How to Care for Down & Synthetic Jackets

Down jacket smelling a little … musty? Got a little bike grease on your synthetic vest? Don’t sweat it, wash it. While overwashing insulation is no bueno, it’s totally fine to wash as needed so you can stay fresh on your cold adventures. 

Below are some FAQs and expert advice from our material development team on how to wash and care for both your down jackets and your synthetic jackets. Note that these recommendations also apply to insulated vests and other outerwear (down overalls, anyone?). 

How often should I wash my down or synthetic jacket? 

“When it smells or when it has a stain,” says Oriana Delgado, Cotopaxi’s Manager of Material Development. In other words, not very often. That said, washing every few months can help fluff up the loft of your insulation.


Pro tip: Jacket smelling iffy, but don’t want to wash it yet? Try hanging it outside or even inside for a day to see if that freshens up any smells you’re noticing. 


If you can, try not to wash your jackets more than a couple times throughout the winter, or 2-3 times a year. Overwashing your insulation will add to your product’s wear and tear, so avoid throwing your jackets in the wash the second you notice a slightly off odor.

What’s the best way to wash a down or synthetic jacket? 

Instructions for washing down and synthetic jackets are basically the same. The main difference is that if you’re going to use a specialty detergent for outerwear, you’d want to choose a down-oriented detergent for down jackets, and a more generalized outerwear detergent for synthetic jackets. 


Pro tip: Never take your insulated jackets to the dry cleaner! The processes and chemicals they use can cause damage. 


Here are a few instructions:

  • Use a front-load washing machine, which is much gentler on clothes. Top-loading washing machines are known to cause damage to insulated jackets since they utilize agitators. 
  • Zip up the jacket, but unzip any zippered pockets, especially if you want the interiors cleaned. 
  • Use mild, unscented detergent, or a specialty outerwear detergent. Nikwax makes detergent specifically for down outerwear and a detergent for more general snow/rainwear
  • Wash alone or with other outerwear. 
  • Choose a regular or gentle cycle with cold water. 

Don’t use any fabric softeners or scent enhancers, which can damage your outerwear. 


Pro tip: Be sure to remove anything from your pockets—chapstick, we’re looking at you—before washing.

How should you dry your down or synthetic jacket?

According to materials expert Oriana, a little time in the dryer is good for insulation—it will help ensure the down or synthetic material is totally dry and fluffs back up to keep you warm. But too much time in the dryer or too much high heat can damage insulation material. 

Choose a low heat tumble dry setting and check your jackets every 30 minutes so you don’t over-dry. Don’t use any dryer sheets. 

You can add a couple wool dryer balls or tennis balls, too, to help fluff up the insulation and increase the loft.

While you should always dry down jackets in the dryer, you can lay a synthetic jacket flat to dry if you prefer. 

One thing to avoid post-dry? Never iron a down jacket, since this can cause damage to your outerwear. 


Pro tip: If your insulated jacket gets wet on an adventure, toss it in the dryer for 30 minutes to fluff it back up. 



What’s the best way to store an insulated jacket in the off season? 

We like to keep many of our jackets accessible year-round for summer nights around the campfire and as a layer for shoulder season adventures. But if you’re putting away a jacket, store it just like other seasonal clothing: in a dry, dark place. 

Ideally don’t store it fully compressed in a small stuff sack, since this can compress the down. Storing in a stuff sack could damage the insulation loft, or mean a few days before it fluffs fully back up and is effective at providing warmth again. 

Pro tip: When it’s time to pull your jacket back out of storage, air dry it in the sun for an hour to get rid of any storage odors. 



How do I revive the water-resistant finish on my insulated jacket’s shell? 

Once again, Nikwax is an adventurer’s best friend. Check out their PFC-free products to add to your jacket’s wash cycle or spray on your outerwear. Nikwax is available at REI

I’ve got a hole in my jacket! What’s the best way to fix it? 

Whatever you do, don’t try to sew a hole in an insulated jacket. It will likely end up further damaging the fabric and lead to a bigger or more holes. A patch is the way to go. We like the Gear Aid patches available at REI. 


Pro tip: Dirtbagging it? Carefully apply some duct tape over the hole. If it starts to lose its stickiness, remove and add a fresh piece. 


If the hole is too big or unwieldy to be fixed with a patch, check out our Guaranteed for Good program and send it in for a repair. Marge the Mama Llama will sew it right up for you. 


I got a little crazy with the post-adventure pizza and my jacket’s got an oil stain—how should I get the stain out?  

Luckily, it’s really only grease that will stain a good jacket, since most insulated jackets have a water-resistant or water-repellant finish that will help prevent other liquids from setting in. For oil stains, Oriana recommends trying a spot clean first. If that doesn’t work or the stain is too big, throw it in the washing machine.