A good puffer jacket is the key to making it through harsh Canadian winters. These heavy-duty coats aren’t cheap, but the right one will keep you warm year after year if properly taken care of—and that means figuring out how to keep it clean. We asked two laundry pros to share their tips on how to wash, deodorize and store a down-filled jacket to make it last.
Yes, you can wash it at home
Melissa Maker’s decade-old parka is still as warm and wearable as ever. The founder of Clean My Space, a Toronto-based housekeeping service and online cleaning advice platform, has been washing her puffers at home for years.
Contrary to popular belief, parkas don’t fare well at the dry cleaner. Because they’re filled with down or down alternatives (like polyester fabric), heavy dry-cleaning fluid can mess with their warm, fluffy feel, explains Patric Richardson, a Minnesota-based laundry and clothing expert and author of Laundry Love: Finding Joy in a Common Chore.
When washing at home, it’s best to use a front-loading washing machine without an agitator—the cone-shaped spindle typically found at the center of a top-loading machine—because these can be rough on clothes and garments can get wrapped around them . If your machine does have an agitator, Maker suggests adding something else to the load, like a blanket, to balance the cycle.
Prep your puffer for the machine
Before you put your coat in the wash, empty the pockets, fasten all velcro closures and make sure the jacket is fully zipped to avoid it snagging inside the machine during the cycle. (You don’t need to use a mesh laundry bag when washing a puffer; few people have one big enough.) Next, remove any fur or faux-fur trims that the coat might have, as those can be cleaned separately. “If it’s real fur, you can take it to a dry cleaner or furrier. If it’s faux fur, you can machine wash it separately on a delicate setting,” says Maker. You’ll also want to spot-treat stains from makeup, oil or dirt before tossing the jacket in the wash (but more on that later).
Last but not least, always check the care label before washing for tips from the manufacturer on how to clean the garment.
A gentle wash is key
Once it’s ready for the machine, throw your jacket in by itself (or with a blanket, if needed for balance). When washing her parka, Maker prefers using a mild, unscented detergent and cold water, because it’s the gentlest on clothes. “Most detergents, if not all, are now formulated to kick butt and take names in cold water,” she says.
Want to ensure your coat remains as fluffy as possible? Richardson recommends down wash—just be sure to use it with warm (but not hot) water, because cold water won’t activate it. (If your jacket’s care label calls for “specialty detergent,” he says that means down wash.) Use only a small amount of detergent—Richardson adds roughly half a tablespoon to one load—and avoid bleach or fabric softener.
Maker suggests picking a gentle wash setting. Because down-filled puffers are absorbent, you may need to add an extra spin cycle to help get rid of excess moisture before you take it out. “You want your jacket to be as dry as possible coming out of the washing machine,” she says. “If the jacket remains damp or wet, mold or mildew can build up and cause smells.”
Ditch the heat when you dry
After washing, Richardson suggests hanging your jacket to dry fully before putting it in the dryer to fluff it up. Heat wears fabric faster and is not good for jackets with water-repellent finishes, so be sure to select a low heat or no heat setting—whether it’s air dry, ultra-low or delicates dry. To help fluff up your jacket, add some tennis balls tied in a sock or dryer balls to the machine. “They will bounce around and help to beat any extra moisture out,” explains Maker, adding that this may take one or two hour-long cycles.
Before putting it away, you want to make sure there’s no moisture lingering in the jacket. To check this, Maker says to hold it up to your mouth and quickly breathe in to see if there’s dampness in the air. “If feels like there’s moisture, you’ve got to go for another spin cycle.”
Spot cleaning is your friend
Frequent machine cycles can damage your jacket’s water repellent coating, so washing it once a season is more than enough. If it looks dirty, Richardson and Maker recommend washing it at the end of the season, rather than at the beginning of the next one. “If it’s down and you don’t wash it, you might attract moths,” says Richardson. When you’re wearing it regularly, spot cleaning your jacket is the way to go. (Also do this before you toss it in the wash at the end of the season.) Water repellent parkas are relatively easy to clean. Rubbing the stain with a washcloth and water should do the trick, but Richardson says you can also add a small dab of soap.
The hardest areas to clean are the cuffs or collars, where moisturizer or makeup stains appear. Richardson suggests spraying with a mix that’s equal parts water and vinegar, then rubbing them with a damp towel. “You don’t want to rub it hard, but you want to rub it hard enough to lift [the stain] off,” he explains. “If you dab straight up and down, there’s no friction to cause the stain to release.”
Keep bad smells away
Deodorizing your puffer as needed will keep it smelling fresh without the risk of wearing it down in the wash. When it comes to store-bought products, Maker likes unscented fabric sprays, like Febreze Fabric Refresher. Alternatively, to give the jacket a quick refresh, she recommends doing a once-over with your steamer. This won’t damage the jacket, she notes, because it won’t be exposed to repeated heat.
For homemade deodorizers, Richardson swears by vodka. “It’s antibacterial, so it’ll remove the odor from anything,” he says, adding that the distilled alcohol doubles as a stain remover. Use a spray bottle to dispense the alcohol evenly and let air dry.
If it’s a nice day, Maker recommends letting your coat hang outside for an hour or so to air out before storing it. “UV light is an incredible deodorizer,” she adds.
Steer clear of plastic storing bags
When putting your jacket in storage for the summer, make sure it’s completely dry and has room to breathe. “I’m generally a fan of big containers or space-saving bags, but not for these,” says Maker. “If you crunch up a down-filled jacket, it can damage the feathers.” Instead, she suggests encasing your puffer in a fabric garment bag and hanging it so the air can circulate. If you don’t have a cloth garment bag on hand, Richardson says a clean bedsheet will do the trick.
Make it last by washing it sparingly
The bottom line? “Don’t obsess over washing your parka,” says Maker. Spot clean and deodorize as needed, and wash at the end of the season before stowing it away.
Get Chatelaine in your inbox!
Our very best stories, recipes, style and shopping tips, horoscopes and special offers. Delivered every weekend morning.