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How often should you be cleaning your puffer jacket? Experts share the weird tricks that work

Set yourself (and your jacket) up for success with these wear and care tips.
Two woman wearing puffer jackets outside
Kara Birnbaum/ TODAY

Whether we like it or not, winter is almost here. No matter if you live in a northern state and regularly receive your fair share of snow or you live on the west coast and shiver when the temperature drops below 60, puffer jackets and coats have become a popular go-to for braving frigid temperatures.

We talked with Iowa State University associate professor Kelly Reddy-Best and retired University of Rhode Island professor Margaret Ordoñez about how to best care for a puffer jacket, and what features to keep in mind while shopping.

In addition, we spoke with Jessica Ek of the American Cleaning Institute and technical apparel designer Alexandra Dean about distinct features that make a puffer jacket different from other outerwear and how to specifically care for this style.

What is a puffer jacket? | Care tips | How often should you wash a puffer jacket? | Shopping tips | Noteworthy features | Shopper-loved jackets | Meet the experts

What is a puffer jacket?

In short, puffer jackets are coats typically made out of polyester and nylon fabrics. This jacket style also contains a little bit more insulation compared to rain jackets, slimmer winter coats and trench coats.

"Polyester and nylon fabrics have longer fibers and are more durable," says Dean. She also notes that puffer jackets "perform better with adhesive applications," meaning they are waterproofed and down proofed to prevent feathers from escaping the jacket.

How to take care of and wash a puffer jacket

According to Reddy-Best and Ordoñez, reading your puffer jacket's care label is the best way to go about maintaining its quality. If you're hesitant to wash an expensive product on your own at home, "test an area of the jacket in an inconspicuous area," they both advise.

"Often the inside of the pocket will be the same material as the outside, making it a good place to test," adds Ek.

"Puffer jackets and coats have either down from geese or ducks or a synthetic filler," Reddy-Best and Ordoñez say. "Both types of filler are machine-washable at home or by a professional cleaner, but some labels on down jackets warn against dry cleaning."

An odd practice they say can work against germs? Putting your coat in the freezer.

"It depend on how big your freezer is, but you could freeze your garments and that can kill some bacteria," says Reddy-Best. Placing it in a trash bag and then into your freezer "can reduce smell" as well.

Another zany trick to try? Putting tennis balls in the dryer with your puffer jacket. This helps to "maintain the lift in the insulating material" of the jacket, according to Ek. "That air is part of what helps keep you warm."

The one product they recommend as an absolute no-go on puffer jackets? Chlorine bleach.

"Chlorine bleach should be avoided on all down-filled jackets and coats," Reddy-Best and Ordoñez both advise, explaining that the bleach could erode or wear down the fabric. While it might be your first instinct to reach for the bleach as a fast-acting stain remover, one of the most common problems dry cleaners face is reversing damage done by at-home cleaning remedies.

"Professional cleaners could be a good choice for treating major spotting and soil; they report that often they are faced with working on failed home-spot-removal techniques," they both mention.

Penn Championship Tennis Balls

Zany tricks galore! Experts recommended tossing tennis balls in the dryer with your puffer jacket, in order to "maintain the lift" in your jacket.

Stock up with as many packs and tennis balls as you need, as they come in a variety of numbers, from three to 144.

Ziploc Big Storage Bags

If you have ample space in your freezer, storing your puffer jacket in there can kill bacteria and prevent odors. Even if you don't have room to store it in a freezer, cutting a hole at the top of the bag and placing it over your coat as a sort of protective layer when hanging it up in a closet is a good backup option.

This pack of three from Ziploc can hold up to five pounds worth of puffers and includes a cutout handle at the top to make it easy to take in and out of the freezer or closet.

How often should you wash your puffer jacket?

How often you should wash your puffer jacket is determined by two factors, according to Reddy-Best and Ordoñez: how often you wear it and what activities you’re doing in it.

“It’s probably good practice to [wash] it at least once a month,” Reddy-Best says. “A lot of people don’t clean their winter coat; it’s not something you readily think about a lot. We have a lot [of] layers between us, our bodies and the coat, so we wash the garments that are closest to our skin a lot. But the things that are a next layer out, you might not wash them as much.”

When washing your jacket at home, “a second rinse would be a good choice in this case,” Reddy-Best and Ordoñez also advise, just to be sure that the coat is clean.

How to shop for a puffer jacket or coat

Due to its cost, a puffer jacket is most likely going to be an investment, meaning you'll want to do research and take time to decide what features are important to you when buying. As mentioned earlier, stand-out features are oftentimes noted on the tag.

"Some jackets have coatings or finishes to increase water repellency," Reddy-Best and Ordoñez say. "Paying attention to a coat's unique features can inform the consumer or can help evaluate a purchase price."

One of the features they recommend testing in-store is the zipper. As silly as it sounds, you want the zipper to work in order to fully benefit from the functions of the coat. If it doesn't fully zip, the insulation isn't able to trap warmth.

What other features should you look for in a puffer jacket?

"Having water resistance as a minimum on the fabric," says Dean, is a non-negotiable when it comes to puffer jackets, as well as "pockets sitting behind the fill so your hands stay warm."

"I also believe when designing a puffer, it's extremely important to use recycled materials at this time — virgin materials weigh heavy on the earth and there are better choices that can be made with lower impact," says Dean. A large brand that utilizes this practice is Patagonia, whose down hoody is made with 98% recycled materials.

Best puffer jackets, according to shoppers and editors

Amazon Essentials Crop Puffer Jacket

What we like
  • Easy to clean.
  • "Comfy, cute and warm."
Something to note
  • "Boxy" fit for some reviewers.
  • Runs small; size up.

Amount of insulation fill: N/A | Fill material: N/A | Amount of loft: N/A | Layers: Recycled polyester, quilted layers | Water-resistant: Yes | Unique features: Available in eight colors and sizes XS-6X

This Amazon Essentials puffer jacket is trendy, offers a relaxed fit and features a high enough neckline to shield from wind, rain and snow. Not convinced yet? Two of our editors bought this popular puffer on Prime Day and tout it as their new go-to for this winter season.

L.L. Bean Mountain Classic Puffer Jacket

What we like
  • "Incredibly warm."
  • "Lightweight and flexible."
Something to note
  • Thin.
  • In-between jacket.

Amount of insulation fill: N/A | Fill material: Recycled polyester and polyester blend | Amount of loft: N/A | Layers: Polyester shell and interior lining | Water-resistant: Yes | Unique features: A stand-up collar to protect the neck from harsh wind; four fun color options

For a jacket that will serve well for those who live in warmer states, or for those who are searching for a jacket to wear on in-betweener days, meet the Mountain Classic puffer jacket from L.L. Bean, available in a range of sizes spanning three categories from regular, petite and plus sizes. While this version sits at your hips, L.L. Bean also offers an option that falls at the knees for more coverage. Reviewers also recommend sizing up, as the jacket runs big.

Columbia Pike Lake II Cropped Jacket

What we like
  • Can layer without being bulky.
  • "Nice quality and great fit."
Something to note
  • None to note at this time.

Amount of insulation fill: N/A | Fill Material: N/A | Amount of loft: N/A | Layers: 100% recycled polyester shell and insulation; 100% polyester thermal lining | Water-resistant: Yes | Unique features: Puffy silhouette and five fun color patterns

With a traditional puffy silhouette, this jacket from Columbia also comes in eight pops of color, from solid neutrals to one pattern that mimics a creamsicle. Reviewers note that this cropped jacket, that sits at the waist, fits true to size.

Carhartt Montana Relaxed Fit Insulated Jacket

What we like
  • "Blocks wind well." 
  • Pockets provide "great functionality." 
Something to note
  • Reviewers noted it was a little small; size up for oversized fit. 

Amount of insulation fill: N/A | Fill Material: Synthetic, polyester insulation | Amount of loft: N/A | Layers: Synthetic, polyester insulated layer, a sherpa fleece-lined interior and a nylon exterior | Water-resistant: Yes; Carhartt’s trademarked, water-repelling ‘Rain Defender’ technology means light rain and water “bead up and roll right off” this puffer jacket | Unique features: A sherpa fleece-lined hood, a zip chest pocket for storing phones, wallet or keys for easy access

Commonly known for their trademark "Carhartt Brown," this puffer jacket is a different take on the blue-collar bomber jacket many turn to the brand for. Reviewers recommend sizing down, as the 'relaxed fit' portion seems to reign true. The upper half of the coat, as well as the hoodie, are lined with sherpa material for additional warmth. "I love this coat! Very nicely made and perfect for the rain and cool fall weather," said one reviewer. Plus, it has both internal and external pockets, perfect for fitting all the necessities.

Columbia Delta Ridge Down Jacket

What we like
  • "Great for layering."
Something to note
  • Runs small; size up.

Amount of insulation fill: 650 | Fill material: Fill meets the responsible down standard, meaning that that the fill is comprised of ducks and geese raised in accordance with animal welfare standards | Amount of loft: 650 | Layers: Shell and lining are made with 100% polyester, fill is RDS certified | Water-resistant: Yes | Unique features: Thermal fabric lines the interior, meaning heat stays trapped on the inside while it's negative temperatures outside.

For a jacket that's "seriously warm," even in ridiculously cold temperatures, reviewers love the "instant warmth" they felt after putting it on. This is thanks to the two brand specific thermal features, like the construction and the fabric itself that help to retain warmth. Reviewers also note that the jacket may fit true to size, or be on the smaller side, so they recommend sizing up

Merrell Ridgevent Jacket

What we like
  • "Keeps you warm on cold days."
  • "Lightweight and compact."
Something to note
  • Light, in-between jacket.

Amount of insulation fill: 85g everywhere aside from the back panel; back panel has 95g | Fill material: Waterproof goose | Amount of loft: N/A | Layers: Has a brand-specific DownPlus+ insulated layer as well as a finished, waterproof exterior | Water-resistant: Yes | Unique features: Has a brand-specific Ridgevent, which allows ventilation on the backside of the jacket, releasing heat

"Merrell makes the best hiking boots, but their outerwear is also stellar," says production associate Audrey Ekman. "I have my eye on this versatile puffer jacket that can keep me just warm enough for everything I’ve got planned this season."

While this jacket isn't quite as thick as other options, it doesn't sacrifice warmth or comfort due to this fact. Made with brand-specific downs, insulations and water-repellant finishes, this jacket is packed to the brim with elements that will keep you safe from the worst of them.

Save The Duck Daisy Hooded Puffer Jacket

What we like
  • Flattering fit.
  • Lightweight, yet warm.
Something to note
  • Runs a bit big.
  • Zipper malfunctions.

Amount of insulation fill: N/A | Fill material: N/A | Amount of loft: N/A | Layers: Nylon exterior and brand specific Bluesign fabric | Water-resistant: Yes | Unique features: This brand is animal-free, meaning that the fill, fabrics and details do not include any dyes, feathers or any other things that may have come from furry friends

"The one I have is my go-to as soon as the weather dips below 55 — it weighs almost nothing and is really breathable, super easy to pack for traveling, and wind- and water-repellent," adds Ekman, who is from Minnesota. "It zips from the bottom or top and has a hood, too!"

EMS '67 Down Jacket

What we like
  • "Extremely warm."
  • "Very cozy."
Something to note
  • Small hoodie; not big enough.

Amount of insulation fill: 800 | Fill material: N/A | Amount of loft: 800 | Layers: Polyester lining | Water-resistant: Yes | Unique features: Folds down into included storage sack

Writer Jannely Espinal compares herself to the Michelin Man when wearing this puffer jacket, yet is willing to sacrifice good looks for warmth during the winter season for it.

"This is one of the warmest jackets I own," she says. "While the construction is very puffy and thick, this jacket will keep you warm during low temperatures. I wore this in 15°F weather with a cashmere sweater underneath and felt very warm."

The North Face Hydrenalite Down Hoodie

What we like
  • "Super warm without being too bulky." 
  • Vibrant colors look great in person. 
Something to note
  • Reviewers noted that the feathers keep coming out. 
  • Runs small; size up. 

Amount of insulation fill: 550 | Fill material: Goose | Amount of loft: 550 | Layers: Nylon lining, goose insulation | Water-resistant: Yes | Unique features: Three-piece insulated hood, elastic cuffs at the wrist and waistband

A popular and trending pick, especially on college campuses and in buzzing cities, the North Face Puffer has nearly 500 verified five-star ratings on the brand's site, with reviewers raving about this "perfect" puffer. Lightweight and warm, the brand claims that with the hood up, this jacket is windproof, helping those in even the coldest climates walk to their destination. This is a "must-have for winter adventures," according to one reviewer.

Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket

What we like
  • "Very flattering."
  • "Great for layering."
Something to note
  • Runs small; size up.
  • Lighter than expected.

Amount of insulation fill: N/A | Fill material: N/A | Amount of loft: N/A; however jacket is made with brand-specific 60g PrimaLoft recycled polyester | Layers: Recycled polyester shell, as well as a recycled polyester lining, PrimaLoft insulation | Water-resistant: Yes | Unique features: Made entirely out of recycled materials, the horizontal stitching on the coat prevents abrasion and keeps insulation in place

Patagonia themselves describes this jacket with three W's: warm, waterproof and windproof. Also a thinner option compared to others, what this jacket lacks in puffiness, it makes up for in quality and intentionality in design.

The horizontal stripes may look like they were placed there as a stitching must-have, but it's to keep the insulation in place and ensure warmth all over, while the included drawcord helps to trap said warmth and keep it from escaping.

Aritzia The Super Puff

What we like
  • "Stylish, goes with everything." 
  • Great for layering. 
Something to note
  • Runs a bit big. 
  • "Hits a weird length." 

Amount of insulation fill: 700 | Fill material: Goose; fill is Responsible Down Standard certified, meaning products with this down advocate for better practices for animals in the down and feather supply chain | Amount of loft: 700 | Layers: Brand does not specify beyond the exterior, and goose-insulation fill | Water-resistant: Yes | Unique features: Detachable hood, thumbholes in the included storm cuffs, ‘cinchable’ waistband

Available in a whopping 56 different shades, The Super Puff from Aritzia is also available in five different styles, depending on the length and design you prefer. From the Shorty to Long Super Puff, you can purchase the warmest option for you. "Best coat on the market, bought it for my twin daughters as we live in Alaska and this is by far the comfiest, warmest everyday coat," said one reviewer.

Fjallraven Kanken Expedition Pack Down Hoodie

What we like
  • Warm insulation.
  • Lifetime warranty on repairs.
Something to note
  • None to note at this time.

Amount of insulation fill: 700 | Fill material: 90% goose, 10% feather | Amount of loft: 700 | Layers: Insulation and outer layer | Water-resistant: Brand does not specify | Unique features: Packs into self; two-way zipper

Hailing from the state of Minnesota, Ekman has high standards when it comes to a winter jacket. And rightfully so — a practical winter coat will prove to work wonders during brutal winter days.

"This one has surpassed all of my expectations," she says. "It’s lightweight and packable into its own pocket, while still being so warm. The two-way zipper is a nice touch, and the three pockets are also great."

Cotopaxi Fuego Down Hooded Jacket

What we like
  • "Lightweight, warm, soft."
  • Good mid-layer piece.
Something to note
  • "Boxy" fit.
  • Zipper malfunction.

Amount of insulation fill: 800 | Fill material: "Responsibly sourced down," according to the brand, further note that ducks and geese are not harmed during this process | Amount of loft: 800 | Layers: 100% nylon shell and lining; responsibly sourced down | Water-resistant: Yes | Unique features: Available in 19 bold colors, sure to help you stand out amongst the grays of winter

A brand that ensures sustainability is front of mind when making their products, Cotopaxi offers a puffer jacket whose qualities aren't reduced thanks to this fact. For example, with a fill count that is still high, ducks and geese aren't involved in this process, still providing a warm and insulated jacket for consumers.

In addition to being good for the environment, this jacket is also lightweight, weighing in at 14 ounces and is able to pack into itself, making it easy to take on-the-go.

Lululemon Wunder Puff Jacket

What we like
  • "Lightweight but super warm." 
  • "Oversized and perfect for layering." 
Something to note
  • Wash carefully, otherwise jacket will de-puff. 
  • Reviewers noted problems with online ordering; delivery issues. 

Amount of insulation fill: 600 | Fill material: Goose down and feathers; fill is Responsible Down Standard certified, meaning products with this down advocate for better practices for animals in the down and feather supply chain | Amount of loft: 600 | Layers: Polyester interior linings and body | Water-resistant: Yes | Unique features: Detachable hood, interior cuffs, adjustable drawcord at the waist

What can't Lululemon make? This puffer jacket covers your bum, has the option to cinch at the waist and hem to prevent drafts and is made out of waterproof material, meaning even the snowiest of days won't get you down. This coat is so good, it has one reviewer "anxiously waiting for snow," with others stating that it's "stunning," "warm" and "comfortable."

  • Kelly Reddy-Best is an associate professor of apparel, merchandising and design at Iowa State University. She is also the curator and director of the university's Textiles and Clothing Museum.
  • Margaret Ordoñez is a retired professor of textiles, fashion merchandising and design from the University of Rhode Island.
  • Jessica Ek is the senior director of digital communications at the American Cleaning Institute. She previously talked to Shop TODAY about laundry stripping and how to properly wash your baseball caps.
  • Alexandra Dean is a technical apparel designer based in Canada who has worked with brands like Lululemon and Outdoor Voices.