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Q & A With the Down Doctor

What is down?

A single unit of down is called a cluster. It is a 3-dimensional spherical plume comprised of a quill point (with no quill shaft) and the many thousand filaments which radiate from it. A down cluster has the overall appearance of a ripe dandelion pod.

What is the source?

Down comes from the underbody of waterfowl such as geese, ducks and swans. Landfowl such as chickens and turkeys do not produce down. Down clusters grow under the outer protective layer of feathers, and are most numerous on the breast area.

What is a feather?

Feather, a principal covering of birds, is of flat, two dimensional construction. It has a hard, tubular quill shaft from one end to the other. A series of softer process for a flat structure on each side of the quill shaft.

What’s the difference between down and feathers?

Firstly, they are two completely different structures. A down cluster has an identity all its own. It is not a young, or small feather, and will never develop into a feather. A down cluster has a quill point but no quill shaft, so it is far more resilient than feather. In spite of the fact that it is lighter than feather, it is 3-dimensional rather than two and therefore down has more “loft” or filling power.

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 dead air for its weights than any synthetic. Every ounce of goose down has about 2 million fluffy filaments that interlock and overlap to form a protective layer of non-conducting 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 is the best down chosen?

Down is washed, chemically cleaned and separated into different grades by blowing. The drafts from a machine send the best down drifting up to the highest bin, to be graded as the finest quality. Down of lesser quality falls into lower bins.

Which birds provide the best down?

Generally speaking, the best down is formed by the biggest cluster. And the biggest clusters come from the larger more mature birds. This is why geese usually provide the best quality down. Large, mature ducks provide good quality down too, but under the microscope, goose down has a slightly different construction. The larger goose down plumes tend to be stronger, last long and have more filling.

What is eiderdown?

The contradiction to duck vs. goose down is the eider sea duck, which has the most desired down of all. Because of tremendous harvest of its plumage, it is nearly extinct now, and is on the list of endangered species.

Does the climate affect the quality of the down?

Climate doesn't affect the quality of the down. The age of the bird is really the determining factor here. It does, however, affect, quantity. A bird killed in cold weather will yield a greater amount of down. But quality depends simply on the maturity of the bird.

Does color have any relation to quality?

None at all. As stated previously, quality is determined mainly by the age of the bird. White down is prized because it can be put into light colored coverings without showing through. However, duckling down is pure white, and beautiful, but has very low filling power. Conversely, down of the mature Canada goose is dark grey, and the prized down of the eider sea duck is almost black.

Why is most down imported?

The production of down depends solely on the dietary habits of an area. For instance, north Americans are relatively small consumers of duck and geese, so they harvest a proportionately small amount of down. In many Asian countries, the consumption of beef is almost non-existent, and ducks and geese provide a larger portion of the meat supply. At the moment, the orient produces over 70% of the world’s down supply. Down is a by product of the meat industry, and its production depends not on climate or locality, but on the eating habits of the local people.

If down is so superior, why are so many synthetics being manufactured?

Because, even if everyone could afford down, there simply isn’t enough of it to go around. But, the highest compliment is to be copied, and there is even a synthetic “down” being manufactured. Synthetics are cheaper, and more plentiful than down, but they just do not measure up in attributes.

Why is down superior to synthetics as an insulator?

Down gives approximately 3 times the warmth per ounce compared to synthetics. Also, its ability to loft, or fill the space it occupies is greater , longer lasting and more uniform. Synthetics mat and lump together, in time, leaving empty cold spots while down continually re-lofts and molds itself to the body.

Why is down more comfortable than synthetics?

Down has the ability to mold itself to the body while synthetics remain rigid. It also has the marvelous ability to breathe and wick away perspiration, so the user doesn't experience the clamminess which often occurs with synthetics.

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 will definitely get your money’s worth.

What happens to down if it gets wet?

Try and submerge your down product for a wash, and you will see it’s not easy to get down completely wet. So even if the user gets caught 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 length of time.

What is fill power?

Fill power is the ability of down to regain it’s original volume after being compressed during shipping, storage, or use. The higher the filling power, the greater the ability of down to insulate and provide warmth.

When should fill power be measured?

Fill power is first tested after removal from the down washing/drying/sorting machines. This test for fill power represents the maximum fill power for the down. The first test is basis for all labels, advertising and marketing claims.

Why do subsequent fill power measurements drop?

After long-term storage, compressed shipment and assembly into finished products, the fill power measurements drop. These processes cause the down clusters to close. Comforters will drop 5-15% in fill power. Jackets and vests and sleeping bags will drop 10-40%.

Will the fill power return to its original value?

Yes, the fill power often returns to the original value. Air circulation, warmth and moisture all help return fill power to the original test value. Using products add warmth and moisture to down. Also, the care/cleaning of finished products help return fill power to original values.
  1. Shaking and lofting will help circulate air.
  2. Tumble drying will help add warmth and air circulation to the down.
  3. Water rinsing or washing in a mild soap will add moisture to the down the subsequent drying will add warmth.