Since the dawn of time, mankind has exploited natural resources to satisfy his need and wants. Animals are at the unfortunate end of these desires. We have hunted, bred, grown, used, and harvested what we can from our fellow residents on Earth.
Want some proof? Just check out the down comforters that so many people love. Yes, they’re warm, comfortable, and soft. With them, it’s like sleeping in heaven. But at what price? Little do these people know that the filling used in these comforters is plucked from live ducks and geese bred solely for that purpose!
Thankfully, with the aid of environment studies, we are slowly becoming aware of our actions. We are now using technology and ingenuity to create products that do not harm, use, or kill animals.
Down alternative comforters are among those products that are animal-free. Let us see why these options are better, how they can provide us with the comfort we need, and how we protect the environment when we purchase them.
What is Down
All insulating fabrics such as those used in comforters, sleeping bags, and winter jackets have some sort of filling inside the fabric shell. Although the brands and qualities differ a lot, there are two main types of filling for this material: natural and synthetics. For this article, we will focus on down, one of the most popular natural fillings.
Down is a layer of fine feathers that are located right under the tough exterior feathers of birds. Think of it as an undercoat—or a fleece jacket under your windbreaker. If you’ve seen photos or videos of newborn or very young birds (or saw actual ones), you would notice that their skin is covered in fine feathers. This is the down we are talking about.
Down has several functions in birds. These loose, fine feathers trap air, which insulates the bird against heat loss. This is important for avians living in cold climates and those that migrate between cold and warm places every year. For waterfowl such as egrets, albatrosses, and gulls, their down helps add to their buoyancy when they float on water.
Mother birds pluck down feathers from their own bodies and line up their nests to help insulate their eggs. As the nest’s down layer progressively becomes dirty and embedded with other objects, it helps camouflage the eggs and the chicks from predators.
Finally, ornithologists also found proof that down feathers may also prevent nestling cannibalism. You see, nature’s way is about the survival of the fittest. In some bird species, the stronger chicks eat their weaker or sick siblings. But because chicks are covered in down and these feathers are stiff, the rigidity of the down can protect the weaker chick from being eaten.
Advantages of Down
As you’ve read in the section above, down effectively protects birds from cold weather and frigid air currents as they cruise the skies. As such, down is an ideal material for comforters. How?
Down is considered to Nature’s best insulator. It contains millions of interlocking filaments that form air pockets. These pockets trap warm air in and keep cold air out. A down comforter, therefore, provides constant warmth.
Usually, down from larger and more mature geese are used. The filaments and fibers in their feathers are denser and tighter, thus fluffier and offering better insulation.
Have you ever heard of the term “water rolls off a duck’s back”? That waterproofing quality is due to down…and not body oil! Down’s filaments have the ability to wick moistures. As such, a down comforter keeps you dry and warm.
Lightweight and packable
Down material has an excellent warmth-to-weight ratio. This means that even if a down comforter is noticeably bulky, it is actually lighter than it looks and compressible.
Soft and responsive
Because down is naturally soft, it has a natural ability to “mold” itself to your body. Thus, a down comforter “hugs” you in total comfort.
The fibers of down material allow air to freely go in and out. The breathability of the filling depends on how old the down is. Younger down tends to have less dense than mature down, thus more breathable. But due to its young and fragile fibers, comforters filled with young down have the poorer insulating capability (see “warm” above) and tend to collapse and wear down quickly.
People have been using down for blankets, quilts, pillows, and other fabrics for thousands of years. Down is considered to be a sustainable material because it’s compostable and naturally occurring. By-products that result from the production of down-filled products are completely biodegradable.
Wow! With all those advantages, it seems that down is the best filling to use. But there’s a huge and terrible caveat. You see, down is plucked from live birds, particularly ducks and geese, without anesthesia of any kind. Animal welfare groups consider this a practice that is cruel to animals; just imagine your hair being plucked. That is really painful to the birds.
Good for us humans that we can live without our hair. We can go bald if we want to. Unfortunately for ducks and geese, their feathers are essential to their survival. Feathers give them warmth, protect them from the harsh environment, provide them “bedding” for their chicks, and so on.
Although the percentage of down material harvested from plucking is uncertain, there are alarming proofs that show a glimpse to the dark side of this industry. According to a 2009 Swedish documentary, around 50% to 80% of the world’s total down supply is harvested through plucking. This figure is supported by IKEA, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of ready-to-assemble furniture.
Manufacturers who use down are challenged by public pressure to abolish the use of the said material to save the birds. Understanding and sympathetic to the plight of the birds, many companies have resorted to alternative filling material. A perfect example is Patagonia, an outdoor clothing manufacturer, which changed their product line so it won’t include down in manufacturing their products.
Why Opt for Down Alternative Comforters
Thankfully—and even more gratefully for ducks and geese—there other choices than down comforters. These alternative comforters use synthetic or other natural fillers, eschewing the need for down. Furthermore, the differences between down vs down alternative comforters are not exactly huge. In fact, non-down comforters have their own particular quirks that make them stand out against their down counterpart. Let’s check them out.
Right off the bat, down alternative comforters are made of non-animal products. That means no animal is harmed or killed whatsoever in creating the bedding. If you’re a pet lover or an advocate of animal rights and welfare, then you’d be pleased and happy to know that nothing alive was needlessly sacrificed in creating something just for human comfort.
It is true that a down comforter provides excellent warmth due to its exceptional insulation. But what if you don’t want a comforter that is too warm or cloying? What if you live in a humid area such as in Florida? What if the power goes out and your air conditioner doesn’t work? Wrapping yourself in a down comforter during a warm night is going to be hell on earth.
If you want a cooler sleep, a down alternative is a better option. Although it still insulates well and provides you warmth, the fibers do not trap a lot of warm air. In warmer climes, this is ideal so you’ll have a better, more comfortable snooze.
Just enough of fluff
Oh, how we love feeling as if we’re sleeping in the clouds. A down comforter, with its thick fluff (due to the expanded warm air inside its air pockets, gives you that lovely feeling. But often, snuggled in too much thick fluff may feel as if you’re being smothered. This is especially true—and sometimes annoying—if you have a bed partner who loves to cuddle you.
On the other hand, a down alternative comforter still provides a nice deal of fluff, but just not to an overwhelming degree. Sleeping is still comfortable but not cloying.
Bigger variety exterior fabrics
Because down alternative comforters use either or both natural and synthetic fillings, they are more compatible with more kinds of fabrics that make up the outer casing of the comforter. Thus, you can choose a comforter made of polyester, fleece, Tencel, and other natural and synthetic fabrics—all with different textures, degrees of softness, feel, and more.
Down comforters generally use natural materials such as silk or luxury cotton to match with the natural filling.
Being a natural fibrous material, down is a magnet for bugs and allergens. That’s why all birds preen; they use their beaks to remove parasites from their feathers. If you suffer from an allergy, being wrapped in an allergen-rich down comforter will exacerbate your coughing, sneezing, and itchy skin.
Down alternative comforters are generally hypoallergenic. They do not trap dust mites, pollen, dust, and any other allergens that can trigger or worsen allergies.
Down alternative comforters are easy to clean and wash. How to wash down alternative comforter? Simple! Just machine-wash at home with some warm water and household detergent. It can then be dried easily; just air dry it and you’re done.
It’s a different story for down comforters. Because of the special nature of down material, the comforter has to be taken to a dry cleaner for proper cleaning. In general, you cannot wash a down comforter at home without special chemicals and procedures.
Light and packable
Down alternative comforters may contain more filling to compensate for fluffiness. But that doesn’t mean they’re heavy. In fact, many non-down comforters are filled with high-tech polyester or cotton fillings that make them packable yet lightweight. Examples would be the comfy, warm, compact, and light sleeping bags that mountaineers and hikers bring during their adventures.
Making a down comforter is costly simply due to the effort needed to harvest the duck or geese’s feathers. Add to that the cost of maintaining a duck or geese farm, and you can see why down comforters are expensive.
Why are down alternative comforters cheaper? Well, the cotton and synthetic materials used in the filling are easy to produce and harvest as well as cheap. That’s why if you’re budget conscious in purchasing your comforter, a down alternative is the right product for you.
That is like asking which fruit is better: an apple or an orange. Well, each type of comforter has its own advantages and disadvantages. The best answer would be: it depends on your preference and requirements. For example, if you’re prone to allergies, then you’d be better off with a down alternative comforter. If you live in a cold place and would like a warmer shut-eye, then a down comforter would be an ideal product for you.
One of the best things about owning a down alternative comforter is that the material is easy to wash. Just follow these simple steps.
- Place the comforter in your washing machine. Choose your machine’s gentle or delicate cycle. Or you can check the label of your comforter. Some brands have a different cycle, temperature, and detergent settings that you need to follow.
Here’s a tip: add a couple of clean tennis balls inside the wash. They will serve as agitators and help turn the comforter in all directions, ensuring all areas of the fabric are washed.
- Use a small amount of mild detergent. A comforter is a big, thick piece of material so using a minimum amount of detergent ensures that all the detergent is rinsed out. Too much unrinsed detergent can leave the comforter with ugly residue. It can also cause stiffness, a grainy feel, and faster wear and tear on both the shell and the filling.
- After a complete wash cycle, tumble dry but turn off the heat.
- Finally, air-dry your comforter out in the sun. Make sure it is thoroughly dry to prevent molds from growing on the fabric.
As a rule of thumb, it’s not required. A duvet cover is usually for a down comforter to minimize shedding and to protect it from dirt. However, there’s no stopping you from putting a duvet cover on your down alternative comforter. In fact, doing so makes your task of cleaning easier. How? You only need to clean the duvet cover rather than the comforter itself.
There is a somewhat back-and-forth contention between down vs down alternative comforters. Each has its own strengths, weaknesses, and peculiarities. Want something thick and warm? There’s down. Prefer something that is hypoallergenic and inexpensive? There are lots of down alternatives out there.
But the thing is that it’s not all about us, humans. Through the latest environmental and biological researches, we have now come to realize that we are part of the ecosystem, and we share this world with all other residents in it.
Humans have come a long way. We have advanced technology, increased environmental awareness, and a clearer moral obligation. These are tools we can use to create the things we need or derive pleasure from without harming animals.
Bedding manufacturers are constantly on the lookout for new methodologies and technologies that help them create, synthesize, and harvest better and animal-free raw materials. In time, we will have alternative comforters that have all the comfort, breathability, and fluffiness that down can offer.
With a down alternative comforter, we still enjoy the coziness, warmth, and enjoyment while giving our feathered friends a much-needed break.