How To Wash A Sleeping Bag

After an adventurous camping or backpacking weekend, returning from your trip means packing things away, cleaning tents, and, most importantly, washing your sleeping bag. What you do to maintain your bag will change based on whether it’s made of synthetic or down materials.

Several backpackers and campers opt to hire an expert rather than spend the time cleaning down themselves. However, it is possible to clean it yourself. This article provides a step-by-step guide on properly washing your synthetic or down sleeping bag and gives you some helpful tips.

How To Wash A Sleeping Bag:

  1. Check The Label For Cleaning Instructions
  2. Decide Where To Wash Your Sleeping Bag
  3. Choose The Right Detergent
  4. Unzip The Whole Sleeping Bag
  5. Start The Washing Cycle
  6. Rinse Thoroughly
  7. Remove The Sleeping Bag
  8. Dry The Sleeping Bag

1. Check The Label For Cleaning Instructions

Read the manufacturer’s guidelines before you start. You will find this information on the label or online.

2. Decide Where To Wash Your Sleeping Bag

Make use of the laundromat’s commercial front-loading washer. The greater volume guarantees thorough cleaning of your bag. You can use your front-loading washing machine if you don’t have access to a laundromat.

But if you want to protect your bag from being twisted or twisted around the agitator’s column of a top-loader, don’t use one. If you don’t have access to a washing machine, you may always wash your bag by hand.

3. Choose The Right Detergent

Down sleeping bag: Use only a down-specific equipment wash, such as Nikwax Down Wash Direct (link to Amazon), or a product that says it is safe to use on down products when cleaning your down sleeping bag. Regular detergent can cause your clothes to clump together or have less loft.

Synthetic sleeping bag: If you have a synthetic sleeping bag, one of the best cleaning products you can use to clean it is Nikwax Tech Wash.

4. Unzip The Whole Sleeping Bag

To avoid hooking or ruining the slider, unzip the entire sleeping bag carefully.

5. Start The Washing Cycle

Always refer to the manufacturer’s care recommendations and washing instructions before washing your sleeping bag. Still, a general rule is to use warm or lukewarm water and select a gentle wash cycle. Place the sleeping bag in the washer, add the detergent, set the machine and start the washing cycle.

6. Rinse Thoroughly

Down sleeping bag: The cleaning solution should be removed thoroughly by rinsing the sleeping bag twice. The down filling in the bag won’t loft if any residue were to remain. Squeeze most of the water out as possible; the bag must feel as though it’s full of dense clumps. Sponginess indicates the need for an additional rinsing cycle.

Synthetic sleeping bag: If the nylon bag retains water or feels sponge-like, run it through a second rinse cycle. It should be damp, not soaked.

7. Remove The Sleeping Bag From The Machine

When taking the bag out of the washing machine, support it through. It works better when two people remove it together. This reduces the risk of the seams tearing under stress. Try gently squeezing the extra water and moving on to the drying process.

8. Dry The Sleeping Bag

Down sleeping bags take longer to dry than synthetic ones. A synthetic bag will dry in an hour or less, but a down bag would take a few hours.

To keep warm, an insulation loft is essential. All insulation, whether made of down or synthetic fibers, relies on creating tiny air pockets within the fill. These areas are great for retaining heat and keeping you toasty while you sleep.

If you have access to a commercial-sized drier, use it. Due to the increased capacity of commercial dryers, even completely inflated, you can tumble sleeping bags in them. Without a laundromat, a home dryer will have to suffice.

  • Turn the dryer’s heat down to low. Nylon fabrics are particularly vulnerable to high heat. Drying it on a lower heat for longer is preferable to drying at high heat for a shorter time.
  • You can place 2 to 3 tennis balls in the dryer with a down sleeping bag to agitate the fill and restore its natural loft. A faster drying time is achieved by using the balls to separate the down and clumps.
  • You can repeat the drying cycle as frequently as necessary to ensure it dries thoroughly. We recommend giving it no less than one hour to run, but more is fine.
  • Alternately, you may air dry a sleeping bag by laying it out on a clean, flat surface, out of direct sunlight and in an area with low humidity. You may also hang it out to dry, but be mindful to evenly distribute the bag’s weight so as not to damage the nylon.
  • If you want to be absolutely sure that your sleeping bag is completely dry before putting it away, hang it up or lay it flat overnight.

Helpful Tips

Below are a few clever tips on cleaning your sleeping bag and keeping it cleaner for longer.

Spot Cleaning

If your sleeping bag is still very clean after your trip, it may only require light dusting or a quick wipe-down instead of thorough washing. Spot cleaning is preferable to a full wash since it preserves the sleeping bag’s loft and prevents premature wear.

Use a toothbrush and a paste of a little amount of detergent-free soap and water to carefully scrub any dirty spots on the sleeping bag. 

Pay special attention to the areas prone to collecting oil from both skin and hair. Washing and rinsing the region is possible without wetting the sleeping bag’s insulation. However, if your sleeping bag is getting flat and dirty, it needs a good wash.

Prevention Is Better Than Cure!

Maintaining your sleeping bag’s cleanliness, dryness, and protection while camping is a good idea as it will last longer and keep its insulation properties. The following preventative measures will protect and preserve your down or synthetic sleeping bag;

Air It Out Every Day

Flip your sleeping bag inside-out and let it dry and air in the sun, even if it means waiting till lunchtime. However, it would be better if you didn’t leave it in the sunshine for extended periods because the UV rays will wear down the material.

If your luggage is soaked, you should let it dry out in the open air for a longer period or until it is completely dry. When you arrive home after your camping vacation, be sure to let the sleeping bags air out before you pack them away.

Be Careful Who You Lend Your Sleeping Bag To

When one of your friends asks to lend your sleeping bag, you need to access whether they’ll appreciate it and take care of it properly. Insist that they wear a liner, and clean clothes, explain how all the closures, zippers, and drawstring functions, and establish clear ground rules.

It isn’t rude to ask someone to look after your property if they want to borrow it. To summarize, don’t lend your sleeping bag to every Tom, Dick, and Harry! If you are sure the friend you are lending it to will take great care of it, then it’s fine.

Use A Sleeping Bag Liner

Sleeping bag liners are typically made of soft, lightweight fabric like polyester, cotton, wool and even silk. These liners create a protective layer between your skin and your sleeping bag. In addition, they increase the temperature inside your sleeping bag by an additional 5 to 15℉. When you return from your camping trip, wash your sleeping bag liner before storing it.

Change Into Clean Clothes 

You are probably fatigued if you’ve been around the campfire cooking food for your troops or returned from a long hiking expedition. However, no matter how tired you feel, never get into a sleeping bag before changing into clean clothing. The sleeping bag’s insulation properties can be diminished by sweat, body oils, and dirt. 

To protect your sleeping bag and have a good night’s rest, wear your cleanest, freshest sleeping attire. Sunscreen, face cream, and oil from your hair can also damage your sleeping bag over time, so it would be best to wear a beanie or bandana to protect the bag’s hood.

Handle Your Sleeping Bag With Care

Consider packing an extra (older) sleeping bag if you want to wear it while sitting around the campfire for extra warmth. Never wear an expensive, new sleeping bag around a fire and try to avoid anything that could cause any damage to them. Imagine the horror of your brand-new sleeping bags getting burn holes from fire sparks!

Frequently Asked Questions

Below, we have answered some of the most frequently asked questions regarding washing your sleeping bag;

How Do You Handwash A Sleeping Bag?

If you do not have a washing machine, do not worry; you can also handwash a sleeping bag. Here’s how;

  • Use either warm or lukewarm water to fill the bathtub.
  • To clean your synthetic or down sleeping bag, use the detergent recommended for its care; too much soap will be difficult to rinse out.
  • To evenly distribute the soap in the bag, lay it in the water, gently massaging it.
  • The dirtiest parts need to be rubbed together. Let it sit in the water for at least an hour.
  • Empty the tub and squeeze out as much water as possible.
  • Once again, fill your bathtub with warm or cool rinsing water, and submerge the sleeping bag in the clean water for about fifteen minutes or more. Before draining the water, give the sleeping bag a god wiggle in the water to get rid of any excess detergent.
  • Squeeze out any last drops of moisture. Make sure all the detergent is gone by giving it another good rinse if necessary.
  • Take care to be as gentle as possible while you push out as much of the remaining water as possible. Then, flip it over with your hands and roll it into a ball before carrying it to the dryer. This prevents the seams from ripping.
  • Place the sleeping bag in the dryer or take it to a laundromat dryer.
  • Dry your bag without a dryer by laying it on a flat, clean surface (not in direct sunlight and in an area with low humidity).
  • While your sleeping bag dries, you will have to physically separate the clumps of insulation.

How To Deodorize A Sleeping Bag

  • To deodorize a sleeping bag, you can try one or all of these methods;
  • Turn it inside out & hang in the sun for an hour.
  • Create a white vinegar and water spray & hang it in the sun (inside out).
  • Pour some Vodka in a spray bottle, hang up the sleeping bag and give it a good spritzing. The Vodka removes the bad odors and dries odorless.
  • Turn the sleeping bag inside out and place it directly on the grass/lawn in the sunlight for an hour.
  • Fill some old nylon stockings with activated charcoal briquettes and tuck them into your sleeping bag. Roll it up and store it for five to seven days before removing the charcoal stockings.

At What Temperature Should You Was A Sleeping Bag?

The correct temperature to wash your sleeping bag is 40°C (100°F). It would be best if you used an extra rinse cycle after selecting the delicate wash cycle and setting the water temperature to no more than 40°C (100°F).

How To Wash A Sleeping Bag In A Top Loader?

A front-loading machine is ideal for washing sleeping bags, but a top-loading machine without an agitator would serve in a pinch. Some washing machines include a spinner in the middle called an agitator, and it contains grooves and fins that may shred apart a down sleeping bag. If you only have a top loader with an agitator, it would be wise to hand wash your sleeping bag instead.

Can You Use Fabric Softener On A Sleeping Bag?

Yes. While the bag is being washed, you may use a fabric softener, but you should avoid using anything that includes bleach.

Author at Wilderness Redefined camping website

James has been escaping to the outdoors for as long as he can remember. This first started in family camping trips but soon turned into adventure camps and hiking through the Scottish Hebrides. Now he has turned towards trying to make camping more comfortable and accessible.