters are often a better fit for people who have milder winters or are typically warm when they sleep, while an extra-warmth construction can help those who face frigid winter nights. In the middle are the all-weather weights, which are ideal for people who want to use their comforters year-round or are typically cold when they sleep.
Finally:
Warranty: When it comes to down comforters, warranties matter. They can range from a year to a lifetime, so the length of the warranty tells you a lot about the quality of the comforter itself.

Your New Down Comforter:

First up: Whatever comforter you've selected, it's critical to protect it with a duvet cover, which will protect it from day-to-day dirt, spills, and sweat. This is especially important because down comforters should be laundered once a year.

You may notice that your comforter doesn't seem as fluffy as the models in the store when you first bring it home. That's because the comforter was compressed in transport—and it's not permanent. Just shake out the comforter and put in on your bed. In about 72 hours, it will perk up to its full fluffiness.

Maintaining Your Down Comforter

Fluff your comforter daily. A few times a year, air it outside (on non-humid days): Just drape it over a clothesline (horizontally rather than vertically) for a few hours. You can also throw it into a dryer on low heat along with a couple of tennis balls to fluff it up nicely.

Washing Your Down Comforter:

A comforter should be cleaned once every two to three years and should be washed in a large-capacity machine at a Laundromat or professionally laundered.

If you opt to DIY, some key tips to keep in mind:

  • Go to a Laundromat and choose a front-loading washing machine without an agitator in the middle. Agitators are rough on the comforter's fabric and put unnecessary strain on the seams.
  • Avoid harsh detergents and excessive heat (not bad advice for any comforter), as they will cause the down to become dry and brittle, and put a tennis ball in the dryer to help keep your comforter fluffy.
  • Make sure you completely dry the comforter. It may take several hours—double-check to make sure there are no wet spots or clumps before you are finished—because if it’s even a little damp it can become moldy.
What's the best way to store it?

Use a breathable bag to help prevent mildew and avoid plastic ones that trap moisture and do not offer any breathability for the comforter

Duvet covers can be used to cover any blanket or comforter, but they are essential for a down comforter. It's like a big pillowcase to protect and decorate your comforter. Our duvet cover buyer’s guide has more information.