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Even pre-pandemic, there was a rise in the amount of working Americans who didn’t sleep enough — the Centers for Disease Control recommends seven hours a night for adults aged 18 to 60. And the ongoing coronavirus pandemic hasn’t helped matters much, either. Now, some are even experiencing what’s called “coronasomnia,” or insomnia related to everything happening in the world right now. While there are all kinds of tips to falling asleep faster and recommendations for relaxing products, what you sleep with can be just as important as your mattress, bed frame and even pajamas.
From sateen sheets to silk pillowcases and duvets, bedding can play a big role in how you sleep. Take cooling sheets, for example — while some sleepers might not need them, these sheets could help hot sleepers with night sweats. Weighted blankets may relieve restlessness, as another example. And figuring out the right bedding for you can get tricky, especially when it comes to duvets — what with all the duvets, duvet inserts, duvet covers and comforters out there, what do all these terms mean? We consulted experts about duvets, including the difference between down and down alternative duvets, and got their guidance on shopping for the best duvet cover online.
What is a duvet?
For starters, let’s examine the duvet. Think of it as a “type of top-layer bedding blanket” that is usually used for heat and insulation, said Liz Boscacci, the director of product development at bedding brand Casper. A duvet isn’t just for the cold, either — materials like cotton, bamboo and Tencel (a fabric that’s similar to rayon and made from wood pulp) used externally can be cooling. On the inside, duvets can be filled with wool, feathers, microfibers or other materials. The kind of filling determines whether it’s a down or down alternative duvet.
Down duvet versus down alternative duvet
The kind of filling inside a duvet determines whether it's a down duvet or down alternative duvet.
With a down duvet, the down refers to the “undercoating or under feathers of duck or geese” and is known for its lightness and warmth, according to Anupama Pasricha, an associate professor of apparel and design at St. Catherine University in Minnesota. “Under feathers” refer to the feathers beneath a bird’s top layer of feathers. There are ethical concerns when it comes to the necessary down farming, however, including plucking and pulling of these feathers and the conditions birds are kept in, Pasricha said. To help find ethically-created down duvets, she recommends looking for a responsible down certification, or Responsible Down Standard (RDS), a set of guidelines created by the Textile Exchange, a nonprofit organization focused on sustainability. A responsible down certification tells you the down used in a product comes from an animal that wasn’t harmed in the process of making it.
I don't recommend any certification as a standard for your purchasing decision. Your experience, needs and your long-term use is the best foundation for an environmentally friendly duvet.
Kiersten Muenchinger, associate professor of product design, University of Oregon
A down alternative duvet uses fiberfill that is made from polyester or other synthetic stuffings, which you can also find in pillows and stuffed animals. These fibers are made in different sizes and shapes to mimic down feathers,” explained Kiersten Muenchinger, an associate professor of product design with a focus on sustainability at the University of Oregon.
When it comes down to choosing between down and down alternatives, you might see that down alternative is sometimes more affordable — direct-to-consumer retailers like Parachute and Brooklinen offer alternative options for slightly lower prices than their down offerings. And you might also see down alternative duvets billed as more eco-friendly, but that’s not always the case.
“Low energy consumption in production and durability in use are the environmental strengths of down alternative,” Muenchinger explained. “The durability from down alternative comes from not degrading as quickly as the animal product down does, both in our air and in a wash.”
That durability involves a downside: While the fiberfill in down alternative duvets makes them washable, microfibers can find their way into water streams and you should consider washing a duvet cover instead of the duvet itself, Pasricha suggested.
Duvet versus comforter
Although a duvet and comforter are sometimes branded as the same, the two are technically different.
- A comforter is usually “made from polyester fill with a quilted decorative cover that cannot be removed,” Boscacci said.
- A duvet is usually separate from a duvet cover, the comforter already comes with a built-in cover.
Duvet versus duvet cover and duvet inserts
Oftentimes, you’ll see the words “duvet insert” and “duvet” used interchangeably. A duvet can refer to both the duvet insert and duvet cover and a duvet insert is just what goes inside a duvet cover.
It’s okay to use a duvet by itself. But as mentioned above, a duvet cover could be an option for your bed. A duvet cover is both decorative (many come in different colors and prints) and useful. “It also helps keep your duvet insert clean (and it can be removed and washed easily)” and you don’t have to necessarily clean the duvet as much as you would a cover, according to Boscacci.
How to pick the right duvet for you
Picking the right duvet is ultimately a matter of personal preference, experts told us. Pasricha recommends thinking through what’s best for your lifestyle and preparing “for longevity by taking good care and upkeep.” For kids, a down alternative duvet that can be continually washed might be preferable. For adults, contemplate whether you want a duvet to be lightweight (which down is) or not, according to Muenchinger.
If you’re worried about eco-friendliness, certifications like the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and Oeko-TEX, which Pasricha specifically mentioned, can be helpful markers for sustainable bedding, but they aren’t the only thing to consider.
“Certifications show that companies are committed to their products and their eco-initiatives enough to go through the time and the expense of going through certification processes,” Muenchinger said. “Supporting companies that support certifications will help strengthen those certification processes. But I don't recommend any certification as a standard for your purchasing decision. Your experience, needs and your long-term use is the best foundation for an environmentally friendly duvet.”
Before buying a duvet, think through how long it can last. It’s recommended that you replace a duvet or comforter every 15 to 25 years. You can experiment with both down and down alternative pillows before investing in a new duvet — allowing for a lower cost experiment with the material — and “durability is the most direct and helpful sustainability issue for people to use in making a decision,” said Muenchinger.
“A duvet is an investment kind of purchase, so thinking about how long that can last with you is a better way to choose than by being an expert in materials and certifications,” she noted.
Best duvet and duvet inserts of 2021
Given this expert guidance, we compiled a few of the best down duvets and down alternative duvets of 2021.
Best down duvets of 2021
Parachute’s Down Duvet Insert is made with mostly down and a mix of down and feather fibers. On the outside, the insert is covered with a sateen cotton shell and its edges are reinforced with a double stitched piping seam. You can choose between three sizes: Twin/Twin XL, Full/Queen and King/Cal King.
The brand claims it uses a down supplier that is RDS-certified and that the duvet has 750 fill power, which measures how insulating down is. For density, you can opt for Lightweight or All Season, designed for frigid nights without being overly heavy. This duvet insert also has an average 4.74-star rating across more than 400 reviews. Parachute also offers a down alternative duvet insert that’s similar to its down option — except it’s stuffed with hypoallergenic microfiber fill.
This duvet insert from The Company Store is both RDS- and Oeko-TEX-certified. The insert is encased in a 230 thread count organic cotton and cambric shell, with hypoallergenic down internally. The down features a 600 to 650 fill power (the higher the number, the less it weighs).
What sets this insert apart is its warmth options — Medium, Extra and Ultra (the lowest Light level is currently out of stock). You’ll find it in four sizes — Twin, Full, Queen and King/Cal. King. This duvet insert includes corner loops to attach to ties from a duvet cover. You can wash this duvet in a machine (on a delicate cycle with mild detergent) or dry clean it.
Made with RDS-certified down feathers and a fill power of 650, Tuft & Needle’s down duvet insert comes in three sizes, Twin/Twin XL, Full/Queen and King/Cal King, and two weights, which are light and medium. The insert has a cambric cotton shell (also Oeko-TEX certified) that’s built to be breathable.
It’s designed so the down doesn’t sag so that the fill inside is evenly distributed throughout. Keep in mind that this duvet is intentionally oversized, so make sure you know its dimensions before buying a duvet cover. The brand also recommends washing the insert every six to 12 months in cold water and drying it in low heat. Tuft & Needle also carries a down alternative duvet insert, which has a polyester fill.
Best down alternative duvets of 2021
As mentioned above, comforters and duvets occasionally mean the same thing. Brooklinen calls this a “comforter,” but says that it can be used with a duvet cover (it even has loops in its corners to attach to). That’s why we’re including it on our list. Plus, this duvet has an average 4.7-star rating across almost 1,200 reviews. The comforter comes in three weights to choose from.
Made from recycled bottles, the Lightweight option is meant for hot sleepers and has a fill power of 650.
The microfiber, 700 fill power All-Season choice is supposed to be the middle option between lightweight and warm.
The Ultra-Warm weight, also made from microfiber, has the highest fill power, at 750.
This comforter has a 400 thread count cotton sateen shell as well. Choose between sizes Twin/Twin XL, Full/Queen and King/Cali King. Brooklinen also offers a down comforter that has recycled, duck or goose down.
This duvet insert is specifically made with hot sleepers in mind — it has a moisture-wicking polyester fill. Like other duvets in this list, you can decide between two densities: All Season, which is supposed to be comfortable throughout the year, and Extra Warm, for those who like a mix of cool and heat.
Oeko-TEX certified, the duvet insert has an organic cotton shell that has a 230 thread count. Choose between Twin, Full/Queen and King sizes. The insert is hypoallergenic, too. This isn’t the only duvet that West Elm offers either, you can check out both blended down and other down alternative options, too.
Allswell’s down alternative duvet insert is available in three sizes: Twin/Twin XL, Full/Queen and King/Cal King. Unlike some other duvets mentioned above, this insert only comes in a year-round weight.
It has a cotton sateen cover and an anti-allergen polyester fill. To wash, the brand recommends using cold water. You can also find a bedding bundle that includes this duvet insert, a down alternative mattress pad and pillow.
How to change out your duvet cover
Now, changing out duvet covers isn’t easy (it’s on par with folding a fitted sheet) — a quick search of “how to change your duvet cover” leads to all sorts of suggestions, including a trick called the “burrito method.” According to Boscacci, here’s what you should do when switching duvet covers:
- Lay your duvet over your bed and place your duvet cover inside out on top of it.
- Line up all the corners of the duvet cover with the duvet, making sure that the opening of the duvet (the bottom of a duvet usually has buttons, ties or snaps) is at the foot of your bed. For covers with ties or snaps, tie or snap the corners of the cover to the duvet.
- Start at the foot of the bed, placing your hands inside the cover and grabbing the top corners.
- Pinch each corner, grabbing on to both the insert and cover, and flip the cover right side out.
- With each corner of the cover in your hands, raise and slip the cover down to envelop the rest of the insert. You should hold the cover and adjust as you slide it over the insert.
- Tie the ties together, snap on the snaps, button up the buttons.
- Don’t forget to give the duvet cover a shake and fluff at the end.