Down is not feathers. Down is the soft, fluff undercoat of a bird that traps warm air next to the bird’s skin. It resembles dandelion fluff in appearance and weight.
Many wonder what the difference is betwe en down and feathers. Down is used for insulation and is used in duvets and pillows. Feathers are used for featherbeds and some pillows. Sometimes these two are mixed to create a firm, durable product. The more down something has, the fluffier and more expensive it is.
If you can feel pokey feathers in a comforter, be advised that you probably have a mixture of half down and half feathers, which means it’s a lower quality product.
A high-quality, full-down product has numerous light, fluffy filaments extending in all directions. No feather quill shaft to poke you. Down keeps birds cooler in summer yet warmer in winter, and provides breathable comfort.
Down is more comfortable than synthetic filling because of its ability to let moisture, such as perspiration, escape in a process known as wicking. One never feels clammy with a quality down comforter. Simply put, down is more comfortable in varying temperatures and climates than other materials.
Types of Down
Down comes from a variety of different animals. Over the years, bedding experts have categorized down according to quality and softness, and have determined that duck feather down is the worst option for comforters.
- Siberian Down -- best quality
- Hungarian Down
- Goose down
- Goose feather and Down
- Duck feather and Down
- Duck feather -- worst quality
When goose down is used for comforters, it’s gathered during the molting process. A big difference between goose and duck down is that goose down is odorless.
Hypo-down is a natural hypo-allergenic combination of white goose down and Syriaca -- also known as milkweed -- and is used in comforters and pillows. Syriaca grows in the United States. In a hypo-down comforter the moisture is transferred away from the body, and released into the air quicker than traditional down and synthetic filled comforters and blankets.
Down Fill Power
Down is measured by "fill power," which is the amount of volume one ounce of down occupies. The higher the fill power, the lighter and fluffier the down and better insulating ability of the down -- in other words, you stay warmer with less weight. The lower-quality down is about a 500 fill power, while the higher qualities hover in the 700 range -- they’re easy spot, because of their extra-fluffy appearance.
Hint: Choose a lower fill power if you live in a warmer climate and don't need too much heat.
The higher number fill power means greater loft, which creates more little air pockets within the down to capture and hold the warm air, so you stay warmer with less physical weight on you. You can stay snuggly warm under a cozy down comforter-duvet without having a heavy weight on top of you.
Down is used for more than comforters. It’s widely available in pillows, too. Look for down pillows with an inner baffle to minimize compressing the down.
Down Comforter Construction
The more that down is allowed to loft back to its original shape, the better its ability to insulate and breathe. The best constructions maintain an even distribution of down, yet allow the sleeper to adjust the comforter to their liking.
In sewn-through comforters, two outer layers of fabric are stitched together in a quilted pattern. This construction is best for lightweight down comforters because it keeps the down from shifting, but it does not allow for maximum loft. It is sewn through where a stitch goes from the top of the comforter direct through the comforter and emerges on the bottom of the comforter. It can keep the down in place and is a more economical form of construction than baffle box construction.
A baffle is a wall of fabric perpendicular to the top and bottom layers of the comforter fabric. A baffled construction features fabric walls sewn between the top and bottom of the comforter cover, which both prevents the down from shifting and allows the down to fully loft, thus providing more insulation and warmth. In other words, baffles help to give comforters the appearance of depth. Baffle box construction is a higher quality than sewn-through stitching
If it’s important to you to keep your down contained, then you’ll wan to search for the following descriptions: true baffle box, closed baffle box, or end-to-end baffle construction. These indicate that the baffle boxes are fully sealed, as opposed to being partially open. Partially open boxes may allow some down movement from box to box. Closed boxes do not permit the down to move.
Remember to protect your down comforter investment and select a duvet cover to slip over the comforter. Duvets can add color and interest to a usually white comforter, plus they act as great barrier to soil and can generally fit in a standard-size washing machine. Down comforters look the same as feather comforters, but are completely different, once you know how to compare them.