What is a Down Comforter?

R. Kayne

A down comforter resembles a thick, fluffy quilt, but is filled with down feathers from geese or duck. Down is extraordinarily light, soft, warm and luxurious, making a comforter filled with it an exceptionally popular bed covering.

A down comforter is filled with down feathers from geese or duck.
A down comforter is filled with down feathers from geese or duck.

Most feathers lay flat with a central quill, but true down lacks a hard shaft and the fluffy filaments are "bushy" in appearance. This is what makes down so soft. It also gives it the ability to hold in body heat while allowing moisture to escape —- a desirable property known as wicking.

Down comforters are light, soft, and warm.
Down comforters are light, soft, and warm.

A down comforter will normally be labeled for its fill power. This rating relates to the quality of the down itself. Once washed and sterilized, an ounce of down is measured to obtain the space it occupies in cubic inches. Very expensive down might have a fill rating of over 700 cubic inches, while a lesser quality down will be closer to 300, but the average down comforter will have a rating of about 500 or so. The higher the rating, the fluffier the comforter, and the more warmth it will provide.

Another rating is fill weight, which is a measure of the actual bulk weight used in the comforter rather than a description of the quality of the down.

In order for down to stay evenly distributed throughout the comforter, either baffle boxing or sewn-through stitching is used. The latter is less expensive and creates a quilt-like appearance of "pockets" that hold the down in place. However, because the stitching goes through from top to bottom, these comforters do not insulate as well and will not be as fluffy.

A baffle refers to material inside the comforter that runs perpendicular to top and bottom, creating 'boxes' that hold the down into large inner compartments while allowing it to remain fluffy. Even here some baffle boxes are not fully sealed and down can shift over time. For this reason the consumer might want to look for true baffle box, sometimes called end-to-end or closed baffle.

Some research has indicated that an electric blanket, although warm, may not be healthy when routinely left on throughout the night. The electromagnetic field created may cause problems. A down comforter is a healthy alternative that requires no power and feels like a slice of heaven.

Although down is safe to wash most manufacturers recommend a down comforter be professionally cleaned in an industrial washer large enough to accommodate it. Make sure you follow any instructions that come with your product. Aside from the down comforter, down blankets, pillows, jackets, slippers, gloves and sleeping bags are all readily available. Most down is hypoallergenic.

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Discussion Comments


Down comforters are so comfortable, warm and long lasting. They need to be replaced when they loose their fluffiness, and when they are not as warm as they once were. It is a good idea to protect them with a duvet cover.

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