What's the Difference Between Duck and Goose Down?

Find out which pillow, blanket, or furniture filling is right for you.

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Photo: Natasha Jahangir

When shopping for a new duvet, pillow, or piece of upholstered furniture you will almost always to choose which type of filling you want. Should you choose feathers or down? If it's going to be down, should you choose goose or duck? And, perhaps more importantly, what's the difference? "Down is the fluffy coating found closest to the body of [geese, ducks, and other waterfowl] to insulate it from the elements," says Timothy Oulton, founder and creative director of the renowned Timothy Oulton furniture company. "Down feathers feel airy and light, whereas feathers nearer to the exterior of the bird are flat and have a quill, making them naturally tougher and denser."

Choosing Between Duck and Goose Down

Since geese are larger than ducks, goose down clusters are larger and thus provide more insulation and make for fluffier pillows. "Goose tends to be softer, thus leading to a greater demand for it," says Oulton. Another reason it's the more popular choice is because certain duck down can emit an unpleasant odor. This is due to a variety of reasons, one of which is that while geese only eats grass, ducks have a more diverse diet. Even so, Oulton says it's just the lower quality duck feathers that haven't been cleaned sufficiently that sometimes take on an odor if exposed to moisture and humidity. "This isn't an issue with goose, which is one reason it's more expensive," he says.

Quality Is Key

When considering duck versus goose, make sure you take into account the quality of the feathers. "The more down content, the higher the loft, and the longer it will last," says Oulton. "Even though goose is more sought after, quality is the most important thing. High quality duck feather and down will give a much more luxurious experience than mediocre goose feather and down." In other words, just because it's goose doesn't guarantee it's better.

Choose According to Your Needs

Remember that you should choose your type of filling based on your personal preferences and what you're in the market for. With that in mind, it's important to note that down isn't the right choice for everyone. "Because feathers are heavier, they're a good option if you like a firm bed pillow," Oulton says. But if you like softness and warmth, down is likely the way to go. "Down has been used for centuries for comfort, warmth, and softness, as it's a better thermal insulator than feathers which makes it a great choice for duvet covers, and goose has slightly better thermal properties than duck," he adds. The softness of goose feathers is also why brands like Oulton's use it in sofas cushions. "[It provides] that floating on a cloud feeling."

Don't Forget to Plump

Generally speaking, Oulton says, duck and goose have similar durability. "Down has more natural spring back, but with either choice, the product should be regularly plumped by hand. This disperses the feathers and down and creates more air pockets."

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