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Down Comforters or Duvets - Everything You Want To Know About Down

Article Posted on November 4, 2015...

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We will start off by saying, people sometimes get overwhelmed choosing the correct duvet down comforter. If you need help picking out a duvet or down comforter, just call us toll free at 1-866-443-4400 or email us at info@beddingsuperstore.com

Well, the easiest answer is they are both the same thing! Some people call them down comforters and some like to call them by their traditional name duvets. Whatever you call it, a Duvet or Down Comforter is lighter, warmer, and cozier and a pure joy to own. Are all created equal? Not even close! There are many things that make up a duvet and the price obviously reflects that. The real benefit of a duvet down comforter is how light it is and how amazing warm it keeps, with feeling overheated. In Europe where duvetsdown comforters have been around for years, they typically use them without a flat sheet. The whole purpose of them is to feel warm and cozy and they feel that a flat sheet just hinders your sleep. So when I used my first duvet or down comforter, I did just that, got rid of my flat sheet. Now, I will never ever use a flat sheet again and I sleep amazing well. Ask any of your friends that have a good quality duvet down comforter and they will tell you the investment is worth every penny. All our duvets come with at least a 15 year warranty!

Overview

The most important aspect of quality in a duvet or pillow is the down filling. However, there is a lot of confusion about what down actually is. A water bird grows several distinct types of feathers:

Large Flight feathers are large straight flat feathers for flying. They can be quite long (6", 8", 12" and more) and have a heavy quill, or center shaft. They are found on the wing and tail.

Small Flight feathers are straight flat feathers also used for flying. They are found interlocked with the large flight feathers to form the flying surface of the wing. They can be quite small, and are also found on the wing and tail.

Body feathers are about 1" to 2" long, and are grown by the bird to protect the body and the underlying down. These feathers form an even layer over the entire body of the bird. Body feathers have a definite curve in the quill, which imparts a certain amount of spring. This makes these feathers suitable for featherbeds, feather pillows, and down blends.

Down is the soft under plumage that geese and ducks grow to keep them warm. Unlike a feather with its stiff quill shaft, a down cluster looks like a dandelion puff, and is very soft. Feathers are flat and two dimensional, and cannot trap air. Down is three dimensional, and can capture thousands of pockets of air, and it's the air that does the insulating. The smaller and more numerous the air pockets can be made, the more efficient is the insulation, as convection currents that carry heat away are eliminated. Down can trap more air for its weight than any other material. Its millions of filaments interlock and overlap to form a layer of still air that keeps warmth in and cold out.

Down


No other insulator exists that is as effective as good quality down. Not even close.

Insulation: It is not the down itself that actually does the insulating, it is the tiny air pockets trapped by the down fibers. The smaller and more numerous the air pockets, the more efficient is the insulation, as convection currents that carry heat away are eliminated.

Resiliency: Resiliency 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 to its original volume, it loses a considerable portion of its insulating power. Quite simply thickness is directly related to insulating power.

Breathability: Down is superior to other materials in its ability to "breathe". It actually 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 (14 gallon) in a night, you can see why a down duvet can be cooler in the summer than other bedcoverings.

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.


Lightness: To achieve the same insulating power, far less down by weight is required than any other material. Therefore, an individual will enjoy a much more restful sleep, since he is not weighed down 65 year old Goose Down and restricted in his movements.

All the things that down does; insulation, longevity, breathability, and lightness, are far more pronounced with high quality, large cluster mature downs.

Down Quality

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. 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 itfs down. So in fact, a high quality duck down is better than a low quality goose down.

There are big differences even in one type of down. For example, mature White Goose Down will look like the large down plume in the image (top right), 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 the small down plume in the image (bottom right) in 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.

Mature down traps more air, puffs up more, and breathes better than lower quality immature downs. Since it takes less weight of a high quality down to fill a duvet, the best duvets are also the lightest and puffiest.

An immature bird will only produce immature down: a low quality down 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 plumes, as well as medium, and small immature plumes.

When this type of down is processed in a "wind tunnel separator" (diagram shown above), the large feathers fall out first because they are heavy, then medium feathers, then small feathers, then large down plumes, and finally the smallest plumes get collected at the very end of the tunnel. These small plumes are of much less value and are sold for mass merchant, low quality down bedding. The large plumes have the greatest value, and are used to fill high quality down bedding.

There are four aspects to consider in rating the quality of down. They are all very important in determining the insulating power of a given quality, and the size of the cluster. These aspects include: a loft test; the density, the cling, and cleanliness of down. All these are a reflection of the overall quality of down.

Loft or 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 increased by chemical treatment and steam, but this won't last very long.) Essentially, the larger the bird, the larger the down clusters, and therefore the higher the loft.

The illustration below shows 1 oz. each of different quality downs in tubes. They vary from 300 cubic inches per oz.; which is a typical mass merchant bargain white goose down, up to 800 cubic inches per oz., which our top quality downs achieve.

A loft test is done in a glass cylinder of a standard size, under exacting conditions of specific temperature and humidity, with a sample of precisely one ounce of down. There is a disc of a specific weight that sits on top of the sample to simulate the load that the covering fabric exerts in a finished item.
Be very wary of claims for lofts exceeding 800. Geese do not grow that big! Just as there is no 32 carat gold, there is no such thing as 900 loft down.

Density
The density of down describes how dense the fibers of the down are in its center. The down actually 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 is affected more by the age of the bird. High density is only found in very mature downs. Note that the loft of these two downs will be the same, but the down in image 'B' will insulate better than the down in image 'A'.

Cling
Cling is found when tiny hooks develop on the filaments of a down cluster. These hooks will catch other down clusters to make a more even layer of insulation, and 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 duvets chamber. Cling is either species specific, as in genuine Eiderdown, or it is found only in very mature downs. In general, as the size of the bird increases, so does the loft of the down. As the age or maturity increases, so does the density and cling. This is why the best down comes from much older birds. They have grown up to be large, and then with further aging, have developed completely mature down. It is expensive to maintain birds well into maturity. Since it is expensive to process down with high clinging ability, the very best down is very expensive, yet glorious!

Feathers
Feathers are used to fill featherbeds, as well as pillows. Feathers are also blended with down to make firmer pillows. The feathers in cheap featherbeds & feather pillows tend to be either large flight feathers that have been chopped up, or small flight feathers. Better quality products use body feathers, which have a natural bend or curl, and therefore have a lot more spring and fill power.
Chopped Feather
The lowest quality feather product is made by chopped up large flight feathers. The resulting material consists of very flat feather bits. A pillow or featherbed filled with this material might start out feeling puffy because the pieces are blown in at random and will sit in a jumble. However, the pieces of feather will soon shift around with use and lie flat on top of each other, resulting in a flat, lifeless product.

Small Flight Feathers
Another low quality feather product is produced by sorting out small flight feathers, which are very flat. Again, a pillow or featherbed filled with this material might start out feeling puffy because the feathers will sit in a jumble. However, they will also soon shift around with use and lie flat on top of each other, resulting in a flat, lifeless product.

Body Feathers
These feathers are about 1" to 2" long, and are grown by the bird to protect the body and the underlying down. Body feathers have a definite curve in the quill. This curve imparts a certain amount of spring, which makes these feathers very suitable for featherbeds, feather pillows, and feather & down blends.

Flight vs. Body Feathers
There is a dramatic difference in the filling power and support between flight feathers and body feathers. There is also a noticeable difference in the price, as the body feather is obviously considerably more desirable.

Featherbeds filled with high quality body feathers will stay lofty and comfortable for years
High quality body feathers will make an enormous difference to the quality, comfort, and longevity of pillows and featherbeds. A good quality featherbed is very bulky, as well as much more costly. Poor quality featherbeds and pillows filled with flight feathers are relatively inexpensive. Any feather filled product will need to be shaken and fluffed up occasionally. Body feathers respond to this very well, and flight feathers in any form will not fluff up due to their flatness.

Eiderdown

Of all the different varieties and qualities of down available, there is absolutely nothing that even approaches the warmth, softness and quality of genuine Eiderdown. It is warmer in the winter, cooler in the summer, and more comfortable than anything else in the world. It is so incredibly lightweight that it is literally like sleeping under a warm cloud. Simply said, it is the best.
In order to always have this type of duvet at his disposal, Christian IV of Denmark had several artificial colonies of these birds created in Northern Norway in 1651, for his personal use and that of the court.
Everybody knows the name "Eiderdown" as the name for a down filled quilt. Hundreds of years ago, many quilts were filled with the down that came from a beautiful northern bird called the Eider Duck. As time passed, "Eiderdown" became the generic name for any down filled comforter. Genuine Eiderdown ceased to be used as a quilt filling about 200 years ago, because the Eider Duck was driven almost to extinction in the quest for its remarkable down.

Today, the Eider Duck is protected by law. Fortunately, the bird plucks down from its breast to line its nest. After the ducklings have permanently left the nest, the down is then carefully collected without disturbing the birds. Only 15 or 20 grams maximum per nest is recovered. The individual Eiderdown plume has tiny hooks on its fibers, so that each cluster would hold on to the next and prevent it from being blown away when used to build a nest. These hooks have tiny microfilaments that trap the tiniest of air pockets.

Insulation in down comes not from the down itself, but rather from the air that it traps in pockets. Heat transfers very slowly between the barriers between air pockets. The smaller the pocket means the more barriers, and the better the insulating power. When the air in an Eiderdown duvet is warmed by the sleeper, it holds the heat in far better than any other kind of down. Eiderdowns ability to cling also contributes greatly to its high evenness. Other downs are uneven, with areas of large and small air pockets. Because each Eiderdown cluster is linked to the surrounding clusters, large gaps cannot form. Eiderdown provides an incredibly even, fine layer of insulation that is not even approached by any other material - natural or manmade.
Another important property that the clinging ability gives to Eiderdown is its "shiftlessness". Rather than sliding and shifting around in the duvet chamber, and off the sleeper, Eiderdown stays put where it will do the most good.

That demands the very best, there is nothing comparable to the magnificent quality of this heirloom Eiderdown duvet. For years we have made our Eiderdown duvets to be wonderfully comfortable for most people in most conditions. Eiderdown has a broad comfort range, so they are cozy and warm on cold winter nights, and because of its phenomenal breathability, it is incredibly light and airy in the summer.
Please note that on a hot summer night, nothing is as comfortable as nothing!


We would like to thank our main supplier of Down Comforters Duvets, St. Geneve, for letting use their descriptions and photos of their down products.




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