Washing your sleeping bag is a delicate process. It’s not an old shirt that you can throw around, our sleeping bags are one of the most important pieces of gear we have while camping and hiking.
The most important thing to remember is that down sleeping bags take a special detergent and to avoid hot temperatures to prevent color bleeding and down fatigue. This process also includes goose down as well as duck down. Let’s look at a few ways to avoid costly mistakes and prolong the life of your sleeping bag.
Avoid fabric softener, bleach, or alternative-bleach products. These products compromise bag performance and will cause damage in the long run. Follow your manufactures tag instructions for your specific sleeping bag.
Hand Wash Your Sleeping Bag
Hand washing your sleeping bag is the preferred method to avoid any rips or damage. It’s also going to be the most time-consuming of the two ways to wash your bag.
- Clean the bathtub to remove any soap scum or small pebbles.
- Fill your bathtub with cold or lukewarm water. Add down approved soap while filling and agitate. This is the most popular down soap and it’s available on Amazon here, Nikwax Down Wash Direct.
- Unzip any compartments in your sleeping bag and loosen any bungle chords. Turn your sleeping bag inside out to remove any small pebbles or items in it.
- Soak your sleeping bag and press down to remove air (this might take a little while).
- Soak your bag for 30 minutes then agitate your bag gently.
- Drain water completely and press down gently on your sleeping bag to push all the water out.
- Fill the bathtub again for a rinse to remove any remaining soap from the bag. Repeat step 6 if you decide to rinse your bag.
- Grasp your sleeping bag with both hands and gently lift out the bathtub. Your sleeping bag is going to be heavy so make sure not to pull up on one side to avoid rips.
At Home Sleeping Bag Machine Wash
A top-loaded washer is NOT recommended as the agitator can possibly rip or tear your sleeping bag. If a top loader is your only option and you don’t have a bathtub use the bathtub method inside the top loader. Plus your top loader washing machine can use the spin cycle to help dry the bag.
The preferred machine wash method uses a side-loading washing machine. Once again use a preferred down approve washing soap and NO fabric softener. Use cool to lukewarm water with an extra rinse cycle to remove all soap.
- Unzip your sleeping bag and all pockets and loosen any bungle cords. Turn your bag inside out to remove any small pebbles. Then zip your bag back up. Loose zippers can snag and rip the lining of the bag. By zipping it up there is less area for the zippers to catch the bag that can cause damage.
- Use cold or lukewarm water and with approved down soap. This is the most popular down soap and it’s available on Amazon here, Nikwax Down Wash Direct.
- After the wash cycle is completed, let’s go for an extra rinse to remove any residual soap.
- Once done washing grasp your sleeping bag with both hands and gently lift your bag out. Your sleeping bag is going to be heavy so make sure not to pull up on one side to avoid rips or tears.
Laundromat Washing Machine
Because laundromats are used by many people take extra care to ensure the washing machine is clean.
- Run your hands on the inside to make sure there are no metal burrs inside. For extra caution wipe down the inside of the machine with a clean sponge and water.
- Unzip your sleeping bag, all pockets, and loosen any bungle cords. Turn your bag inside out to remove any small pebbles. Then zip your bag back up. Loose zippers can snap and rip the lining of the bags. By zipping it up there is less area for the zippers to catch the bag that can cause damage.
- Use cold or lukewarm water with your preferred down-approved soap.
- After the washer is done, let’s go for an extra rinse to remove any residual soap.
- Grasp your sleeping bag with both hands and gently lift your bag out. Your sleeping bag is going to be heavy so make sure not to pull up on one side to avoid rips or tears.
Dry Cleaning a Sleeping Bag
Never dry clean your sleeping bag or other down products. The industrial solvents used in dry cleaning are harsh and will strip down’s natural oils. The oils in down help the down retain its loft.
If you want to skip the hassle of cleaning your own sleeping bag here is a service that will do it for you Rainy Pass Down Cleaning based in Seattle Washington. They clean and repair all down products with a one to two weeks turnaround. This is NOT a dry cleaning service.
Their process is a wet wash, plus they offer a spray DWR treatment for enhancing the performance of your waterproof-breathable gear. The cost of a down sleeping bag or quilt is around $40 dollars. They also offer bulk cleaning if you want to get a group discount.
Drying Your Sleeping Bag
If you don’t have access to a dryer or don’t want to use one with the bathtub method you can air dry it. After pressing down gently on the bag to remove excess water let your bag sit in the tub for another 30 minutes. This will help drain any water that’s left.
Your sleeping bag can hang dry in an area with low humidity. This drying process can take a few days for your sleeping bag to fully dry depending on your area.
At a laundromat make sure nothing is left in the dryer. Small coins or pebbles could be in there so wipe the inside of the dryer with a sponge and water. Run your hand on the inside to make sure there are no metal burrs that can rip the bag.
When removing your bag grasp with both hands and gently lift it out of the washer. Your sleeping bag is going to be heavy so make sure not to pull up on one side to avoid rips. Once in the dryer use medium heat, it’s going to take a while for the sleeping bag to completely dry.
Use some tennis balls or yarn/wool balls to help dry the bag and bust up the down clumps. I use wool balls like these on Amazon but anything clean should work. A few times while in the dryer open it up and move the clumps of down around to help it dry faster. As you know, when down is wet, it’s clumpy.
Gently pull your sleeping bag out of the dryer and check for any rips or tears. I like to lay my sleeping bag on something clean, make sure it completely dries overnight. I like to lay mine over the couch before I put it away for the next use.
Once the process is complete go ahead and put the sleeping bag in the large storage bag that you got when you purchased your sleeping bag.
Never put your bag back in his compression sack when storing, this will eventually destroy the loftiness of the down. If you don’t have the storage bag or it’s worn out they can be purchased for around ten bucks on Amazon.
I’ve seen people mention that after they cleaned their sleeping bag they still have an odor or mold smell. If your bag still has this odor after you clean it try a down deodorizer. You can find Gear Aid Revivex on Amazon, they make a special soap for down products. Used two Oz of their soap in the washing process. I’d still recommend an extra rinse cycle to remove all the soap.
Spot Cleaning A Sleeping Bag
This is a simple method to avoid fully washing your bag. If you have just a few spots that need to be cleaned or stained try this. Fill two bowls or containers with lukewarm water.
Put a few drops of soap in one container and agitate the water. Dip your clean soft sponge into the water and ring the sponge out. Gently rub the stained area on your sleeping bag. Try to avoid working in too much water into the material.
Once the area has been cleaned use your second bowl of clean lukewarm water to rub the area you just cleaned to remove the soap. You can repeat this as many times as needed.
One area on your sleeping bag that can get a lot of oil and dirt is the hood. This is a good method to remove your skin’s oil and perspiration from that area.
General Care for Sleeping Bags
Avoid sleeping in your dirty clothes. Always use a sleeping bag liner to keep the inside clean. Liners will keep oil and grime from degrading your down. These can be purchased cheaply and also add an extra layer of warmth and can be machine washed at the end of your trip.
In the morning or when you set up camp the next day pull your sleeping bag inside out to remove any pebbles and dry any perspiration from the night before. Allow your bag to dry completely before placing it in a large storage laundry sack.
With these washing and care tips, a sleeping bag should last for years. This article was focused on down sleeping bags but if yours is synthetic follow the steps with this soap, Nikwax Tech Wash. You can find this soap on Amazon here, it’s specifically made for synthetic and enhances the water protection of your bag and outerwear.
If you’re looking for tips about cleaning and taking care of your hiking backpack I wrote the ultimate guide to hiking backpacks here. Scroll to the bottom of the page for care and maintenance tips.