Getting Comfortable With Down Bedding

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Summer is around the corner, and soon people will start peeling off layers of their beds to make sleeping more comfortable in the warmer temperatures. Duvets, or down-filled comforters, are popular bed coverings, but can offer too much insulation in milder weather. What consumers may not know is that duvets come in different weights and with different 'fill-powers' - and knowing which is best for a particular climate or season can help shoppers find the best fit.

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A cover will protect your down duvet, which can be difficult to wash and takes several hours to fully dry. Duvet covers are also a great way to update your bedding ensemble without having to buy a new blanket.

Summer is around the corner, and soon people will start peeling off layers of their beds to make sleeping more comfortable in the warmer temperatures. Duvets, or down-filled comforters, are popular bed coverings, but can offer too much insulation in milder weather. What consumers may not know is that duvets come in different weights and with different 'fill-powers' - and knowing which is best for a particular climate or season can help shoppers find the best fit.

Down comes from the soft, fluffy layer of fine feathers that cover ducks and geese beneath their exterior plumage. The outer feathers have quills that repel water and make it possible for the bird to fly. Rather than a quill, each down cluster has a center called a plumule with thousands of tiny fibers that radiate from its core. These fibers link to other down plumules to create heat-trapping air pockets. Down is mainly found on the bellies and keeps the ducks and geese warm. Unlike feathers, down does not repel water.

So how does all this translate into down bedding? Down has exceptional lofting capabilities, and "fill power" measures this as how many cubic inches of space are filled (or rather, displaced) by one ounce of down. A higher fill power means a higher quality of down, as less of it is needed to trap the same amount of warmth. If you had two duvets, one filled with 50 ounces of 575+ fill power (1 oz fills over 575 cubic inches of space) down and the other with 30 ounces of 700+ fill power down, they would both keep the sleeper equally warm but the 700+ duvet would feel less heavy.

Different types of down tend to have different fill powers. Large-cluster down, coming from Hungarian and Polish white geese, can have fill powers between 650 and 700+ and are considered premium grade. Goose down from China, Canada and Europe tends to come from younger birds and carries a fill power of about 575+. Anything below 575 fill power is not considered desirable.

When choosing a duvet, especially one for the summer, it is important to look at both the fill power and the number of ounces the duvet is filled with. Summer weight duvets will generally be filled with no more than 30 oz (for a queen) of 575+ fill power down, 27 oz of 650+ fill power down, and about 23 oz for 700+ fill power down. An all-season 650+ fill power down duvet will be filled with about 38 oz in a queen size.

Another factor to consider when looking for down bedding is duvet construction. A duvet that is baffled or "baffle box" has had vertical walls of fabric sewn into the outer covering, joining the top and bottom together but allowing the down more room to loft. This is preferable to regularly sewn-through comforters, which will be a little flatter and possibly less warm. They may, however, make good summer covers.

Lastly, shoppers should take note of what material the "ticking" is made from. The ticking simply refers to the fabric encasing the down - usually cotton. A higher thread count casing does a better job preventing down feathers from escaping, and will also help to keep dirt from getting inside. Heather Young, vice president of online linens boutique Linenplace.com, says she recommends that customers always use a duvet cover. "A cover will protect your down duvet, which can be difficult to wash and takes several hours to fully dry. Duvet covers are also a great way to update your bedding ensemble without having to buy a new blanket."

While the terms are used interchangeable, a comforter differs from a duvet in that it is not usually intended for use with a duvet cover. Comforters are often filled with cotton, wool or synthetic fibers and covered in a patterned or colored fabric that is meant to be both decorative and functional. While most people who are allergic to feathers are not allergic to pure down, synthetic down is available as a comparable filling that is easier to care for.

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Emily Haselby
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