How to buy a good down comforter without plucking your wallet bare

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Q: What sort of things should I look for in buying a quality down comforter at a reasonable price? C.M., Chicago

A: While a basic model may cost $99 or less, there's a lavish assortment at prices as high as $1,500, says a representative of The Company Store in LaCrosse, Wis. But rest assured, you can buy a warm and affordable comforter if you know what to look for. Here's what she suggests:

First, check what percentage of the fill is actually down. Don't assume that if a comforter's label says down, it's 100 percent down. Industry guidelines say that a down product need contain only 70 percent down and soft feather stems; the remaining 30 percent may be feathers, residue, or random fibers. The lower the percentage of down, the more prickly and uncomfortable the bedding may feel.

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Another good indicator of a comforter's quality is its "fill power," which tells you how many cubic inches one ounce of down will fill. The higher the number, the fluffier and more efficient the down, so that the comforter will keep you warmer with less weight. Fill power generally ranges from 500 to 800, but be wary of anything higher than 650. The lightness of down can lead someone accustomed to heavy blankets into buying a comforter that's too toasty.

The outer shell is also important. To be sure the contents won't leak out, check the fabric's thread count, an indicator of how tightly the fabric is woven. A cotton cover with at least 200 threads per square inch of fabric will do the trick. Fancy comforters with thread counts in the 300s or those covered in silk or with decorative designs are appealing to the eye and touch, but the most economical way to preserve your comforter through many winters is to buy a washable duvet cover.

Finally, without quilting, most down would shift to the sides and bottom of the comforter, leaving you to shiver in the center. Thus, it's important to look for sewn-through construction, where the top and bottom of the cover are stitched together and the down is held within compartments. Or, for a fluffier comforter, go for baffled-box construction. Baffles - pieces of fabric sewn vertically between top and bottom of the duvet - allow down to loft more fully within each square.

Readers: Pose your questions and we'll seek out experts on home repairs, gardens, food, and family legal issues. Send queries to the Homefront Editor, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115 or e-mail home@csps.com

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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