How to Wash a Sleeping Bag – Keeping Clean While Traveling

After multiple seasons of backcountry trekking, your greatest ally in the wilderness – your backpacking sleeping bag – may start to lose its fluffiness and become darkened with grime. In case that happens, it’s probably high time to give it a good, thorough washing.

In this article, we’ll be taking a quick look at how to wash your down or synthetic sleeping bag or backpacking quilt and how to properly store away these extremely convenient pieces of outdoor gear.

How Do I Spot Wash My Sleeping Bag?

Unless your cozy backcountry refuge is really dirty, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be able to take care of the problem by cleaning only the soiled spots.
An important thing to mention here is that a full wash always puts a product of this type through a lot more wear and tear than spot-washing does. So, whenever you think that simple spot-washing can take care of the issue, go for it.

You Will Need:

  • Slightly soiled sleeping bag
  • An old cloth or toothbrush
  • Mild soap (such as dish soap)
  • Some water

The Instructions for Spot-Washing:

1. Use water and soap to create a paste.

2. Pull away the dirty liner fabric away from the bag’s insulation, apply some of the paste mentioned above to your cloth or toothbrush, and then gently clean the fabric.

3. Be very careful while rinsing – you want to prevent the inner fill from getting wet.

4. Let the bag air-dry. Before putting it away, make sure it is completely dry.

How Do I Wash a Down Sleeping Bag?

In some cases, spot-washing just won’t be able to do the trick. If your trusty companion isn’t keeping you as dry and warm as it once did, or after a particularly wet and dirty trip, it might be time to give your down sleeping bag a full wash.

When you buy one of these products, it’s very puffy and lofty. Unfortunately, even the best down sleeping bag typically becomes less and less lofty with use. This is because it gets tainted by body oils and all kinds of dirt, and these usually tend to clump together. It is worth reading down sleeping bag vs synthetic sleeping bag.

The best way to eradicate these clumps and, therefore, restore the performance and fluffiness of down is by giving the sleeping bag a full wash. However, this is not something you want to do often – after all, down is quite fragile.

If you own a down sleeping bag, make sure to follow these instructions. If you own a very large ( double sleeping bag) model, your best bet is to pay your local laundromat a visit – large sleeping bags are often too big for home washing machines.

You Will Need:

  • A down sleeping bag that needs a good cleaning
  • A front-loading washing machine or a large bathtub/sink
  • Down-specific (and mild) non-detergent soap
  • Clean tennis balls (yes, you read that right!)
  • Dryer

The Instructions for Washing a Down Sleeping Bag:

Before everything else, make sure to take a look at the bag’s tag and thoroughly read the manufacturer’s instructions on washing. If they’re different from the ones listed below, go with the manufacturer’s recommendations.

1. Close everything up. Find all of your bag’s Velcro attachments and zippers and close them up.

2. Are you handwashing? If so,

  • Fill a bathtub (or a large sink) with tepid water and then add some down cleaner or mild soap. If you opt for a down cleaner that you’ve bought in the store, make sure to read the instructions listed on the bottle.
  • Take the dirty winter sleeping bag and submerge it in water. To work in the suds, make sure to push the sleeping bag up and down a couple of times. After that, let it soak for a time. In case you notice any soiled areas on the bag’s liner fabric, take care of them with a sponge. If you are wondering what is a sleeping bag liner exactly, check out the linked post.
  • Remove the soapy water from the bathtub (drain it) and then also remove as much of it as possible from the bag by pressing it.
  • Now it’s time to fill the bathtub with clean water. Once you do that, press the clean water into your sleeping bag and then drain it. To make the water clear and free of soap, you’ll have to do quite a lot of rinsing (five or more rinses should do the trick).
  • During the next step, you’ll have to remove as much water as possible from your sleeping bag. One thing that you could use as a “strainer” is a plastic laundry basket.
  • Keep in mind that, during this step, the bag’s fibers could easily clump together, which can lead to tears in the fabric. To avoid this, don’t wring out or twist the bag.

3. Are you machine-washing? If so,

  • Make sure to use a front-loading machine, as the top-loading ones can damage sleeping bags.
  • Follow the instructions listed on the down cleaner bottle and wash your sleeping bag.
  • If possible, use a 2nd rinse cycle, as well as a few spin cycles.

4. Move the bag to the dryer. Remember that down becomes very heavy when it’s wet. In order to prevent the bag’s stitching or fabric from getting damaged, carefully move the bag from your washing machine or bathtub to your dryer.

5. Dry your down sleeping bag on the lowest heat setting together with a couple of clean tennis balls. Why the tennis balls? These will break any remaining clumps and also help the bag dry faster. Still, the drying may take a couple of hours, and it’s very important that you make sure the bag is fully dry before removing it from the dryer.

Air-drying these products is not recommended. Not only does it take days to air-dry a down sleeping bag, but this process can also attract mildew and mold. To completely avoid washing your sleeping bag often use a sleeping bag liner inside and a separate one to cover your bag.

How Do I Wash a Synthetic Sleeping Bag?

When compared to down insulation, synthetic insulation doesn’t clump as much and is far less delicate. Therefore, you can wash your synthetic sleeping bag more often than you would a down one.

You Will Need:

  • A synthetic sleeping bag that needs a good cleaning
  • A front-loading washing machine or a large bathtub/sink
  • Soap made for washing synthetic insulation or mild soap
  • Clean tennis balls
  • Dryer

A word of advice – bleaching or dry-cleaning a synthetic sleeping bag is something you should avoid, as the harsh chemicals could easily damage the bag. And, just like in the case of down bags, you’ll want to avoid using top-loading washing machines with central agitators. Some of the best warm weather sleeping bags are synthetic.

The Instructions for Washing a Synthetic Sleeping Bag:

Once again, make sure to have a look at the model’s tag and read the manufacturer’s instructions before doing anything else. If the manufacturer’s instructions differ from ours, go with the former.

1. Close everything up. Just like in the case of down bags, you’ll have to close all the zippers and Velcros on your synthetic sleeping bag.

2. If you’re handwashing,

  • Mix tepid water with a small amount of cleaner or mild soap in a bathtub and then submerge the bag.
  • Push the bag up and down a couple of times. By doing so, you’ll be working in the suds. Let the sleeping bag soak for some time.
  • Are there any particularly soiled spots on the bag’s outer shell? If so, take a sponge and rinse them out.
  • Remove the water from the tub as well as from the bag (press it down for as long as there’s soapy water in it).
  • Fill the bathtub with clean water and repeat the whole process. You will have to rinse until the water in the tub is free of soap and clean. This may take a while, but it’s the only way to thoroughly wash your synthetic bag (if you’re not using a washing machine, that is).
  • Use a laundry basket as your makeshift strainer to drain all of the water out of your synthetic sleeping bag.

3. If you’re machine-washing, avoid using a top-loading machine. Use a front-loading one and do everything we’ve described in the instructions for washing down sleeping bags.

4. Dry your synthetic sleeping bag on the lowest heat setting together with a couple of clean tennis balls. Just like in the case of down bags, adding some tennis balls speeds up the process as they break up potential clumps. Don’t remove the bag from the dryer until it’s completely dry.

5. Those who prefer air-drying their synthetic bags should lay the bag onto clean grass or a large towel in the sun. As the bag is drying in the sun, you can manually break up clumps in the insulation with your hands. Don’t store it away until it’s completely dry.

How Do I Store a Sleeping Bag?

Whenever you come home from a hike, air the bag out. You can simply place the bag on the top of your door or hang it over the back of a couch. Never store it away until it’s fully dry.
Loosely stuff your sleeping bag into a large pillowcase, mesh bag, or cloth sack. Using smaller stuff sacks is not recommended – long-term compression is guaranteed to affect the bag’s fluffiness.
Store the bag in a large closet or a similar well-ventilated area.

Storing this product in a proper way helps it last longer.

By following these tips, you won’t have to wash your down/synthetic sleeping bag very often.

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