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How To Wash A Sleeping Bag: Steps & Methods [Down or Synthetic]


Article Categories: Gear
Article Tags: Backpacking | Camping Tips

You’ve slept under the stars in the desert, bundled up on cold nights near the mountainside, got rained on during your family reunion camping trip, dirtied up your gear after an extended backpacking trip, and now after all your adventures, it’s finally time to assess your sleeping bag.

How Often Should You Clean Your Sleeping Bag?

We recommend holding off on cleaning your sleeping bag only once a year. Eventually the buildup of grime and body oils can break down the integrity of down and synthetic, which lessens the bag’s loft. If you got a little extra dirty or sweaty on your last trip, you can always spot clean the bag without going through a full wash.

It’s worth going the extra mile to clean your sleeping bag the right way if you want to keep the materials warm and fresh for years to come.

Here are 3 ways to wash a sleeping bag (details on each are below):

  1. Machine wash, preferably at a Laundromat 
  2. Hand wash
  3. Professionally washed by gear cleaning experts (we recommend Rainy Pass Repair or Technical Equipment Cleaners)

DO NOT use a top-loading washing machine with an agitator column. The column could make the bag rip.

DO NOT take your sleeping bag to the dry cleaner. The industrial solvents remove the sleeping bag’s oils and loft retention.

DO try to use a down cleaner rather than standard laundry detergent. This will avoid down clumping.

DO reference your sleeping bag label or instructions online

Here are 2 ways to dry a sleeping bag (details on each are below):

  1. Air dry avoiding sunny or humid conditions
  2. Machine dry in a larger dryer (preferably at a Laundromat)

Once you “Choose Your Own Adventure” with your sleeping bag washing journey, read the finer details below:

Whether you wash at home or the Laundromat, use a cleaner for down gear such as Nikwax Down Wash Direct. Down cleaners maintain the insulating properties of loft while improving the water repellency (extra bonus!). 

You might be wondering, what is loft exactly? Loft is the fluffiness of a sleeping bag. Down bags have great fluff that puffs out even after being tightly compressed. Unfortunately, down bags are more expensive and less water-resistant. If you lose some loft and fluffiness, the insulating factors of the down won’t be as effective.

Washing Instructions For Your Sleeping Bag 

Now let’s dive into specific instructions for either machine or hand washing.

Machine Washing:

  1. Spot clean dirtier sections like the head and feet areas with the down cleaner using a soft toothbrush
  2. Use a cold or warm gentle cycle with down detergent
  3. Add a second rinse cycle
  4. Carefully grab the whole bag at once when removing from the washer to avoid rips
  5. Squeeze out extra water to reduce the drying time
  6. Start one of the drying process outline below

Hand Washing:

    1. Spot clean dirtier sections like the head and feet areas with the down cleaner using a soft toothbrush
    2. Add warm or cool water and down cleaner to your bathtub, a bucket, or large sink.
    3. Soak the bag in the water for at least an hour
    4. Drain the tub
    5. Fill the tub again with warm or cool water to rinse the bag for 15 more minutes
    6. Repeat rinsing until all the soap is removed from the bag
    7. Carefully remove the bag and ring out extra water
    8. Transfer the bag to a drying rack, large dryer, or the laundromat

Drying Your Sleeping Bag

Since down bags are made of feathers, these bags will take longer to dry (just like they would in the outdoors). Down bags typically take 2-3 hours to dry, whereas synthetic bags will take an hour.

Make sure your dryer is large enough to fit the sleeping bag without the material being balled up in a pile. Otherwise you will have to take the bag to a commercial dryer. Don’t dry the bag with any other clothes.

PRO TIP: Add tennis balls or wool dryer balls to the dryer. This will add a HUGE benefit to drying sleeping bags as well as other clothes. The balls reduce clumping of down, reduce dry times, and reduce static. Dryer sheets are great for minimizing static, but they don’t lessen down clumping like tennis balls or dryer balls.

Wool Dryer Balls

Air Drying Your Sleeping Bag

If you have nothing but time, then you can always air dry the bag. Avoid direct sunlight or excess humidity. Lay the bag out on a rack or line so most of the surface is exposed to dry faster.

Keeping Your Sleeping Bag Clean

Keeping Your Bag Cleaner for Longer

The less you wash your bag, the better. Even if you take all the necessary precautions, washing a bag still diminishes loft overtime. As mentioned above, spot cleaning is a great way to bypass consistent washes. Here are a few other tips for keeping your bag fresh and fluffy for as long as possible.

  •  Wear clean clothes to bed- On long camping trips this can be nearly impossible, but you can still minimize oil and dirt collection by wearing wool socks and a synthetic base layer. Wool is breathable and moisture-wicking, while synthetic dries fast and soaks up any night sweats. If possible, dedicate one pair of camping clothes for bedtime only.
  • Use a sleeping bag liner- The main intent for a liner is adding more warmth to a sleeping bag. But liners are also great for reducing oil and dirt stains. Since they’re made of synthetic, cotton, or silk, you can wash a liner much more often than a sleeping bag. On hot nights, you might find yourself ditching the sleeping bag altogether and only bringing a liner.
  • Keep the bag in a stuff sack- Most sleeping bags come with a stuff sack, compression sack, or duffel. When packing for a trip, keep the bag in the sack at all times until it’s time to sleep. You don’t want your bag to make contact with the dirt or ground either. If it’s always in the stuff sack then this is easy to avoid.
  • Air out your bag- Unpacking can be daunting after a camping trip, especially if everything is wet from rain. But keeping your bag in a stuff sack until your next trip can cause significant damage. You want to make sure the bag dries out of any remaining moisture as soon as you get home. Once dry, keep the bag in a larger duffel, hang it up, or lay it under your bed to ensure the loft remains unharmed. 

The process of washing a sleeping bag might sound arduous, but the extra time and effort will protect your fluffy bag for future adventures and cold nights. On the plus side, at least you only have to wash the bag about once a year. And by avoiding dirt with clean clothes and a bag liner, you might not have to wash your bag for over a year! Now the big question is, where will you take your sleeping bag next?

Sleeping Bag Care

Elaine Elliot

Elaine Elliot

Elaine has been an avid explorer ever since she started going on backcountry paddling and hiking trips as a teenager in the Great Lakes region. She now resides in Chattanooga, Tennessee where she spends her time between writing and rock climbing. Her hiking and climbing passions have taken her all over the United States from Alaska mountains to Georgia barrier islands. She has written outdoor articles for multiple publications including Climbing Magazine and Hiking & Fishing.