Understanding Down Bedding
What is the difference between down and feathers?
Feathers on geese or ducks are the outer covering of the bird that makes up the protective and decorative plumage. Feathers have quills; they repel water and make it possible for the bird to fly. The down is underneath the feathers; it looks like fluffy little cotton balls. A down cluster has a round center called a plumule, with thousands of tiny fibers radiating from its core. These fibers link to other down plumules creating air pockets, which in turn trap heat. This provides the insulation that keeps the ducks and geese warm. Down is mainly found on the bellies and makes up only 12 – 15% of the bird's overall feather weight. Down is washable. Feathers, which by their very nature repel water, are not. Most people who are allergic to feathers are not allergic to down.
What is fill power and how is it measured?
Fill power measures the lofting capability of down, specifically how many cubic inches of space one ounce of down will expand and fill. For example, one ounce of Hungarian white goose down will expand and fill 650+ cubic inches of space. Higher quality downs have higher fill power. With a higher fill power, more warmth is trapped by the down inside the duvet or comforter. You should note that comforters filled with higher fill power downs may contain less ounces of down, this is to keep the comforter from being too warm. If you have two comforters, one with 50 ounces of 575+ fill power down and the other with 30 ounces of 700+ fill power down, they will keep you equally warm but the one filled with 700+ fill power down will weigh much less on top of you.
Qualities of Down
Larger down clusters trap more heat and will loft more (thus have a higher fill power). Polish white goose down has a very large cluster size and 700+ fill power. Hungarian white goose down has a large cluster size and 650+ fill power. Both of these downs are considered premium downs that made into warm lofty down products of high quality and long life. They can last over 20 years with proper care.
575+ fill power white goose down can come from China, Canada or Europe. It comes from younger birds so it will have smaller down clusters. This down is less lofty than the two types above so it takes more down to fill up a comforter. This results in a heavier comforter, but a more attractive price.
Ticking is the fabric covering. On quality down products, only 100% cotton is used for the ticking. The ticking is made with down proof fabrics that are tightly woven so the down fibers cannot escape. Among ticking fabrics, the ticks from Kolbe & Schule (a German company) are considered to be the finest. Their state of the art technology in the finishing and weaving of down proof fabrics has made them the industry leader.
Baffle Box or Sewn Through Construction
The way a duvet is sewn together (we call this its construction) is very important. With a higher fill power duvet you must have baffle box construction. Baffle box construction has walls of fabric perpendicular to the top and bottom layers of the duvet, creating actual 3 dimensional boxes of space inside the duvet. The baffled walls allow the down to expand to its fullest potential for the highest loft and no cold spots. Sewn through duvets simply sew the top and bottom layers of the duvet together. This type of construction sometimes allows tiny bits of down to escape through the needle holes and can allow for cold spots if you allow your duvet to settle. Both styles serve to keep the down in place, without some sort of box quilting then the down would all collect at the bottom and sides of the duvet!
What is the difference between a Duvet and a Comforter?
The word duvet in French has a couple different meanings: downy hairs or fuzz; or sleeping bag or quilt. A duvet is filled with down or a down/feather blend and is typically white and intended to be used with a duvet cover. A comforter may be filled with down, but more frequently is filled with polyester fibers. Also comforters are usually made with patterned or colored fabric and are meant to be decorative as well as functional, so no cover is used.
Caring For Down
Frequent washing of down is not advised, so down pillows and comforters should always be covered when being used. A duvet cover protects your duvet and is more easily washable than the duvet itself. Pillows of course are covered with your pillowcases, but may also be covered with pillow protectors. When you do choose to wash your down items, they may be either washed or dry cleaned. Dry cleaning should only be performed by a reliable company experienced with down products. If the dry cleaner uses cleaning fluid that is not clean, it will cause the down to clump and lose its lofting ability. Washing is recommended. This should be done only in a front loading commercial capacity washer. No machines with agitators should be used; these are too rough and will tear the baffles. Use a low sudsing detergent or a detergent made for washing down products like Le Blanc Down Wash. Run through the rinse cycle twice to remove all the soap then place in a large capacity dryer on the lowest heat setting and dry for several hours. It is very important to dry the item thoroughly; otherwise the down could mold and start to smell bad.