What is Goose Down?

Posted by Cuddledown ‍ on

For hundreds of years, goose down and duck down have been used for the filling of pillows and duvets due to their excellent insulating, thermal and impressive lightness properties.

Despite the fact that new technologies applied to clothing and technologies around the world have reached unimaginable levels, the truth is that to this day artificial fibres as a filling material for duvets and pillows have not been able to beat the likes of Hungarian goose down duvets, pillows and bedding as well as those filled with duck down. 

Goose down, including Hungarian goose down is said to be the best insulator in the world in terms of warmth to weight ratio and is the winner in terms of ability to compress. But, is goose down really as good as they say it is? Let's find out what makes this material the ‘crème de la crème’ of fillings for bedding.

What is Down and How Does it Work?

Down is most common in waterfowl. It is the fluffy layer of feather clusters that grow underneath the protective feathers of these birds, usually on the breast and belly. Each down feather is a three-dimensional sphere made up of a network of fine, soft filaments that branch out in various directions.

The complex nature of down allows birds to trap air around their skin to keep them warm inside when temperatures drop considerably as is the case in the climates of Hungary and Siberia, where much of our goose down and duck down comes from.

This is a heat-generating process called "lofting," in which clusters of down expand and create thousands of insulating pockets within their filaments. Thus, the more down a duvet or a jacket contains the more warmth it provides. 

This system, incapable of being replicated by technology so far, is what makes goose down and duck down incredibly light; much lighter than a feather, despite its thickness and heat supply. 

But what makes all bird down unique is not only its thermal properties but also how extraordinarily durable, compressible, and elasticated down can be.

Unmatched in terms of mechanical properties, Hungarian goose down pillows and duvets are seen as some of the best investments you can make when it comes to your bedding and it is for (amongst others) this reason.

What is the Difference Between Down and Feathers?

Do not confuse down with feathers. Down, both in the case of goose down as well as duck down is found only on the chest or belly and is known for its unique thermal insulating abilities. 

Feathers, on the other hand, are the most superficial plumage of the bird with more barrier than warming characteristics for the animal and thus they simply don’t have the same functionalities and traits as down.

Unlike ordinary feathers, down has no stem and its shape resembles that of a snowflake, making it an extremely soft feather, and therefore perfect for the likes of goose down pillows and duvets.

Duck and Goose Down: Different Properties

Duck and goose are the birds generally used for the production of down products. The structure of the down and feathers of ducks and geese are very similar, however, there are some differences between the two. 

Goose down (including Hungarian goose down)  is larger, bulkier and lighter, which makes it more sought after and a slightly more ‘premium’ option than duck down. Duck down, on the other hand, is smaller, but denser and heavier. 

All waterfowl protect their feathers via the secretion of sebum from their sebaceous glands; this is what keeps the feathers and skin of the bird in question soft and supple. 

Duck down however, contains much more protection from sebum and so it has a stronger odour to remove.

To destroy this specific odour, down must be treated with the help of detergents, which reduces the product’s lifespan. If goose down duvets can last 20 to 25 years, then duck down duvets can last only 10 to 15 years.

Apart from all this, the goose is the only domestic bird that allows itself to be plucked during its lifetime. This means that the feathers plucked are usually those that are sufficiently mature, guaranteeing higher quality.

Advantages of Goose Down

Goose down, including Hungarian goose down comes with a whole host of advantages, some of which are the very reasons more people are investing in goose down duvets, pillows and bedding:

  • It is extremely breathable
  • It is highly elastic, which means that it retains its original size, even under extreme conditions
  • It is more stable and robust than synthetic fibres
  • It is extremely durable and can be used for several years
  • May come with a higher tog rating, as goose down duvets are often warmer than alternatives

However, the feather has one major disadvantage that cannot be ignored. It is not able to repel humidity. In fact, when it gets wet, it tends to clump together, losing most of its thermal power. And, to top it all off, it can take a long time (several days) to dry completely.

Why Choose Goose Down?

If you are looking for the ideal filling for your duvets and pillows to keep you warm, snug and comfortable, the best choice is usually goose down.

It is a better insulator than duck down, with quality being quantified by fill power (if there is more volume in cubic inches that the down fill can capture, the warmer the product will be).

Only experts can easily distinguish goose down from duck down. But one tell tale sign of duck down compared to goose down is that duck down will be a little heavier than goose down.

However, the quality of down can vary depending on the country of origin of the animal, the care, feeding, and the age and size of the animal.

If you want to distinguish a good down from a bad one you can look at its fill power on the product labels.

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