Down vs. Down-Alternative: What's the Difference?

Does the down vs down-alternative debate come down to preference? Learn the difference between real and synthetic down for upcoming purchases.

Down vs. Down-Alternative: What's the Difference?

There is nothing more soothing than climbing under a warm, soft comforter at the end of the day. These bed coverings have been a welcome alternative to blankets since women first began making quilts in past centuries by stuffing a warm filler between two layers of fabric for extra comfort and insulation. Comforters, quilts, and duvets (also referred to as continental quilts), have been providing people with a warm and attractive sleeping environment for centuries.

Shopping for a new comforter can involve a bigger decision than simply the aesthetic questions of colors, patterns, and fabrics. What about what’s on the inside of your warm, fluffy bed covering? The most common bedding fillers are down, or a down-like alternative. When deciding which filler is most appropriate for your nighttime comfort, it’s important to compare the benefits and disadvantages of both.

What is down?

Most of us are aware that down is another word for feathers, but more specifically, down is the layer of fine, fluffy, quill-less feathers found beneath the outer layer of feathers on ducks and geese. This soft underlayer is what keeps ducks and geese warm in cold temperatures and icy water, making it the perfect insulator for warm bedding.

Down has been used in bedding for many centuries. Prized for its warmth and softness, in the past it was a luxury item generally only available to the rich, unless a family collected the down feathers from farm fowl for many years. This hard-won bedding they created was often passed down with other valuables through several generations.

What is down alternative or synthetic down?

In more recent decades, many different fillers have been created in an effort to simulate the luxurious softness of down, often offering an option at a lower price point.

Down alternatives may consist of synthetic fibers such as rayon, polyester, and polyester gel, or natural products such as cotton, silk, bamboo, or buckwheat hulls.

Down or synthetic down, which should you choose?

So how do you make the crucial decision as to which fill best fits your needs? There are some important points to consider before making a choice.

You may prefer to sleep under a down alternative product if you have allergies or asthma. Because of the difficulties in laundering real down bedding, it may collect a higher concentration of dust mites, which then could aggravate allergies. You also might choose an alternative to down if you are vegan and wish to avoid animal products.

Another common reason to choose a down alternative is budget. Because they are made from real feathers, down comforters tend to be more expensive than alternative products in similar styles. A final reason you may prefer an alternative fill in your comforter is for ease in laundering. Most down-alternative products can be easily washed and dried at home, while a down comforter must be dry cleaned or covered with a removable, washable duvet cover.

There are also many good reasons to choose a real down comforter for your bed. Ounce for ounce, down is warmer than the alternatives, meaning even at the same weight, you will feel warmer under a down comforter. Body heat is trapped in the loft of real down fill, creating a warm and cozy environment under the covers. At the same time, down is more breathable; the same loft that provides warmth also allows airflow to help evaporate perspiration, while the alternative fibers may cause you to sweat and feel clammy. Despite the higher cost of a real down comforter, many people find that the superior warmth allows them to save on energy costs by turning down the thermostat, and thus, the added cost of real down eventually pays for itself.

Down comforters are also uniquely resilient and long-lasting. The feather fill stays more evenly distributed and resists the clumping that commonly occurs with synthetic fillers. If your down comforter begins to clump, feeling flat in some areas and full and fluffy in others, a quick fix is to vigorously shake the comforter, or place it in a dryer for a brief tumble. Down feathers redistribute easily, whereas down alternatives are more difficult to renew after clumping.

Keep these pros and cons in mind next time you are shopping for a new comforter. With either down or a down alternative you have the opportunity to ensure a good night’s sleep that suits your individual needs!

Resources- Good Housekeeping, Home Guides