How To Wash Your Sleeping Bag

Confused about how to wash your sleeping bag or quilt? Caring for your sleeping bag properly keeps it warm and helps it last longer. Whether you use down or synthetic, we’ve got you covered (by a warm and clean sleeping bag ;)).  You’ll want to either hand wash your sleeping bag at home or visit a commercial laundromat. Do not dry clean, it’s bad for the bag. You can also ship your bag to be professionally cleaned, but if you’d rather DIY, here are some instructions.

READ NEXT – The Ultimate Guide to Backpacking Sleeping Bags and Quilts for All Budgets

Why Do I Need to Wash My Sleeping Bag?

In short, to keep it warm. Even if you use a sleeping bag liner, the dirt and oils from your body can get on the bag and, over time, reduce loft. Remember, loft = warmth.

how to wash your sleeping bag

Loft = warmth, and warmth = a good night’s sleep. Photo via.

How Often Should I Wash My Sleeping Bag?

You should wash your sleeping bag at least once per hiking season. Try to wash it before putting it away for the winter—otherwise, body oils and dirt can linger on the fabric, according to REI. You should also wash your sleeping bag whenever you notice the loft shrinking. It’s also time to wash your bag if you’re noticing pungent odors or a lot of dirt. For small stains and dirty areas, spot cleaning should suffice. Washing your bag too frequently can be damaging, so be sparing.

How to Wash Down Sleeping Bags

how to wash your sleeping bag

Down in a drying machine. Photo via.

  1. Use down wash. Other detergents may be too harsh for the delicate down.
  2. Wash by hand in a bathtub, front-loaded washing machine, or top-loader WITHOUT a central agitator.
    • If you wash your sleeping bag in a machine with an agitator, it could rip the shell of the bag.
    • If you don’t want to hand-wash and don’t have access to a suitable home machine, most laundromats have large front-loaders.
    • If you use a traditional sleeping bag, zip it up fully before starting the wash.
  3. If washing by hand, make sure you let it soak for a while, and then rinse multiple times. You don’t want to sleep in a soapy bag! Kuddos to this Reddit post for this (and other) tips.
  4. Use the spin setting to remove as much water as possible before transferring to the dryer.
  5. While transferring, HANDLE WITH CARE.
  6. Dry in a dryer on the gentlest setting, with low to no heat.
  7. Use tennis or dryer balls to help break up down clumps.
    • You may also want to pause the dryer to manually break up clumps every 15 minutes or so.
  8. If you are using a home dryer that is too hot or too small to dry your sleeping bag, you can alternate air drying and tumble drying on the lowest setting, or on the “air only” setting with no heat.
  9. BE PATIENT. Fully drying a sleeping bag can take hours to days.
  10. You can also treat the bag with spray-on Durable Water Repellent to make the nylon more water-resistant.

There are many strategies for drying down. This post recommends only using the dryer for the first 60 minutes, then air drying your sleeping bag for the rest of the day, and then using the dryer for another 60 minutes the next morning. The long and short of it is that you should be gentle, as rough settings with high heat can damage the bag.

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How to Wash Synthetic Sleeping Bags

  1. Use tech wash.
  2. Use a front-loading or non-agitator washing machine
  3. Rinse at least twice to get out all the suds and soaps
  4. Handle with care while transferring to the dryer
  5. Dry on low heat, or hang dry
    • Synthetic insulation doesn’t clump like down, so you don’t have to worry about dryer balls or pausing the dryer every 15 minutes to break up clusters.

Storing and Caring for your Bag

DO NOT STORE YOUR BAG COMPRESSED. This is a huge mistake I made for the first several years of owning a nice down sleeping bag. Instead, store it hung up or loosely packed in a mesh or cotton sack. Long-term compression damages the insulation.

While it’s definitely handy to compress your sleeping bag while packing for the backcountry, never store it like this at home. Photo via.

DO NOT wash your bag too frequently. this can also damage the insulation and reduce loft.

DO use a sleeping bag liner. Not only does it make your bag warmer, but it also keeps it cleaner (which also keeps it warmer).

A Sea to Summit Reactor Extreme sleeping bag liner. In addition to keeping your bag cleaner, sleeping bag liners can add some extra degrees of warmth to your sleep system.

DO try to keep it clean when you’re on trail. Try not to put it directly in the dirt, and avoid sleeping in uber-filthy clothing (when possible).

DO let your bag dry in the sun if it gets damp on trail.

READ NEXT – Enlightened Equipment Enigma Ultralight Quilt Review

Washing your Bag During a Thru-Hike

Again, it’s important not to wear your sleeping bag out by washing it too frequently. Most thru-hikers never launder their bags during their treks. However, if your bag needs refreshment during your hike, a commercial laundromat is probably your best bet. Start the process in the morning, and do your other town chores while the bag’s washing and drying away. Hopefully, it will be dry by the afternoon/evening. If it’s not, hang it overnight. If it’s still damp in the morning, try to stop at some point during your hike to leave it in the sun for a bit to finish drying out.

Featured image via Colleen Goldhorn.

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Comments 1

  • thetentman : Nov 11th

    Sleeping in a slightly damp bag will dry it out.

    Reply

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