By Teri Olcott
A down comforter is a wonderful bed accessory if your bedroom happens to be a little chilly or you just like to burrow under a pile of covers and blankets. Because down is lightweight and breathable, a comforter can take the place of heavy blankets and keep you just as warm. If you are in need of a new down comforter or shopping for one for the first time, there are several things to consider to make sure you select the best down comforter for your bed.
How to Choose a Down Comforter
Although traditionally used in the colder months, comforters range from heavy to lightweight and feature different types of down and construction styles. Price tags also vary greatly and can range from under $100 to several thousand dollars.
Some Like it Hot
How warm do you like to be when you sleep? Some people prefer layers of blankets and quilts when they sleep and others are more comfortable with just a single lightweight covering. Down comforters come in many weights and fills. Make sure you select a comforter that matches your sleeping preferences.
Types of Down
Down is the fine inner plumage found on geese and ducks. These feathers are soft and lightweight and have excellent insulating properties. Unlike the top layer of feathers, down does not have a pointed quill. Goose down is the most common down used in high end comforters. Duck down is sometimes used in lower end comforters and is not as resilient or soft. For those who do not want feather down, synthetic down is an alternative and is nearly as soft and insulating as feathers. Synthetic down is also hypoallergenic for those who suffer from bedroom allergies. Alternative down comforters tend to carry a lower price tag than goose or duck down.
Fill Weight vs. Fill Power
Fill weight is the actual weight of the down inside a comforter. The higher the down fill weight, the heavier the comforter. A heavier comforter will provide more warmth than a lighter one, but it may not be as comfortable as one that is light and fluffy. A more important indicator of how warm a comforter will be is fill power. Down fill power is the measurement of how much space one ounce of down takes up inside the comforter. It is the down's ability to trap or loft air. The higher the fill power number, the warmer and fluffier the comforter will be. The following fill power numbers should help you decide on the warmth you will need:
- 400 and under: minimal warmth, good for those who prefer it cooler
- 400 to 599: medium warmth, a good all-season weight
- 600 to 799: fairly warm, but lightweight
- 800 and up: very warm and slightly heavy, good for those who like to feel warm
If your comforter does not list a fill power, it may list a level. Some companies use levels to indicate the amount of warmth the comforter will provide. The higher the number, the warmer and better quality the comforter. For example, a level 3 down comforter would provide more warmth than a level 2, but less than a level 4. Use the following information if the comforter lists warmth levels:
- Level 1: The lightest of all comforters. Provides the warmth of two blankets without the weight.
- Level 2: Slightly warmer than a level 1. Good for cool rooms and sleepers that need some warmth.
- Level 3: Usually has interior baffles (see Construction) for maximum down expansion. Good for sleepers who like to be very warm.
- Level 4: The warmest of all comforters. The interior will have baffles and added down for maximum warmth. These comforters are good for very cold conditions and sleepers who prefer to stay toasty warm all night.
A down comforter is comprised of a top and bottom layer of fabric with the down sandwiched in between. The two layers are then stitched in such a way to keep the down from clumping and shifting. A baffle box design includes pockets of fabric that hold the fill in place. The boxes or baffles allow the down to fully expand and give the comforter its puffiness and pillowy softness. The baffles also ensure there won’t be any thin or cold spots. The comforter can also be quilted with various designs to keep the down for shifting and clumping. More expensive comforters have various baffles and stitching patterns to maximize the insulating properties of the down. Lower-end comforters have minimal stitching. The best fabric material is cotton which allows air to pass through the outer layer and fluff up the down.
What is the best thread count for a down comforter? Just like buying sheets, the higher the thread count, the tighter the weave of the fabric layers and the longer the fabric will last. A comforter with a thread count between 100 and 180 is considered low- end. Look for high quality cotton fabric with a thread count of 250 or greater. Luxury comforters will have a thread count of over 400. You will want to look for fabric that has a tight weave and feels soft and smooth when you touch it. If buying online, be sure to read reviews. If you plan on covering your comforter, (highly recommended), you can get away with a lower thread count.
To protect your down comforter, which usually comes in white, you will want to buy a cover. The cover is called a duvet cover. A duvet cover is little more than a gigantic pillow case that the comforter slides into. Buttons or snaps keep the cover in place. You will again want to check the thread count as the duvet cover will now be protecting the comforter. The cover will add a little weight to the comforter, but allows you to dress it up in bedroom colors you prefer and protects the comforter from dirt, dust, and stains. It is much easier to wash a duvet cover than it is a comforter.
Down comforters come in standard bed sizes. They are made to cover the top of the bed with a little overhang. If you want less or more overhang, choose a smaller or larger size. Be sure to measure your bed and compare it to the size listed for the comforter.
Care, Cleaning, and Storage
When you take your down comforter out of its package, you will need to shake or fluff it as you would a pillow to let it expand. Lay the comforter on the bed to allow air to fill the gaps in between the feathers or synthetic fill. It may take a day or two for the comforter to achieve full loft. You can certainly use it before then.
If your comforter has a cover, you will only need to clean any spills that have gone through the cover. Aside from spot cleaning, your comforter needs very little care. Always check the tag for cleaning instructions to see if your comforter can be hand washed. Some are dry-clean only due to the fabric. Depending on how often your comforter is used, it may need washing and drying once every couple of years. Some owners have never washed their comforter. The cover should be washed before you put the comforter in storage.
Most comforters come in some kind of zippered, plastic packaging. Save the packaging. When it’s time to put the comforter away, you can return it to the packaging. You can remove the duvet cover or leave it on.
Armed with these facts about down comforters, you’re now equipped to buy the comforter that’s best for you. A comforter’s job is to keep you warm, but you don’t want to be roasted out of your bed. Select a comforter with just the right warmth and weight, and say goodbye to cold winter nights.
Images used with permission, courtesy of Teri Olcott and www.shutterstock.com