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Blog How to Clean Your Sleeping Bag
Table of Contents
  1. How to Clean Your Sleeping Bag
  2. Top Tips on Cleaning Your Sleeping Bag
  3. How to Take Care of a Sleeping Bag While Camping
  4. How to Dry a Sleeping Bag
  5. How Often Should You Wash a Sleeping Bag?

How to Clean Your Sleeping Bag

CONTENTS
  1. How to Clean Your Sleeping Bag
  2. Top Tips on Cleaning Your Sleeping Bag
  3. How to Take Care of a Sleeping Bag While Camping
  4. How to Dry a Sleeping Bag
  5. How Often Should You Wash a Sleeping Bag?

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How to Clean Your Sleeping Bag

Whether it's down or synthetic, here are the tips and tricks you need to keep your sleeping bag in good, clean condition for seasons to come.

Many campers don't think much about how to clean a sleeping bag and just throw it in the washing machine like they would a pair of pants or a t-shirt. This is a big mistake. Both down and synthetic sleeping bags require specialized cleaning and care.

Much like your most treasured possessions, it's important to take good care of your sleeping bag (so that it can take good care of you too). Procrastinating the care of your product could have negative consequences on its lifespan and efficacy. Buildup of dirt and grime on the exterior of your sleeping bag will eventually migrate into it and compromise the bag's loft and warmth. There are professional services for cleaning gear like sleeping bags and technical jackets. If you want to DIY your cleaning job, however, you're in the right place. We'll go over some tips, then break down how to clean down sleeping bags, how to clean synthetic sleeping bags and answer other common questions you might have.

Top Tips on Cleaning Your Sleeping Bag

Wash (At Least) Once Per Year

It's generally a good idea to wash your sleeping bag at least once a year, and perhaps more if you're going on camping trips often. It's also bad to store your bag with body oils, dirt, and other residues still on it, since they will permeate the fabrics and fibres when the bag is packed away. Washing it at the end of the season helps if you're planning on only performing a single annual wash. This will help prepare the bag for extended storage (until your next season or excursion), as well as allow it to recover back to peak levels of performance and warmth.

Don't Dry Clean

If you're thinking about how to dry clean a sleeping bag, don't! Dry cleaning uses harsh industrial solvents which can damage your bag, stripping the natural oils from the down.

Use a Front-Loading Washer

Another important thing is to always use a front-loading washer. The agitator columns in top-loading washers can damage your sleeping bag, since it can get wrapped around the column and torn. Commercial washers (like those at laundromats) are also a great alternative. They're bigger and can accommodate the bag better than an at-home washer. If no front-loading washer is available, or it's too small for your bag, it's also possible to handwash a sleeping bag, though this takes more effort.

Keep Your Bag Clean in Camp

If you take extra care of your sleeping bag while you're camping, you'll have less cleaning work to do post-trip. There are a variety of ways you can keep your bag cleaner while in camp, but using a sleeping bag liner can help prevent dirt buildup on the interior. Sleeping in clean clothes, when possible, will also help prevent the interior of the bag from getting soiled with potential dust and dirt from your clothing. Besides, it's just more comfortable to go to sleep clean! Another helpful tip is to always unzip and air your bag out, at least once per day when on long trips, particularly if it gets damp at any point.

Properly Store Your Sleeping Bag

Whether it's a down or synthetic sleeping bag, it's not meant to be stored jammed up in your stuff sack. If you want to prolong the life of your bag, it's best to hang it up fully laid out in your closet. This prevents any residue remaining on the exterior or interior of the bag from permeating the fabric, spoiling the fill, and helps the bag retain its loft over time.

Now, let's dive into some cleaning tips and tricks for down and synthetic sleeping bags.

Note: Learning how to clean goose-down sleeping bags is the same as how to clean standard down sleeping bags, so you can use the same steps.

Down Sleeping Bags

Down sleeping bags, in particular, need to be washed with care so as not to damage the fill. Most importantly, read the manufacturer's instructions on the tag. Every bag is different, so the manufacturer ultimately knows what's best for their product. Now, let's cover a few key steps for washing down sleeping bags in general.

  1. Use a washing liquid that's specifically designed for down gear, or at least one that is safe for use on down items. Standard laundry detergent can make the down fill clump up and reduce the loft.
  2. Use a commercial washer (like those at a laundromat), if possible, or as large a washing machine as is available.
  3. Unzip the bag completely before washing. This prevents the zipper from breaking or snagging and tearing the bag.
  4. Again, the manufacturer's instructions take precedent here. Generally, you'll wash the bag in warm water on a gentle cycle.
  5. Rinse the bag at least twice. This helps to ensure all of the washing liquid is removed. Any residue left behind may stop the down fill from re-achieving its maximum loft.
  6. At this point, the down in your bag should feel like dense clumps. If it feels spongy, rinse it again.
  7. Remove your bag from the washer carefully, supporting both ends so that the heavy wet down doesn't pull down and strain the seams. Gently squeeze out any excess water.
  8. See drying tips under "How to Dry a Sleeping Bag" below.

Synthetic Sleeping Bags

Like down sleeping bags, be sure to read the manufacturer's instructions before washing. The maker of the bag knows the best way to wash their product.

  1. Use a technical cleaner instead of standard laundry detergent. Like with down, normal detergent can result in clumping, reducing the fill's loft, or leaving a hydrophobic residue that damages your fill over time.
  2. Use a commercial washer (like those at a laundromat), if possible, or as large a washing machine as is available.
  3. Unzip the bag completely before washing. This prevents the zipper from breaking or snagging and tearing the bag.
  4. The manufacturer's instructions take precedent. Generally, you'll wash the bag in warm water, on a gentle cycle.
  5. Rinse two times, minimum, to ensure the cleaning agent is completely removed. If the bag is excessively pooling water or if it feels spongy, rinse it again. It should feel wet and damp, but not soaked.
  6. Remove your bag from the washer carefully, supporting both ends so that the heavy wet down doesn't weigh your bag down and strain the seams. Gently squeeze out any excess water.
  7. See drying tips under "How to Dry a Sleeping Bag" below.

How to Take Care of a Sleeping Bag While Camping

It's important to keep your bag clean and dry while camping. The better care you take of your bag when you're in the backcountry, the easier it will be to clean after your trip. On overnight or two-night trips, this isn't as important because there isn't much time for your bag to get dirty, but for trips that last multiple days, you need to ensure you're taking good care of your bag.

For starters, using a sleeping bag liner will go a long way towards keeping the inside of your bag clean, whether from body oils or from the inevitable buildup of dirt, grime, and dust on your clothes. Sleeping bag liners can also add warmth to your bag, which is always appreciated on colder nights.

On that note, sleep in clean clothes whenever possible to minimize the dirt you bring into the bag with you. At least once a day, unzip your bag out and flip it inside out, airing it out, especially if it gets wet at any point. Also, keep your bag out of its stuff sack whenever possible. The less time a bag spends jammed up in a stuff sack, the better! This keeps the fill fluffed out and prevents it from losing its loft.

How to Dry a Sleeping Bag

Drying your sleeping bag is the most important part of the process. It needs to be fluffed up fully to keep you warm, and it can't do that if it isn't dried properly. Note: Synthetic sleeping bags dry faster than down ones. Synthetic bags take about an hour to dry, but down will take several hours at least, depending on the level, density, and type of fill.

  • Like with the washing, use a commercial-sized dryer at a laundromat, if possible. The larger capacity will allow your bag to tumble and regain its full loft. If that's not possible, using a home dryer is OK.
  • Dry on low heat for an extended period, as opposed to high heat for a short one. High heat can melt the nylon fabric of your bag.
  • When drying down sleeping bags, add a few clean tennis balls to fluff the down fill back to its original loft. The balls break apart down clumps, speeding up the drying process.
  • Run as many cycles as needed to completely dry the bag. Again, low heat over a longer period is safer than high heat for a short one.
  • You can also air-dry your bag. Lay it flat on a clean surface or carefully hang it up. Be sure it's out of direct sunlight and in a place with low humidity.

How Often Should You Wash a Sleeping Bag?

You can wash your sleeping bag as often as you like, but because the process is quite time-intensive, less is more. It's generally a good idea to wash your sleeping bag at least once per year, and perhaps more if you're camping regularly or if it gets particularly dirty.

If you plan on storing your bag for an extended time, such as after a season ends, then before storage is the best time to perform the annual wash. This will give the bag plenty of time to retain its loft and prevent dirt and grime from permeating the bag while it's in storage.