About Down and Fill Power
Down and feathers from geese, ducks and even chickens have been used in bedding and clothing for centuries. Goose down is generally accepted as the finest natural insulator used for bedding, with one exception, the down from the Eider Duck. However, Eiderdown is very expensive due to a limited supply (in many places the Eider Duck is considered an Endangered Species), so most of our conversation here will focus on goose down.
Fill power is a way to measure the quality of down. A higher number is better. Specifically, Fill Power measures the amount of cubic space that one ounce of down will fill. For example; one ounce of 750 fill power down will fill 750 cubic inches of space, one ounce of 550 fill, 550 cubic inches of space.
What does this mean to you? A down comforter that has 60 ounces of 750 fill will be lighter, warmer and fluffier that a comforter that has 70 or even 80 ounces of 550 fill. So, while the 550 fill comforter may be less expensive, it is probably not the best deal if you are looking for a lightweight, warm and fluffy down comforter.
Down Fills are generally rated from 550, 600, 650, 700, 750 & 800. There is 1000 fill power down available, although quantities of this are very limited, making it more expensive. Better to Best quality down comforters usually use 650 to 750 fill, with some using 800 or even 1000 fill.
Asian down is found in almost all "bargain" or "cheap" down comforters, even those that claim to be "luxury". There is a reason for this. Asian down can be very inconsistent in quality and cleanliness and is much less expensive.
Siberian Down? This is a good one. It sounds great and infers the luxury and warmth of Russian sable. But really, there is no such thing as Siberian Down.
The bottom line: Use prudence and know your retailer.
Does the color of goose down indicate quality? With one exception, no. The color of goose down changes seasonally. It turns whiter during the winter months, and gray to brown during the summer months. It is all generally classified as "White". The color of down you receive in your comforter or pillows will depend on when it was harvested, or the selection process.
Down is sorted by cluster size (fill power) and by color. "White" down that is actually gray or brown, costs less, and is used in less expensive bedding. The only problem with this is that the darker colored down can show through the white ticking of down pillows and comforters. It is not as aesthetically pleasing, although it is just as functional.
We think of it this way: Although gray and brown down is functionally the same as white down, it is also an indicator of quality. A merchant who goes to the expense of using sorted white down is also likely to go the extra step when it come to other areas of quality control. We should also note that even sorted white goose down may have some darker clusters, as it would be virtually impossible to remove every single brown down cluster.
The exception we mentioned above is this: Some manufacturer's will actually bleach gray or brown down to make it white. This destroys the structure of the down cluster. It looks great, but the down will quickly break down, loosing all of it's fluffiness and warmth.
There is one type of down that is gray to brown that is superior to all others; Eiderdown. Comforters and pillows that use Eiderdown are considered to be the finest in the world.
More About Goose Down
Most of the down and feathers on the market today is a by-product of the agricultural industry. After the animal is processed for food, the feathers and down are processed for use by bedding, clothing and furniture manufactures.
Some companies may claim that their down "hand-harvested" or "hand-plucked". You should be aware that this practice is considered to be cruel, and is in fact illegal in the United States and the EU (European Union). Reputable manufactures will only use goose down that is a by-product of harvesting geese for food.
Eiderdown is hand harvested seasonally, by hand, from the nest of the Eider Duck.
Down is extremely light, almost lighter than air! Clusters of the lightest down can float in the mildest of breezes for minutes at a time. Feathers are much heavier and stiffer then Down, and have sharp pointy quills. Feathers are not a good insulator, and are more often used as fill for pillows and cushions.
Feathers and down are separated by forced air during the sorting process. The best quality largest cluster down floats highest and is caught by racks. Smaller clusters a little lower, and feathers at the bottom!
We mentioned that feathers are not a good insulator and are most often used as fill for pillows, etc. But, unscrupulous down comforter manufactures will use feathers as fill for their "down" comforters. By law, they are allowed to have up to 20% feathers and still claim that their comforters are goose down.
The law allows this because it is virtually impossible to completely separate the smaller pieces of feather from the down. However, quality conscious manufactures will exceed the level allowed by "labeling requirements" 15% or less feather and broken down cluster content is the threshold accepted by good manufacturers of quality down comforters for 650 fill, 10% to 5% or less for 750 or higher quality fill.