If you’re the type of customer who wants to know the details about what separates one product from another, this guide is for you. To help you know about down and down alternative comforters, we’ll review the most useful background and terminology. This can help you sort through the information that you need to be an informed consumer.
Why You Should Choose a Down Alternative Comforter
Down is a powerhouse fill material for a comforter thanks to its ability to offer serious warmth and softness in a lightweight package. However, it has some serious limitations, and down alternative comforters can replicate the feeling of down while offering several advantages:
- Price: down is an expensive material, and the higher quality the down, the more and more expensive it gets. Even the most low-cost down comforters are out of the price range of many customers. On the other hand, down alternative comforters have much more accessible price points and generally deliver significant value.
- Hypoallergenic: many people have allergies to down, and down alternative comforters can provide a similar feel without this issue.
- Easier to maintain: down is a delicate material, and as a result, it has to be handled with a great deal of care in order to maintain. This makes washing and storing a down comforter more of a hassle. For down alternative comforters, washing and storage are generally easy and straightforward. For example, you can usually machine-wash and dry a down alternative comforter without any risk of damaging the material.
How to Choose the Best Down Alternative Comforter
In this section, we’ll review the most important details about the build and design of down alternative comforters.
The term that is used for the outside fabric surrounding the comforter is the “shell.” A diversity of materials may be used for comforter shells:
- Cotton: you’re probably very familiar with cotton given its widespread use in consumer textiles. It can have a lot of range with regard to its quality, but it tends to be soft, easy to wash, and low-cost. Its breathability can vary based on the thickness, but in general, cotton does tend to absorb moisture and may heat up more than some other materials.
- Silk: the phrase “smooth as silk” doesn’t exist for nothing. Silk is soft and cool to the touch and does not retain heat. At the same time, it is harder to clean without causing damage to it, and it is also a pricey material. For this reason, it is not often used as a shell material for down alternative comforters.
- Wool: wool, which comes from sheep, has the ability to provide both breathability (through moisture-wicking) and warmth. It also is normally woven in a way to deliver significant softness. However, given its cost, it is not regularly found as the shell material for down alternative comforters.
- Synthetics and blends: in addition to their use in the fill of down alternative comforters, synthetic materials may be used in the shell. These materials are often stretchable and breathable and soft. They may be blended with cotton to provide even additional softness.
Fill materials in down alternative comforters are normally synthetic but can also include other materials as well. Within each category is a range of quality and composition.
- Polyester: this is far-and-away the most common material that is used in making down alternative comforters. Polyester is an extremely flexible material that can be produced to have different weights, lofts, and other characteristics. It also can usually be produced at low cost. Most polyesters for down alternative comforters are made to be soft and light yet lofty enough for warmth.
- Primaloft: this is a high-end synthetic fabric that mimics the performance of down. It is very lightweight and warm, but it also specially treated to help make it water-resistant. Unlike down, which loses its loft if it gets wet, Primaloft has the ability to repel some water.
- Gel fiber: this is another type of down alternative that utilizes gel-infused fibers that can help to retain heat. These fibers are often warmer than more basic polyester down alternative materials.
There are also several other materials that may be used in comforters instead of down that we’ll describe below, but normally the term “down alternative” is reserved for synthetic materials specifically designed to have a feel of down.
- Silk: like down, silk is an expensive and extremely lightweight material, but it does not have the insulating power of down.
- Wool: this fabric is heavy and warm, but it maintains a significant amount of breathability. This allows it to provide insulation while also dissipating heat and wicking moisture during summer months. Its weight and cost, though, can make it expensive as a fill material.
- Cotton: cotton may be used as a fill material because of its low cost and softness. Usually these comforters have limited insulating power but may serve as a comfortable and useful layer to have on your bed.
Fill power is a term commonly used with down comforters that refers to the amount of space (volume) is taken up by 1 ounce of the down. More fill power generally means more warmth. This term is not used quite as much with down alternative comforters but may still be used in some cases to give an indication of expected heat potential.
- Up to 400: below 400 fill power will deliver only very limited heat. These are intended for layering with other blankets or using only in summer.
- 400-599: below 600 fill power usually won’t work as an all-season comforter because of a lack of warmth during winter, but they can still be comfortable and useful for layering with other blankets.
- 600-799: you’ll get considerable warmth from comforters with this fill power. If you tend to sleep cold, err toward the higher end of this range. And if you tend to sleep cool, something in the 600-700 range is a better fit.
- 800+: at this level of fill power, expect serious loft and insulation. This is a heavy winter blanket and may be too hot for summertime use unless you keep your air conditioning cranked up.
Thread count is used to give detail about the composition of the shell of the comforter when it is made of cotton. The thread count is determined by measuring the density of the yarns of cotton within one square inch of fabric. A higher thread count often connotes a more durable and softer cotton. At the same time, thread counts can be exaggerated by “double counting” yarns that are two-ply. If you see a thread count of 300-600, odds are that this will feel plenty smooth. Thread counts that are higher likely are the result of double counting.
The way that a comforter is stitched will shape how much the material can move within the comforter. There are a few primary stitching techniques to be aware of.
- Sewn-through: small compartments to hold the fill in place are formed by stitching the top and bottom of the comforter together. This method creates smaller compartments that tightly hold the material, reducing the need to fluff the comforter but at the same time slightly decreasing loft (and thus warmth).
- Diamond-quilted: a method that is used primarily with sewn-through stitching in which the top and bottom are sewn together in a diamond pattern.
- Gusseted: the top and bottom of the comforter are connected and sewn together around the exterior of the comforter in this method.
- Baffle box: unlike the sewn-through technique that connects the top and bottom directly, baffle-box stitching uses another smaller piece of fabric to connect them. This creates larger compartments for the fill. In those larger compartments, more loft can be maintained, but the comforter may need to be fluffed more regularly to redistribute the material.
One helpful way to care for your comforter is by keeping it in a duvet cover. This can protect it from spills and sweat, and then instead of cleaning the comforter, you can just slip off and wash the duvet cover.
If you do need to clean the comforter itself, most are machine-washable, and typically they are designed to be washed on a delicate setting and then dried on low heat. It is important, though, to check for any specific instructions from the manufacturer.
In many cases, it may not be necessary to wash the entire comforter, and in those cases, you can usually spot clean the shell with a mild detergent and then let it air dry.
If you notice that the material has lost loft or is bunching at all, fluff the comforter. You can also just try to remember to fluff the comforter on a regular basis (such as when you make the bed).