Goose Down Comforters versus Down Alternative Comforters

If you’re looking for the best down comforter set for your home, one of the first things to consider is the inner material: what’s inside? After all, it is the inner filling material that largely determines the nature of the comforter set: the warmth level, the smell, the feel, the weight, and the overall ownership experience over time. Sure, you may start off by thinking about the way the comforter set will look inside your home, particularly if you aren’t going to use a duvet cover. We agree that appearance is very important, but what’s inside really matters as well. The old saying about books also applies to comforter sets: you simply can’t judge one “by the cover.”

Today, there are two main categories for comforter sets: Goose Down Comforters, and Down Alternative Comforters. Let’s take a closer look at each type.

Goose Down Comforters

Traditional designer comforter sets are made with soft goose feathers. While comforter sets are like so many other household goods, having gone from being made almost exclusively of natural materials, to having synthetic versions take over a significant portion of the market, there is still a strong contingent of people who have remained loyal to goose down comforters. And while we don’t know the numbers, it would not be at all surprising to learn that there has been a bit of a resurgence for goose down comforters, because they are natural. And many people are paying increasing attention to the issue of synthetic versus natural, when it comes to making choices for the household. It’s such a strong trend, with natural wool making a resurgence in the world of cutting-edge outdoor gear, and more and more natural food products appearing on the shelves of grocery stores every day.

Goose down comforters are filled with a natural material that is also a sustainable resource, so that is one of the big advantages. Goose down really does a good job of providing warmth. The down is relatively soft, and not overly heavy relative to the amount of warmth it provides.

How to care for a goose down comforter is one of the important considerations when you’re making a selection. Many of today’s goose down comforters can be cleaned in standard washers and dryers. If possible, it is best to use a front-load washer, as these do not have an agitator, so they are gentler. And yes, in many cases, goose down comforters can be put in the dryer. In fact, the heat from the dryer can help to kill mites and mold spores. However, bear in mind that using a dryer can lead to a bit of clumping. This can be a downside, but in our opinion, it is outweighed by convenience, and the fact that heat kills microorganisms.

The conventional advice is to always follow the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions to be on the safe side. So it’s best to read the directions before you make a purchase, so you know what you’ll be dealing with. However, it is our opinion that manufacturers have become increasingly conservative in general when it comes to washing instructions. Perhaps you’ve noticed this yourself: even relatively durable items, like sweatshirts, may come with the advice to use the gentle cycle and hang dry. While this reduces the liability that the manufacturer faces due to wear and tear, it can be inconvenient for the owner. Personally, we like to apply common sense, and sometimes deviate from instructions that seem unnecessarily cautious. But do so at your own risk, of course.

One good piece of advice on the subject of keeping your comforter clean is to use a duvet cover. A duvet cover is much like a pillow case, and it’s a great way to keep your comforter clean while minimizing wear. Simply take the cover off the comforter and wash it on a regular basis to clean off the sweat, body oils, and other undesirable elements that accumulate on bedding. That way, the exterior cover of the comforter will be clean, without having to wash the goose down inner layer as frequently.

Disadvantages of Genuine Goose Down Comforters

1. Price. A designer comforter set made from real goose down is likely to cost more than a down alternative comforter. Down alternative comforters can be purchased inexpensively, particularly at discount retailers. However, a high-end comforter set is likely to have good longevity, so the initial cost is mitigated by the time it will last.

2. Consistency. Feathers are natural, so they aren’t as uniform as man-made materials. While designer goose down comforter sets use manufacturing processes to minimize this, there can be a little bit of irregularity from the feathers used in the down, and even some leftover quill bits, particularly in the lower-end comforters.

3. Smell. You may very well only notice the smell when the goose down comforter is wet, but feathers are a natural material. Much like wool, there is a bit of an odor that made noticeable by dampness. Whether this is an important consideration is a personal matter.

As we compare goose down comforters to down alternative comforters, one of the factors to consider is allergy. While some manufacturers apply special washing techniques to goose down to make it more hypoallergenic, it is obviously a very bad idea to sleep under a goose down comforter if you are allergic to the feathers. However, it may not be clear if the allergy is to the down itself, or to mold or dust mites. DeWoolfson, who makes “hypoallergenic down,” writes of this:

Before we talk about allergies to down, keep in mind that there are probably more people allergic to mold or dust mites than to new down fill. We often hear stories of someone who won’t sleep on a new down pillow because they once had an allergic reaction to one while sleeping at “Grandma’s house.” Before you give up the great comfort of a down pillow, consider whether that old pillow was stored in damp, mildew-prone area of the house. If so, you may not really be allergic to down at all.” [source]

However, in our opinion, even suspecting an allergy to down would be enough to make it harder to fall asleep under a genuine goose down comforter, and there are so many down alternative comforters available.

Down Alternative Comforters

Okay, let’s take a look at the alternative: down alternative comforters. Obviously, we can tell from the name that these comforters don’t contain any down, so what do they contain? Well, this can very quite a bit. They could be made from 100% cotton, or polyester, or microfiber, or a blend of these and other materials.

Advantages of Down Alternative Comforters

1. Price. Down alternative comforters are often a very affordable option. If you’re looking for a cheap comforter set, down alternative has you covered. However, when it comes to designer comforter sets, some of the name brand down alternative comforter sets are in the same price range, or even higher, than goose down. So this is just a general point.

2. Consistency. Down alternative comforters do not rely on natural materials, so they are relatively uniform throughout. Down alternative fibers tend to be more resistant to clumping than genuine goose down.

3. Ease of care. The cotton and synthetic materials used in the production of down alternative are usually easy to machine wash and dry. While some goose down comforters are also relatively easy to care for and last well, artificial fibers are typically designed to withstand repeated washing and drying without showing obvious signs of degradation.

4. More comfortable? Some manufacturers claim that the technology within their products makes them superior to goose down. They claim to provide even greater softness and loft, and sometimes greater warmth relative to weight. Whether this is true is a matter of personal preference.

Disdvantages of Down Alternative Comforters

1. Unnatural. The degree to which a down alternative comforter is “natural” can vary quite a bit, as there are so many alternative materials, but some are wholly synthetic: 100% polyester construction is not unusual.

2. Unsustainable. By comparison, natural goose down comes from a sustainable source. As long as geese continue to have livable environmental conditions, we’ll have plenty of goose down.

3. Undesirable chemicals? There are many “alternatives” to goose down, but it’s not easy to tell what a product contains or how it was made. The materials will be listed on the tag, so that is definitely worth reading, but the tag doesn’t tell the whole story. There are the chemicals used in creating the material, and also additional treatments, such as moldicides and fungicides, or fire retardants.

To be fair, substances could be added to goose down comforters as well. However, a lot of the better goose down makers will provide product descriptions that detail progressive practices. It is much like the organic food movement, in that care is demonstrated through further articulation of the process.

And that’s a different world from the one the cheap down alternative comforters come from.