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Reviews > Do It Yourself > Nikwax Down Wash > Test Report by Kathleen Waters

NIKWAX DOWN WASH
TEST SERIES BY KATHLEEN WATERS
LONG-TERM REPORT

INITIAL REPORT - March 12, 2015
LONG TERM REPORT - May 26, 2015

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Kathleen Waters
EMAIL: kathy at backpackgeartest dot com
AGE: 64
LOCATION: Canon City, Colorado, USA
GENDER: F
HEIGHT: 5' 4" (1.60 m)
WEIGHT: 125 lb (56.70 kg)

Living in Colorado and being self-employed, I have ample opportunities to backpack. There are over 700,000 acres/280,000 hectares of public land bordering my 71-acre/29-hectare "backyard" in addition to all the other gorgeous locations which abound in Colorado. Over the past 15 years, my husband John and I have also had the good fortune to hike/snowshoe glaciers, rain forests, mountains and deserts in exotic locations, including New Zealand, Iceland, Costa Rica, Slovenia and Death Valley. My hiking style is comfortable, aiming for lightweight. I use a tent (rainfly if needed). Current pack averages 25 lb (11 kg) excluding food and water.


INITIAL REPORT

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer: Nikwax LTD
Year of Manufacture: 2015
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.nikwax-usa.com
MSRP: 10 oz (296 ml) - $9.75 & 33.8 oz (1 L) - $26.50
Listed Weight: N/A

***** NOTE: Tested 5 oz (148 ml) Sample Sizes - not for sale
Measured Weight: 7 oz (198 g)

Made in Great Britain
Laundry Day
Laundry Day!

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

I've always been a big fan of down clothing, especially in the cold, dry climate of my adopted state of Colorado. I know my down vests and jackets are stellar at keeping me warm thanks to the way down insulation traps air which is warmed by my body heat. What I didn't know was how dirty down from body oils and sweat attracts moisture which causes the down to clump together, losing loft and insulation and ultimately making me feel colder! The clothing doesn't have to "look" dirty" for the down to be dirty, either. I also didn't know that "water conducts heat away from the body up to 25x faster than air." Wow! I learned that (and more) from the Nikwax website. And here I thought I didn't need to clean my down clothing all that often! I totally ignored the fact that I sweat a lot when backpacking and snowshoeing in the winter.

Anyway...

The Nikwax Down Wash is a slightly yellowish clear liquid cleaner that is a bit thicker than water, but not much more than that. It "pours" rather than "plops" out of the bottle. It has that slippery feel when rubbed between my fingers. The smell is rather "chemical" but not offensive nor overly strong. It's definitely not floral, that's for sure! It will be interesting to see if there is a residual odor on my clothing after washing them in the Down Wash.

And even though the smell is chemical, according to the Nikwax website, the Down Wash is environmentally friendly, non-hazardous, water-based and biodegradable. There are no fluorocarbons and it is not tested on animals. I like that!

The only initial downside I see at this time is the idea of one bottle (5 oz/148 ml size) per one garment being a bit extravagant. And I don't generally run my washing machine with less than a full load of wash to minimize electric and water usage. However, I'm game to try it. After all, my precious down vests/jackets/sleeping bags are "worth it"!

READING THE INSTRUCTIONS

When I received my samples of Nikwax Down Wash, I immediately pulled out my magnifying glass to search out the fine print on the label. In both French and English, I read the product marketing description, found the Wash is made in Great Britain, was warned not to "take internally" (among other warnings) and that I could take a Nikwax WebQuiz on the Nikwax website. What? No instructions for use?

It took me a minute or two - hey, I'm slow sometimes - before I found the back label could be "peeled" off to reveal use directions underneath. I don't know if the larger retail bottles are the same or if they have visible directions due to larger label space, but no worries, I found them anyway!

After being advised to "shake well" and to follow the garment's care instructions, Nikwax provides directions for both machine washing (front-loading ONLY) and hand washing as well as for drying the clothing after washing.

According to these instructions, one 5 oz (148 ml) bottle of the Nikwax Down Wash will wash one article of clothing.

Oh, I almost forgot. I did take the WebQuiz and answered 10 out of 11 questions correctly! Yay, me, but apparently, to "win" free samples, all questions have to be answered correctly. Sigh.

SUMMARY

I'm a big fan of Nikwax Waterproofing products having used many of the various waterproofers and cleaners in the past - everything from base layer cleaners to cotton waterproofing solutions. I've never been disappointed in the results, so I have high hopes for the Nikwax Down Wash. Since I have enough to wash four separate garments, I plan to try both hand and machine washing starting with my favorite down jacket that recently suffered copious amounts of slobbering by a horse! In the next couple of weeks or so, I will also be prepping my lighter backpacking gear and definitely will be refreshing my sleeping bag as well as packing away some heavier winter gear. It won't be long before all my Down Wash will be down the drain!


LONG-TERM REPORT

PERFORMANCE IN THE LAUNDRY ROOM

Ah, wash day! I've gathered together three down items I'm hoping I won't need any more this season to be washed. None of them were disgusting dirty, but all have seen their share of use. Oh wait, my Big Agnes Shovelhead Jacket has lots of horse slobber on it. Ick definitely needs washing.

Uh-oh, my Montbell down vest is labeled "dry clean only". Dang! Into the dry cleaners pile it goes. No, wait again. My husband's Montbell down vest says "do not dry clean", "hand wash only"! What the heck? They both are labeled 100% Nylon shell and lining and 90% goose down with 10% goose feathers insulation. Why would they require different cleaning treatments? Slight delay here while I call Montbell customer service.

No contact phone number on the Montbell website, just a contact form to fill out. I don't have time for that, so I'll try Nikwax customer service. Besides I have a question about the directions - Nikwax says to mix the solution in "hand-hot" water. Never mind what is the definition of "hand-hot"? Mine - I like just short of scalding or my husband's - I've had beer warmer than that? But I digress, if Nikwax says "hot" and the care instructions for everything I own that is down says "cold" what do I do? Dilemma!

One ringey-dingey later, I have my answer - no I don't. Nikwax customer service is "busy" and I can't hold for the next available agent, I have to leave a message and wait for a call-back. I don't like this at all. Guess I'll do some of my work-that-pays-the-bills and forget the wash for now.

Never did get a call back from Nikwax Customer Service but 5 hours later, I tried again and got a live person who settled the question - go with the manufacturer of the garment care instructions. Oh, and Montbell responded shortly after that with an e-mail telling me that somewhere the instructions from China got lost in the translation and hand wash cold water was the way to go. Cold water it is.

So with much trepidation, I filled a wash basin up with cold water, used the entire bottle (5 oz/148 ml), swished around the water with my hands to mix the Down Wash up and plunged my absolute favorite down vest which was zippered closed and turned inside out into the slightly sudsy water. The water felt slippery between my fingers and had a not-unpleasant but chemical, not floral smell to it. Then it was off to wait the 5 to 10 recommended minutes of soaking.
Vest in Basin
My Montbell Down Vest Getting a Bath
Vest in Sink
John's Down Vest Soaking in the Suds

Jacket in Washer
Washing Machine with BA Shovelhead Jacket Inside
While my vest was soaking, I decided to try the machine wash method for my absolute favorite down jacket and hubby's down vest (don't know if it is his absolute favorite). Oh, whoops, John's vest needs to be hand washed as well, so into the adjoining sink it went. Then onto my jacket and the washing machine.

Following the Nikwax Down Wash instructions and the manufacturers' instructions for the jacket which thankfully didn't contradict one another, I loaded our front-load (front-load only per Nikwax), up with the jacket. Set the machine for hand wash, cold water, gentle low tumble dry, held my breath and hit the start button.

Meanwhile, the two vests were done with the soaking and needed to be rinsed out - three times according to Nikwax. That was easier said than done because I was trying hard to be gentle squeezing the water out - didn't want to damage the goose feathers - but suds kept coming out way after three rinses. Finally I felt like I got the best of the soap and I hung the vests up to try, carefully straightening the seams to their original shape.

After I removed my jacket from the washing machine, I gingerly put it into the dryer on the lowest setting I could do, selected a timed-dry for 15 minutes and crossing my fingers, pushed the on button. To watch me do this, one would think I was pushing the infamous Red Button!

I was quite pleased to not find the jacket in shreds or lumpy after the dryer's ending warning jingle sounded. The outside - well, really, the inside since I had turned the jacket inside out - was damp dry and the inside, not as dry but certainly not wringing wet. I didn't want to press my luck by machine drying it further so I hung the jacket up to dry next to my vest and John's vest to await complete dryness.

The next morning (about 15 hours later) I found all three garments totally dry. My jacket looked great - no puckers, no lumps, just like new! With a quick shake, my vest also was ready to be packed away. John's vest however looked more like a drowned goose! It was really sad-looking and felt lumpy in spots as well. Of course, this was no fault of the Nikwax Down Wash and I only mention it as part of the washing experience. Before I went into a total panic, I took the vest off the hanger and gently shook it, first from the top collar, then the hem, from the sides, etc., rotating it while shaking very gently. It was more like "fluffing" than shaking. Thankfully, the down and feathers must have started to separate and within a couple of slightly panicked minutes, the vest looked more like a vest!
BA Jacket drying
BA Shovelhead Jacket Drying
Vests drying
Montbell Vest Drying

The best thing about this experience is I now know what to do and expect when washing down articles of clothing and sleeping bags and quilts. I certainly won't be as timid about doing in the future. Oh, and I now have my favorite winter jacket and vest smelling clean (no chemical smell) and looking clean as well!

I have one more trip planned shortly where I will be using my winter down sleeping bag and then that will get bath with Nikwax Down Wash as well.

SUMMARY

Now that my down washing phobia has been cured, I will be taking better care of my down-filled clothing, renewing them more frequently with a thorough cleansing. I will definitely be stocking up on Nikwax Down Wash in the future. It's not as pricey as dry cleaning by any means and certainly less expensive than replacing ruined clothing.

Thank you to Nikwax and for introducing me to this neat product!

Kathleen (Kathy) Waters

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.5 Copyright 2015. All rights reserved.

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