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Registering: Down Comforters 101

Looking for the lowdown on down? Cruise our Down Comforters 101 to learn all about fill power.

Photo: Zia O'Hara Photography

Craving a cozy bedroom nest? The buck stops with the down comforter. We've put together the basics on comforter lingo and care -- read on for the lowdown on down.

Why Buy Down?

Down comforters are extremely warm yet lightweight. They're perfect for winter but aren't too overwhelming during spring and fall. And they're not only deliciously cozy, but they're also kind to the environment -- down and feathers are biodegradable.

How Much Will I Spend?

Depending on fill power, construction, and outer fabric, down comforters cost between $99 and $999.

"Fill Power"

No, this isn't related to girl power. It's the down quality rating: The higher the fill power, the larger the down. Larger down offers better insulation and will last longer. Comforters made with larger down (a higher fill power) are also more expensive. 500-550 fill power is average, but choose 575-650 fill power for extra warmth. Comforters also come in 700 fill power, but unless you live in an igloo, they'll probably make your bed feel like a sweat lodge.

Fabric Tips

You may think the quality of your comforter's fabric should play second fiddle to the down quality, but because the comforter's covering keeps the down from poking through, fabric quality is essential. Make sure the fabric has a high thread count -- the higher the thread count, the lighter, and therefore fluffier, your comforter will be. Higher thread count also means the fibers are stitched closer together and are better able to contain the down. Look for a thread count of at least 200.

Stitch Patterns

Believe it or not, the stitch pattern, or "construction," is very important in down comforters -- there's more than aesthetics at work here. Some patterns permit the down to move around and fluff up; others keep it evenly in place. You can choose from:
  • Closed construction: The fabric's top and bottom layers are sewn together, creating a box pattern. The down doesn't shift around, so it requires less fluffing. Unfortunately, closed-construction comforters are less lofty and therefore not as warm.
  • Open construction: The top and bottom layers are stitched, but only in certain spots, allowing the down to bunch up.
  • Baffled construction: The top and bottom layers are stitched together to allow optimum down flow. This creates maximum loft and eliminates cold spots. Comforters with baffled stitching are also the most expensive.

Comforter Care

Here are some hot tips for keeping warm with down.
  • Since you shouldn't wash your comforter too often, it's a good idea to use a duvet cover, which keeps your comforter clean for two to four years. Duvet covers also keep your skin oils from invading the down, which could compromise its loft (fluffiness).
  • To freshen up your comforter, hang it outside on a dry day.
  • It's best to get your comforter dry-cleaned, but if you're a DIY diva, be aware that large comforters may not fit in home washing machines. Check out the larger machines at the local Laundromat. According to Pacific Coast Down, harsh detergents and excessive heat can make down brittle, so use Woolite or a similar detergent and dry your comforter on low heat.
  • To properly re-loft down (distribute it evenly) after washing, throw a few tennis balls in the dryer with the comforter.
  • Before putting the comforter away, make sure it's thoroughly dry; if it's even slightly damp, it could rot. It can take four to six hours to dry a down comforter.
  • Never store your down comforter in a plastic bag: Plastic may trap moisture and ruin it.

-- Cindy Hobson

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