Delicious duvets: choose a good one

Delicious duvets: choose a good one

Duvet's losing feathers and feeling somewhat limp? Could be time to invest in a new one because while a good mattress is essential, the quality of your sleep will be better if your duvet is right too

By Kay Hill

The lightest duvets are feather and down filled, but some people are allergic to this content. You may also not be aware of animal cruelty issues involved in feather production, if birds are plucked alive. In which case, consider alpaca fleecewool or silk-filled duvets, which are heavier but just as good at regulating body temperature. Pictured above: Luna Textiles' duvets are filled with fleece from alpacas. Also find alpaca duvets at Penrose Products - their wool is from alpacas bred in Nottinghamshire.


If you're fortunate enough to have stayed in a luxury hotel, you probably noticed how divinely soft, lightweight and warm the duvets provided are, and have vowed to try and find something similar for your own bed. Alas, it's not always easy to find such products on the high street, so you need to know what you're looking for.

Ideally, bedding should be made from materials that help regulate body temperature – get too hot and you'll sweat in bed, creating perfect conditions for dust mites and you'll need to do more frequent laundering of bedding, with all the ancillary energy wastage. Too cold and you’ll be tempted to turn up the heating which will increase your carbon footprint.
Duvets filled with natural fibres, whether feather, fleece, wool or silk, tend to help regulate body temperature more effectively than synthetic equivalents and there are plenty of excellent products on the market all offering long lifespans - so at least 10 years.
The Natural Bed Company in Sheffield offers unbleached wool or goose down duvets.
Britain is home to around 400,000 alpacas and their fleeces are ideal for duvets
Baavet wool duvets are made in Harlech from British wool. Medium weight duvet £106.
Elysha Charles cruelty-free super de-luxe eiderdowns are warm and lightweight..and very very expensive
Silksleep offers silk-filled duvets
John Lewis monitors suppliers of its feather and down duvets to ensure animal welfare rules are met
Mail order company La Redoute offers organic cotton bedlinen at great prices
Natural, eco friendly bedding from Totnes-based Green Fibres

Alpaca fleece
Lots of us will have an alpaca jumper.. and the alpaca fleece-filled duvet is finding fans around the country, says Denise Jenkins, co-founder of Notts-based Penrose Products, which manufactures alpaca duvets, mattress toppers and pillows using fleece from British-reared alpacas.

'Alpaca fleece has so many advantages,' explains Jenkins. 'It's hollow fibre like the hair on our heads, so it doesn't contain lanolin. It's warm in winter but cool in summer, so you don't need to buy a summer duvet and a winter one; it's bio-degradable; anti-allergenic; it's lightweight - and our products are Vegetarian Society approved because the animals in the UK are bred for their wool not for meat.'

She and her partner launched the business six years ago, inspired after finding themselves with a big bag of fleece once a shearer had been over to shear their own small herd. 'We have 12 male alpacas of our own which we bought initially to keep our grass short!' says Jenkins. She subsequently looked into uses for the fleece and found that the UK has around 40,000 alpacas on small farms and many of those farmers were happy to sell her their fleeces, enabling her to go into duvet production.

'We've recently invested in our own mill where the fleeces are scoured, carded and made ready for our quilters to hand-sew - we're a team of seven at the moment.'

Penrose Products' duvets cost £141 for a single, £175 for a double and £195 for a kingsize. An organic range is also available. 

Wool is natural, biodegradable and its harvest does not injure the animal. It can be local and organic as well in some instances. Wool has natural resistance to fire, bedbugs and dust mites, and is an excellent insulator. It can be used in the form of wool fleece, or tiny rolled woollen balls more commonly found in pillows. If marked, it can be spot cleaned at home, but if the whole duvet is soiled it will need professional cleaning. 
For wool duvets made in Wales from British wool, try Baavet products - which you can also buy at Glasgow organic bedding specialist fou furnishings. (A medium weight duvet costs £106). And Sheffield-based Natural Bed Company offers unbleached wool duvets, which, it points out, have a hugely practical advantage in that you can machine wash them on the wool setting.
White Cloud also offers wool. 'When it comes to beds, wool really is a wonder material,' says Caroline Bodger, White Cloud's director. Her son suffered constantly from poor sleep until he slept under a wool duvet during a visit to New Zealand. She was so amazed that she set up her company to bring wool duvets to the UK.
'Wool is good at helping people with allergies to dust mites or asthma, as mites don’t inhabit wool, and unlike down or feather duvets it won’t make you sweat,' she explains. 'It's also totally sustainable and cruelty free.' White Cloud specialises in premium New Zealand wool duvets from £105; Naturalmat produces fully organic cotton and wool duvets from British sheep from £130. Devon Duvets which has Soil Assocation accreditation, also makes high quality wool duvets using wool from British sheep. Prices from £110.
According to John Lewis, a good quality feather duvet can last up to 30 years as against a maximum of 10 years for a synthetic one, and it is fully biodegradable.
Feathers can, though, cause problems for some allergy sufferers. And animal cruelty is an issue; some feathers are slaughterhouse by-products, however in the Far East and some parts of eastern Europe, birds are plucked while alive, allowing up to four feather growths on each bird. This causes great pain and suffering and is banned in the UK and US, among other countries. In either case, vegetarians/vegans will wish to avoid their use. Those concerned about animal welfare should buy from companies such as John Lewis, which guarantee that their feathers come from the food chain rather than live-plucked birds. Feather duvets need to be professionally cleaned and this may shorten their lifespan. Goose feathers provide more warmth for less weight than duck feathers. Duck feather duvets from £30 at John Lewis.
Fou Furnishings has excellent organic cotton bedding and wool duvets from Baavet
UK-made wool duvets by Devon Duvets
Organic cotton bedlinen from The Fine Cotton Company
White Cloud offers NZ wool duvets and other wool bedding products.

Down is the fluffy stuff closest to a bird’s skin which has the best insulating properties. It is even lighter and warmer than feathers, with goose down being slightly warmer for its weight than duck down. A down duvet may last 30 years and is bio-degradable, but as with feathers there are animal cruelty issues, see above. The exception to this is....

This is the softest down of all, from the protected Eider duck, which plucks out its own down to line its nest. In Iceland the down is gathered from the nests after the chicks have been reared, and then turned into exquisite cruelty-free down duvets. Kerry Doughty, founder of bedding company Elysha Charles, says: 'People wince at the cost of a duvet, but they don’t realise that it will last for 20-30 years, even a lifetime if well looked after. In Iceland they hand them down the family and a young woman getting married will often be given her grandmother’s eiderdown. The birds are not allowed to even know that anybody has been near their nests, so the product couldn’t really be any more environmentally friendly.' A single eiderdown duvet at Elysha Charles starts from..brace yourself... £1,500. Down duvets need professional cleaning if soiled.
Duvets made from fine strands of silk are very light and warm in winter but help avoid overheating. Silk itself does not tend to be allergenic and it's not the dust mite's preferred environment. If soiled it needs professional cleaning which may shorten its life span. Silk duvets are biodegradable but the manufacture of silk does result in the death of the silk moth larvae which may concern vegetarians/vegans. Silk duvets are widely available, for example, they start from £70 at John Lewis, or £105 from specialist company Silk Sleep
Camel hair
Green Fibres offers a luxurious organic cotton duvet stuffed with hair combed from the belly of camels. It causes no harm to the camels and is warm, lightweight and biodegradable.
This is the fluffy hair from the underbelly of the cashmere goat, a very soft fibre said to be eight times warmer than wool. The goats are not harmed in the collection process, although there is some evidence that increased demand for cashmere has led to deforestation in areas of Mongolia where goat farming has increased. White Cloud has duvets filled with layers of the finest grade cashmere, starting from £225.
Kapok is a tree native to Mexico that produces soft, downy fibres around its seeds. It can be combined with fluffy cotton to create a soft, warm duvet that can be machine-washed. Organic cotton and kapok duvets start from £153 at Green Fibres.
The most common duvet filling is a man-made fibre. It can be machine washed at 60C which will kill dust mites, so is good for childdren and allergy sufferers. Polyester does not biodegrade, although it can be recycled, and duvets with recycled fillings are readily available, such as the Hollowfibre range from M&S, made from 80 per cent recycled plastic bottles. The Fine Bedding Co offers its eco range too, which is made from PET plastic fibres. One thing to note though is the shedding of microfibres during machine washes because these tiny fragments end up in our waterways and in the sea, causing harm to marine life. The answer is to wash infrequently but change your (organic cotton) duvet cover regularly. Or find a dry cleaner that uses non-toxic chemicals - try
Choosing bed linen
Finally, when it comes to the finishing touches, natural, unbleached and undyed organic cotton is certainly the purest way to dress a bed. You'll find lovely organic cotton at fou furnishings, and those who like a bit more colour in their lives will be pleased to note that even mainstream companies such as mail order business La Redoute now offer organic cotton bed linens in bright, fashionable colours from just £5. And lots of new organic cotton brands are emerging...Nour, Square Flower, Their Story.. Organic cotton goes mainstream. Yay!