Goose Down - A Warm & Fluffy Wonder
Down is the soft under plumage (a layer of insulation underneath feathers) that geese, ducks and other waterfowl have to keep them warm and dry.
Feathers are different than down. Feathers have hard quills, down does not. A down "cluster" is a soft and fluffy 3 dimensional structure with many filaments growing in all directions. A down cluster looks like this:
The three dimensional structure of a down cluster
Down is used to fill comforters, pillows, and other articles of bedding and clothing. Goose down is chosen for it's luxurious warmth, softness, superior resilience, loft and insulating properties, unmatched by duck down or synthetic fills.
Goose down and duck down is basically very similar in structure, especially in the lower fill powers. For example, a 550 fill power duck down is equal to a 550 fill power goose down in resilience and ability to insulate. However, because geese are larger than ducks, goose down clusters can be larger than duck down clusters. These larger clusters, represented by a high fill power down, result in better insulation for comforters and fluffier, more resilient, filling for pillows.
Duck down is much less expensive compared to goose down. Aside from it's smaller clusters, duck down can be prone to a "gamy" odor. As the price of goose down continues to rise, we are seeing duck down being used more and more in comforters & pillows as a way to keep costs down. Many consumers simply assume that the "down" pillow they've just purchased is goose down, when it may actually be duck down. This is why it is important to read, and understand, the Down Bedding Law Label.
Where Goose Down Comes From
Most of the goose down and duck down produced in the world today comes from China. A smaller percentage comes from Europe, particularly from Poland and Hungary. Goose down also comes from Canada and the United States, in still smaller quantities relative to the amount of down that China and Europe produce.
We are often asked if one type of goose down is better than another, ie; "Is Hungarian goose down better than Polish goose down?" "Is Canadian goose down better than Hungarian goose down?", etc. The answer is an emphatic no: Generally speaking, location does not have any bearing on the quality of goose down.
In other words, goose down clusters of equal fill power will be the same size (fill power measures the size of the goose down cluster) regardless of origin. For example, an 800 fill power goose down from Hungary will be the same quality as an 800 fill power down from Poland or Canada.
There is one caveat to this however. While Fill Power is the industry standard for measuring the quality of goose down, the finest downs are more mature, with denser clusters, compared to younger less mature down. There is no industry standard to measure the maturity and density of a goose down cluster. These batches of mature down are limited in quantity and are much more costly compared to the "regular" bulk harvested goose down on the market.
Some of the very best examples of this mature goose down, such as our Plumeria™ down, come from Poland; But to take this example and make a blanket statement that Polish Goose Down is better than Hungarian down or Canadian down would simply not be true.
You may notice that I do not mention Siberia as a source of goose down. That's because, while some small quantity of down does come from the Ukraine (bordered by Poland and Hungary), goose down does not come from Siberia.
Feathers & Down
Feathers are often confused with down by the average person. But there are important differences to note. As mentioned above, feathers have quills (the center shaft). "Flight" feathers are found on the wings or tail of the bird and will vary greatly in size, from quite small to over a foot long.
The quills in flight feathers are relatively straight and are not very flexible. Flight feathers are often cut up into small pieces and used as inexpensive fill for furniture & couch cushions, etc.
A body feather with a "springy" quill
Body feathers are small and have a flexible springy curved quill, like the feather shown above. This type of feather is often blended with down and used in better quality bedding, such as the feather and down blends found in our Alto™ & Stratus™ featherbeds. Feathers do not have a "fill power" rating.
White vs. Gray Down
Down can vary in color, from white to dark gray depending on the age of the bird and the season in which the down was harvested. The color of down does not affect its ability to insulate - in other words, a dark gray down will insulate just as well as a white down of the same size cluster and maturity.
Aesthetically speaking, white down is generally more preferable to gray down since a gray down can show through a fine white down proof ticking, making the comforter appear "dingy". White goose is more expensive then gray down. Like duck down, we are seeing more gray down being used as a way to keep costs down.
Fill power or "loft" is how the quality and size of various down clusters are defined. The larger the down cluster, the higher the fill power rating, which is the number of cubic inches one ounce of down will fill under specific laboratory testing conditions; for example:
Quality Down = Comfort & Resilience
Fill power can range from 300 cubic inches per ounce, to 800 cubic inches per ounce and above, for the highest quality down.
For down comforters: A higher quality large cluster down will keep you more comfortable, ie; warmer when it is cold and cooler when it is warm, compared to a lower quality down. For down pillows: A higher quality down will result in a fluffier, more resilient pillow, ounce for ounce, compared to a lower quality down.
We use only the finest quality down in our comforters & pillows, including a 675 fill, an 850 fill Canadian white goose down, & an especially mature and dense 800 fill Polish white goose down that, due to it's exceptional "cling" (much like Eiderdown) is considered to be among the best white goose down in the world.
Density and Cling
Fill power is important, and it is what everyone focuses on as a measure of quality down because it is relatively easy to measure and quantify. But "density" and "cling" are at least as important when evaluating the highest quality down.
Density is an attribute of mature down. A mature down cluster with a denser center will insulate better and be more "resilient" compared to an immature down cluster of the same size.
Down clusters of the same fill power. The mature cluster is denser and of better quality
Cling is an attribute of eiderdown and very mature goose down, also known as"sticky down". "Cling" is found when tiny hooks develop on the individual filaments of a down cluster. The Polish White Goose Down found in our Plumeria™ duvets and pillows is exemplary of the finest mature goose down, with superior attributes of fill power, density and cling.
Here is a picture that shows this "cling" in action!
Very Mature "sticky" Goose Down
Oxygen & Turbidity
Cleanliness: Improperly cleaned down can have dander, dust mites and odor issues. Most people that experience a reaction to down are actually experiencing a reaction to the dander and dust mites in dirty down.
There are a couple of important tests that help manufacturers assure that down is properly cleaned; Oxygen and Turbidity.
- The "Oxygen" number test measures the presence of organic material.
- The lower the "Oxygen" number, the better, in a range from 1 to 30+. USA standards require the minimum oxygen number to be 10 or lower.
- The Turbidity test measures the amount of dust and other non-organic solids that may be present in down.
- The higher the "Turbidity number, the better, in a range from 20 to 1000. There is no minimum standard for Turbidity in the USA.
All Plumeria Bay® goose down and eiderdown has minimum standards of 2 (or less) for Oxygen, and 900 to 1000 for Turbidity. How our down is cleaned.
The Best Insulation, Naturally
Ounce for ounce, goose down is the finest lightweight insulator known, natural or synthetic, except for eiderdown. The down cluster's unique three dimensional structure creates thousands of tiny air pockets. These air pockets, created by the down fibers, provide the superior insulating ability that down is known for.
Quality down is also extremely resilient - the ability to be compressed then spring back to it's original shape with all of those wonderfully warm air pockets. No other material is as resilient as a high quality large cluster down, except for eiderdown.
Goose down is also extremely breathable compared to other materials. It allows water vapor to pass through, wicking it away through the filaments while retaining the warmth in the air pockets.