When Shopping for a Down Comforter 14 września, 2012

SHOPPING for a down comforter can be a confusing proposition. Down bedding, often heavily promoted, is available in numerous versions and at many different price levels. To get the best value, the wise shopper should be armed with as many facts as possible before setting out.

Down, the soft inner plumage of ducks and geese, is made up of the light, fluffy filaments that interlock to trap air and body heat. Processed down, which is used in most bedding and clothing, is a combination of down clusters, down fibers and plumules, which are small, undeveloped feathers.

”There is no such thing as 100 percent down,” said Howard C. Winslow, the executive director of the American Down Association in Sacramento, Calif. ”It’s impossible to process there are always going to be some feathers with the down.” In most states, a product labeled as down must contain at least 80 percent processed down, Mr. Winslow said.

Americans discovered the lightweight warmth of down bedding during the energy crisis of the 1970’s, and in the 1980’s, with the increasing popularity of natural fiber products, sales of down bedding have increased.

Neither the American Down Association nor the Feather and Down Association in New York, the industry’s two trade groups, keep sales figures. But Fred Buonocore, the executive vice president of Downhome Products, a mail order bedding company in Grand Rapids Mich., estimated that industrywide sales of down comforters rose 25 percent last year to 2.25 million units, compared with 1985 sales.

Last year, according to Mr. Winslow, the United States imported about 18.2 million pounds of down for both bedding and clothing. The down comes from about 30 different countries, most of it from China. But major amounts are also imported from West Germany and France.

Most of the down is a byproduct of the food industry ducks and geese to be sold for roasting are plucked after they are killed. Down and feathers, the external plumage, are also plucked from live birds during the molting season, but this is now rare.
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Because of its special insulating properties, a down comforter is usually warmer than a blanket or a comforter filled with feathers or synthetic fibers, said Susan D. Kronick, the vice president for domestics at Bloomingdale’s.

Down, in particular, combines warmth and light weight. Feathers rank second to down in insulating ability but are somewhat heavier.

”It takes far less down to keep you warm than it does polyester,” said Joseph Daniel, a comforter buyer for Spiegel Inc., the catalogue retailer in Oak Brook, Ill. ”The whole secret is that the down plume traps the air between the outside cold and your body.”

Despite their superior insulating properties, down comforters take a back seat in sales to those made with synthetic fillers. ”On an annual basis,” said Jane C. Scott, a vice president of Saks Fifth Avenue, ”man made fiber filled comforters outsell down comforters because they are available at lower prices and are sold as part of coordinating bed ensembles.”

Comforter prices range widely, from about $80 for a queen size comforter filled with duck down to over $850 for one filled with top of the line white goose down. Factors that affect prices include the down’s quality, how much is used, the country of origin, the intricacy of the comforter’s contruction and the quality of its covering.

The most expensive comforters are filled with down plucked from the nests of the wild eider duck, endangered species found only in remote northern areas. Prices can run as high as $4,000 for queen size.

When shopping for a down or down and feather comforter, you should first consider the type of filler used. Manufacturers are not required by law to state what species of bird provided the filler, but if a comforter is filled with goose down, the label will usually say so.

Inquire about ”fill power,” an industry specification that is a measure of the quality of down. Fill power indicates down’s ability to loft, or trap air, and the higher the fill power figure, the better the quality; high quality down will provide greater warmth in relation to weight.

The comforter should be plump. A queen size should contain a minimum of 32 ounces of down, Morris Schachne, the president of Feather King, said. For a twin size, he recommends a minimum of 16 ounces; for a double or full size, 24 ounces, and for a king size, 48 ounces.

Bear in mind, however, that simply because a particular comforter weighs more than another of comparable size, it will not necessarily keep you warmer if the down is of lesser quality.

Another point to check: is the fabric shell down proof? The tighter the weave, the less chance that the down will work its way through the shell. Tighter weaves, measured by thread count or the number of threads per square inch, will also likely wear better. The shell should have a minimum count of 180, David Schachne said. A count of 250 or more is considered superior. An all cotton shell will breathe, allowing air to pass through to help fluff up the down, Morris Schachne said.

The way a comforter is constructed contributes not only to its looks but also to its insulating ability. Available in a variety of designs, the stitching pattern, which tacks the front of the shell to the back, can prevent loss of insulation by keeping the down from shifting. A Karo Step design, which gives the appearance of random puckering, is considered excellent for warmth by providing plenty of room for the down to trap air.

Ask about baffling, fabric pieces that separate the top and bottom sections of the shell and eliminate pockets through which cold air can enter. Comforters with baffled shells are better insulators than those whose shells are just sewn through; they are also more expensive.

Consider purchasing a cover to keep the comforter clean. Although the word duvet French for down is a synonym in Europe for comforter, in the United States the term has come to mean a comforter cover. Duvets close with snaps or zippers and should be washable. They vary widely in price, depending on fabric, from about $35 to $400 for a queen size. Before Dry Cleaning or Washing

The care of a down comforter is relatively simple, and retailers and industry representatives offer these recommendations:

The comforter should be fluffed daily by shaking it, and it should be aired outdoors from time to time. Comforters rarely need to be cleaned, especially if they are protected by a cover. Consult the care label to determine if dry cleaning is required. Although the down itself can be washed, sometimes the comforter’s shell fabric can’t be. Again, check the care label. For those comforters that can be washed, the commercial size washers and dryers found in coin laundries are often recommended. These machines allow enough room for the comforter to tumble about. To keep the down from clumping, thoroughly tumble dry, using the gentle cycle.

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