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how to choose the best comforter - image of comforter on bed

Tips for Finding a Cozy Comforter

‘Tis the season for peppermint mocha lattes, building snowpeople—and making the switch to cozier bedding. This time of year, a snug comforter is just the thing for chasing away the chill, especially if the investment means you can avoid having to crank up the heat as high as it can go.

But if it’s been a while since you shopped for bedding, you might find that buying a new comforter can seem like a daunting process. For starters, what’s the difference between a comforter and a duvet? And what type of filling will keep you nice and toasty while you sleep?

Here are some tips for choosing the best comforter for your needs.

Comforter vs. duvet: What’s the difference?

The difference between a comforter and a duvet is mainly one of terminology. Both are medium- to heavy-weight bed coverings filled with down, feathers, or another insulating material.

The term “duvet” is pretty much interchangeable with “comforter” if you’re talking about the plain white variety you see at hotels or in minimalist design photos on Instagram. (Just try to look at these incredibly relaxing bedrooms and not feel a little bit sleepy!)

The main difference is that duvets are simple white, whereas comforters come in a wider range of colors and patterns. You can change the look of a plain duvet by encasing it in a duvet cover, which has the advantage of being easily removable and washable. Traditionally, a duvet cover takes the place of a top sheet (and makes making your bed a snap!).

Comforter filling options

Down has long been considered the gold standard of comforter fillings, but it’s far from your only option—and it might not even be the best choice. Here’s a rundown on common comforter filling materials.

Down fillings: The soft inner feathers of a duck or goose are prized for their warmth, able to deliver impressive insulating power for their weight. In general, goose down tends to be pricier—and warmer. That said, duck down is a perfectly good option for keeping warm if you’re on a tight budget, and a high-quality duck down comforter might hold up better over the years than a cheap goose down one.

Reputable manufacturers that specialize in down comforters should have information readily available about the source of their down and how it is produced. You want to look for the manufacturer’s guarantee that the product has been washed; better yet, look for assurances that the down fill is sterile or hypoallergenic (and make sure the manufacturer’s warranty will back you up if you’re dissatisfied).

Synthetic fillings: If you’re very sensitive to allergens, you might not even want to take a chance with “hypoallergenic” down—or maybe you just need a more budget-friendly option to cover your bed this winter. If so, you’re in luck; there are a growing number of synthetic down alternatives that offer comparable warmth at a lower price. The cheapest non-down comforters typically have a polyester-based filling that comes in sheets that are then sewn into the comforter.

Be warned, though: The cheapest options can clump or mat over time, which makes a comforter both unpleasantly lumpy and less warm. More advanced down alternatives try to mimic the light, fluffy texture of natural down; Primaloft is one brand name that has earned a reputation for being a close copycat of the real thing, and so-called “gel fibers” made from polyester also deliver a soft, fluffy, and highly insulating comforter filling.

Related: Five ways to create a cozy winter bedroom

Comforter fill power and weight

Fill power is a measure in cubic inches of the amount of space one ounce of down will fill. That’s still a pretty abstract metric, so think of it this way: Higher fill power is going to give you more warmth with less weight. Fill power ranges from 300 to 900; for a cozy winter comforter, look for fill power of 600 and up. As you might expect, prices tend to climb along with the fill power number.

If you sleep better in a cool environment, you might be better off with a lower fill power—say 500 or so; once you drop below that range, you’re looking at bed coverings that are more appropriate for summer or a year-round warm climate.

Fill weight refers to how many ounces of filling are in the comforter. Expect comforters with very high fill power to have comparatively low fill weight since it doesn’t take as much down by volume to make a warm covering.

Other considerations when buying a comforter

Beyond filling, fill power, and fill weight, here are other considerations to think about before you purchase a new comforter.

Stitching: In terms of construction, look for “baffle box” stitching, which forms a grid pattern that keeps the filling from shifting too much over time. Shifting could leave you with unexpected—and unpleasant—cold pockets. Some comforters are made with grid-patterned stitching but without the underlying reinforcement that keeps the sections of fill separate, so don’t assume all grid stitching is equal.

Thread count: While thread count is generally used as a statistic in sizing up sheets, it’s an important number to know if you’re getting a down or feather comforter too. Although you probably won’t be coming into direct contact with your comforter fill material, a tighter weave means you’ll have fewer teeny-weeny feathers making their escape between the threads. Look for a thread count of around 300, at minimum, to keep your filling where it belongs. (Check out our definitive guide to buying sheets.)

Cleaning: Even if you have a comforter, you might want to spring for a duvet cover if you have kids or pets since it’s easier to take off a cover and wash that than to wash a comforter. Comforters, especially down ones, can lose their loft and get lumpy if washed too frequently, so having a cover you can whip off to clean surface spills or grime can be a good investment. If you have to wash a down comforter, follow the manufacturer’s instructions or bring it to a professional (which might be necessary if the comforter is too large for your washing machine.) If you wash it at home, invest in some dryer balls—or clean tennis balls—you can throw in the dryer to help “re-fluff” the comforter while it tumbles.

For more bedroom cleaning advice, we’ve got you covered with tips on removing every kind of stain out of a mattress.