October 12, 2021

How to Wash a Sleeping Bag

After several seasons of adventuring, your sleeping bag may start appearing worse due to wear. Even though you may be drawn to the musty smell of campfire and remnants of morning dew, you must know how to wash a sleeping bag once in a while. 

Dirt, oil, and grime on the outer surface of your sleeping bag may work into the fill leading to loss of warmth and loft. 

But washing a sleeping bag is not as simple as it appears. Lightweight fabrics and down fill can be destroyed if you clean them improperly. 

How Often Should You Wash a Sleeping Bag?

First things first, whether or not you wish to wash a sleeping bag before usage is a matter of preference. If you are the type of person who prefers washing new clothes before using them, then you must wash a sleeping bag as well. 

How to Wash a Synthetic Sleeping Bag

And when you decide to have it cleaned, you shouldn’t wait till the last minute just before the hiking or camping trip. This is because the entire process of washing along with drying the sleeping bag would take around 3 to 4 hours. 

And to find the answer to the question of how often you should clean it, you must first find an answer to how often you use your sleeping bag. 

Unless your sleeping bag is giving off a wet and mucky smell or has endured a heavy thunderstorm, you can delay washing it till the end of the camping season. 

It’s worth mentioning here that excessive washing is bad for your sleeping bag. If you throw it for washing after every use, you will not only damage the fabric but also bring down the features of the waterproof coating. 

Can You Machine Wash a Sleeping Bag?

If you have a front-loading washer or a top-loading washing machine devoid of an agitator, then you can machine wash your sleeping bag with ease. 

You should steer clear of energy-effective home front-loaders since they are small and may not give enough room to your sleeping bag to tumble and get a thorough clean. 

Go for a gentle cycle in warm water with a suitable cleanser. Here you should give the minimum quantity for avoiding over-sudsing. 

If possible, you can add other damp clothes that require washing, such as a couple of tee, towels, and others, to balance the spinning of the washing machine. You must ensure that all the residual soap is gone, and for this, you must rinse at least twice. 

How to Wash a Down Sleeping Bag

Wash a Sleeping Bag
  1. Consult your bag maker’s instructions (on a label or online).
  2. Use a front-loading commercial washer at a laundromat. The larger capacity ensures your bag is rinsed thoroughly. If you can’t get to a laundromat, use a front-loading washer at home. However, avoid a top-loading washer with an agitator column because your bag could get damaged by becoming entangled or wrapped around it.
  3. For down bags, we recommend using a gear wash that’s specifically formulated for down. Standard laundry detergent can lead to clumping or reduced loft.
  4. Unzip the bag completely to prevent the slider from snagging or breaking.
  5. Follow the bag maker’s instructions.
  6. Rinse at least twice to thoroughly remove any cleaning agent. Residue left behind may prevent the down fibers inside the bag from lofting. Remove as much moisture from the bag as possible. If it feels spongelike, put it through another rinse cycle.
  7. Support the entire bag when removing it from the washer. This helps avoid straining and ripping the seams. Gently squeeze out excess water and proceed to the drying step below.

How to Wash a Synthetic Sleeping Bag

  1. Consult your bag maker’s instructions (on a label or online).
  2. Use a front-loading commercial washer at a laundromat. The larger capacity ensures your bag is rinsed thoroughly. If you can’t get to a laundromat, use a front-loading washer at home. However, avoid a top-loading washer with an agitator column because your bag could get damaged by becoming entangled or wrapped around it.
  3. Use a proper cleaner. For synthetic bags, we recommend a technical cleaner like Nikwax’s Tech-Wash. Standard laundry detergent can lead to clumping or reduced loft or it can leave a film that acts as a hydrophobic agent.
  4. Unzip the bag completely to prevent the slider from snagging or breaking.
  5. Wash the bag in warm water on a gentle cycle. Or follow the bag maker’s instructions.
  6. Rinse at least twice to thoroughly remove the cleaning agent. If the nylon bag is pooling water or feels spongy, put it through another rinse cycle. It should feel wet and damp, but not drenched.
  7. Support the entire bag when removing it from the washer. This helps avoid straining and ripping the seams.
  8. Gently squeeze out excess water and proceed to the drying step below.

How to Dry Your Sleeping Bag?

Can You Machine Wash a Sleeping Bag

Now comes the most critical part, and that’s drying your sleeping bag. You should set up the dryer on very low heat. The heat from the machine may vary, and thus, you must check quite often. In case the heat rises above the permissible level, the synthetic fill or the fabric may melt. 

When your down bag becomes nearly dry, you must add two to three clean tennis balls or a pair of clean sneakers to the dryer. This will aid in breaking up the formation of clumps while spinning and also restore the loft. 

You must run as many cycles as required to dry the sleeping bag completely. You may need it to run for around an hour or more. If you want to avoid drying your sleeping bag in the dryer, there is another method you can go for. 

You may also dry the bag by throwing it down flat on a clean surface with no direct sunlight and low humidity. You may also hang the sleeping bag to dry. 

But in this case, you should distribute the weight evenly and not put excessive stress on the synthetic nylon fabric. You may want to make sure that the sleeping bag is thoroughly dry and so you can hang it or layout for the whole night. 

Can You Hand Wash a Sleeping Bag?

When you are thinking about how to clean a sleeping bag without a washing machine at your disposal, you may well get it washed by hand. 

According to experts, hand washing is comparatively better than machine washing since it rules out agitation of the fibers and damage of the nylon shells, which, in turn, may ruin the loft. 

1) Preparing the tub and wash

For hand washing, you will require warm water for filling the tub halfway. Now, you can add a suitable cleaner. If you see that the water is too hot to endure, you can mix some cold water in it. 

Also, ensure that the soap doesn’t contain any bleaching agent and is not a liquid cleanser, particularly if the sleeping bag has natural fibers. This is because it has oil-laden feathers that add to the insulating properties. 

And when you go for any soap that contains bleach, it will get removed automatically. On the flip side, the liquid soaps are prone to leaving a soapy residue after rinsing. 

Steps to Take to Store Your Bag

2) Adding the sleeping bag

When your warm water diluted with soap is ready, it’s time to add the sleeping bag inside out, keeping the zip closed. This step is crucial no matter you go for hand washing or machine washing. 

This step helps in cleaning any debris that was carried inside the bag. Once you invert your sleeping bag, it is ready to be placed inside the tub. 

At this stage, you must ensure that the bag is submerged completely. Simply allow it to rest in the warm water for around 15 to 20 minutes while the soap performs its action. By this time, the water will seep entirely into the bag.

3) Agitating the bag

Even when you are hand-washing the sleeping bag, you will have to agitate the water slightly. One of the most effective and easiest ways to do this is to take off your shoes and socks and climb into the tub. 

Imagine that you have to stomp grapes and just start jumping onto the vendetta. Continue doing it till you feel that your sleeping bag has been cleaned properly. 

4) Draining the dirty water

Here you must squeeze out the excess water from the dirty sleeping bag by stomping and folding it over. 

When you are compressing it, you must exercise caution so that you don’t rip it off. But you must never attempt to wring out your sleeping bag as it may kill the insulating power. 

5) Rinsing the sleeping water

For this step, simply fill the tub with cold water in such a way so that the whole sleeping bag is submerged. Agitate the bag slightly so that all the soap is completely out. 

Keep on refilling and draining the water out of your sleeping bag till it comes out clean. Drain the water by hanging it up and put it inside the dryer for drying. 

How to Choose a Sleeping Bag Insulation Type

How to Spot Clean Your Sleeping Bag?

If you have got some spots of dirt and grime on the outer surface of your sleeping bag, then spot cleaning may be sufficient till you give it a proper, thorough washing. 

Moreover, as the inner lining of the bag’s feet and head zones are prone to getting excessively dirty, you may have to spot clean those areas too often or before you clean a sleeping bag. 

And at times, your gear needs just that rather than a full-fledged bath. The process involving spot cleaning is quite simple and doesn’t involve much hassle:

  • First of all, you will have to apply only a tiny amount of mild cleanser to the area you wish to clean. It could be the same cleaner that you would have used for washing the whole bag. 
  • Take a soft-bristled toothbrush for cleaning the shell gently. 
  • Now you can rinse the area with the help of a wet sponge. You may have to continue doing it a few times until you are sure that the soap is completely removed. 

You must hold the liner fabric or shell away from the insulation to ensure washing and rinsing the outer shell without wetting the interior layer. If you wet it accidentally, you must give it enough time to dry completely before storing it. 

Final Thoughts on How to Wash a Sleeping Bag

Have you ever had the experience of cleaning your sleeping bag? Or are you still wondering how to wash a sleeping bag? Or has it been over a couple of years that you have given a thorough clean to your hiking gear? 

If you have put your sleeping bag to rest until the next camping season, the chances are that it has trapped moisture and requires a deep cleaning. And the best part is that you may clean it by hand or an industrial-grade machine once you follow the process of washing and drying religiously. 

When you have cleaned your sleeping bag, it’s important to store your sleeping bag properly. If you fail to do this, it will not only prevent lofting but also prevent it from providing insulation. 

Also, it will cause a stink and serve as a breeding ground for mildew and mites. You must keep your bag clean and use bag liners while using it for camping, trailing, and hiking. In case you need a new sleeping bag, read our guide on how to choose a sleeping bag. Enjoy it!

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About the author 

Bernice

Bernice often jokes that she is better at climbing than walking. With avid parents of climbing, her first encounter with the high vertical rock walls was at the age of one. Her favorite style of climbing is bouldering.

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