Information About Down
These resources should help you understand more about down, and they should also answer many common questions. Please call or email if you have any additional questions.
- Why Down, from St. Geneve, makers of quality products and fine down products. (Good overview)
- Excerpts from Questions and Answers about Down, from the Down Association of Canada.
No other insulator exists that is as effective as good quality down. Nothing else comes close!
Insulation: It is not the down itself that actually does the insulating, but rather the tiny air pockets trapped by the down fibers. The smaller and more numerous the air pockets, the more efficient the insulation.
Resiliency: This is the ability to be compressed and then spring back to the original volume. No other material regains its "loft" like down. Obviously, if a material does not spring back, it loses a considerable portion of its insulating power.
Longevity: With proper care, down will outlast any other insulating material. We have recovered quilts up to a hundred years old, and the filling was still in good condition.
Breathability: Down allows water vapor to pass through it, without letting warmth escape. This means that the sleeper will not get clammy, because the down has wicked away the moisture that would be trapped by other materials. Considering that a person can perspire up to a liter (1/4 gallon) of water in a night, you can see why a down duvet can be cooler in the summer than other bed coverings.
Lightness: To achieve the same insulating power, far less down (by weight) is required than any other material. Sleep is much more restful when you are not weighed down and restricted in movement.
What makes one down better than another? If it is a batch of large, mature clusters, it will be warmer in winter, cooler in summer, and last decades longer. High quality down fills a larger space and has more insulating power than the same weight of a lower quality down. Small down clusters have poor filling power and tend to collapse after two or three years, because the filaments are small and fragile. There are different reasons for variance in down cluster size.
In general, goose down is superior to duck down simply because it usually comes from a larger bird. But more important than the kind of bird, it is the bird's size and maturity that determines the quality of the down. In fact, a high quality duck down is better than a low quality goose down.
There are big differences in even one type of down. For example, mature white goose down will look like this, in actual size. It has an extraordinarily high warmth to weight ratio. A duvet filled with this down will be very light and warm, and will last for decades.
On the other hand, an immature white goose down will look like this, actual size. It will not fill a duvet well. Even if there is a lot more of this down by weight, it won't be as warm.
An immature bird will only product immature down, a low quality that won't insulate and won't last. A mature bird will produce down in various stages of development, because a bird is constantly growing new down and feathers. So from a single bird, there will be very large, mature clusters, as well as medium clusters and small, immature clusters.
Mature down traps more air, puffs up more, and breathes better than lower quality, immature down. Since it takes less weight of a high quality down to fill a duvet, the best duvets are also the lightest and puffiest.
There are four aspects to consider in rating the quality of down and its insulating ability. They are the size of the cluster, reflected in a loft test, plus the density, the cling, and cleanliness.
Loft (fill power)
Loft is the number of cubic inches one ounce of down will fill under specific conditions of temperature, humidity and load. (This can be artificially but temporarily increased by chemical treatment and steam.) The larger the bird, the larger the down clusters, and therefore the higher the loft.
The illustration below shows the relative volume of different fill powers of 1 oz down in a plexiglass loft tube. They vary from 400 cubic inches per oz, typical of mass-merchant down, to 800 cubic inches per oz, typical of top-quality down. A disc of specific weight sits on top of each sample, to simulate the load that the covering fabric exerts in a finished item.
The down develops microfilaments on the strands of the down cluster. The more of these tiny fibers there are, the smaller the air pockets that will be trapped, and the better the down will insulate. This most affected by the age of the bird. High density down is only found in very mature birds.
"B" is from a well matured bird, and has developed a high level of density.
The tiny hooks on the filaments of the best down clusters will catch other down clusters to make a more even layer of insulation. As large pockets of air are filled in and eliminated, the insulating power goes up.
A down with a lot of cling will also stay in place on top of the sleeper, rather than shifting to the lowest parts of a duvet. Cling is either species-specific, as in genuine Eiderdown, or it is found only in very mature downs. The best downs come from much older birds, and have high density, good loft, and good cling. It is very expensive to maintain birds well into maturity, and very expensive to process down with high cling. As a result, the best downs are very expensive.
All St. Geneve down is cleaned according to the ZURGARD standard. St. Geneve down is so clean that we confidently guarantee our down products to be hypoallergenic for three months, or the item can be returned.
Questions and Answers About Down
What is down?
Down consists of clusters of filaments growing from a central quill point without a quill shaft. It looks much like a dandelion pod. Down is the light, fluffy undercoating that geese, ducks, and other waterfowl have to keep them warm. Landfowl such as chickens do not produce down.
What is a feather?
Feather, the principal covering of birds, has a flat construction. A feather has a hard, quill shaft from one end to the other, with a series of fibres joining together into a flat structure on one side.
What's the difference?
Feathers are flat and two dimensional. Large ones are for flying, while smaller feathers are for protection. Down is three dimensional, a soft puff that is for warmth.
How can down be so light, yet insulate so well?
Because of its three dimensional structure and ability to "loft" each down cluster traps more air for it weight than anything synthetic. Every ounce of quality down has about 2 million fluffy filaments that interlock and overlap to form a protective layer of still air that keeps warmth in and cold out. Because of its resilience, you can scrunch it up or flatten it out. All it takes is a good shake for it to fluff up and bounce back to the form that keeps you cozy and warm.
How are down & feathers processed?
Down and feathers are carefully washed with special processes, rinsed, dried, and then separated into different grades by blowing. The drafts from a machine send the best down drifting up into the highest bins, to be graded as the finest quality. Down of lesser quality floats into the middle bins, and feathers, because they are much heavier, fall into the bottom bins.
What is Eiderdown?
Eiderdown comes from the Eider Duck, and it is the finest quality of all downs. It is also the most expensive. This down is unique in that it clings to itself, which give it incredible insulating power. The Eider Duck is a protected species, so its down is collected by hand from nests, without disturbing the birds.
Does climate affect the quality of the down?
Climate doesn't affect the quality of the down, but it will affect quantity. A bird in cold weather will grow more down to stay warm. Quality itself depends simply on the maturity of the bird.
Does colour have any relation to quality?
None at all. White down is preferred because it can be put into light coloured coverings without showing through. Again, quality is determined mainly by the maturity of the bird. For instance, some duckling down is pure white, but has very low filling power. Conversely, down from the mature Canada goose is dark grey, and has phenomenal filling power. Eiderdown is dark brown.
Where does down originate?
Most down comes from the Orient, about 50% of the world's supply. A lot of it is white goose down, and it is available in a wide range of qualities, from very poor to very good. Many high qualities come from Europe. White goose down from Canadian Hutterite farms is highly prized. Quality down of Canadian origin is marked with the Down Association of Canada logo.
How long can I expect my down product to last?
With the proper care and cleaning, your down product will remain functional longer than you will. You'll definitely get your money's worth.
What happens to down if it gets wet?
It's not easy to get down completely wet. Just look at a duck in the rain! The natural oils in the plumes tend to repel water, and the product will usually look a lot wetter than it really is. Getting wet does not hurt down, as long as it's properly dried within a reasonable amount of time.
How do I clean my down product?
Down can either be washed or dry cleaned. The important thing is that it be very clean when the process is over. If the filaments are clogged with suspended dirt, or dirty dry cleaning solvent, they will not reloft properly.
What do I do if my down doesn't reloft after cleaning?
Simply reclean the item properly, ensuring that it is thoroughly rinsed after washing, or that clean dry cleaning fluid is used. Down will always reloft when properly cleaned, even if a bad job has been done previously.
How do I store my down?
Down products should not be compressed for extremely long periods of time. They should be stored in a loose, breathable bag, in a dry, well ventilated area.
Why do down products vary so much in price?
You may find a white goose down duvet costing twice as much as another white goose down duvet, or even more. There are many factors which can affect the quality and therefore the price. Just remember, as with everything else in this life, there are really no bargains.
A cheap down product will be filled with immature down, which will provide little warmth, and which will probably collapse after relatively little use. Shortcuts in the original cleaning and processing will have been taken, and this will often lead to odor problems. The Down Association of Canada has also found that a substantial number of inexpensive offshore products have contained high percentages of feathers, rather than down as promised on the label. Workmanship and design is generally inferior on cheap products as well. Overall, a bargain is usually a waste of money.
A quality product will certainly cost more, but it will be warm and cozy, and last for many years. Something that costs twice as much and last 10 times as long is a much better value.
What is the Down Association of Canada (DOC)?
The Down Association of Canada is a national, non-profit organization headquartered in Toronto, and dedicated to maintaining quality standards for down products. For years the DOC has had its own program of surveillance within the industry called "Market Minder", where items are randomly purchased and tested for quality. This process encourages all processors, manufacturers, and retailers to comply with DOC standards, and conducts investigative and remedial procedures through its National Office.