Last Updated: August 6, 2021

How To Wash A Sleeping Bag

Investing in good-quality camping gear is an expensive investment and the last thing you want is to have to replace it earlier than you should. To make sure your camping gear lasts, you’ll need to look after it and this goes for everything from your boots and hardshell to your tent and your sleeping bag.

While using your sleeping bag, it will naturally absorb any of your sweat and the oil off your skin and hair plus any moisture that is hanging around. Once all this dampness and grime start moving to your insulation, you’ll notice your sleeping bag becoming less and less effective and keeping you warm, which is the last thing you want.

When this starts to happen it’s time to give it a good wash, but washing your sleeping bag incorrectly can also cause it some damage. Not to worry, we have outlined how to wash your sleeping bag below so that it’s safe and will end up almost as good as new.

How To Wash A Sleeping Bag

How Often Should You Wash Your Sleeping Bag?

How often you need to wash your sleeping bag depends a lot on how much you use it. There is certainly no need to wash your sleeping bags after every trip but the more you use it the more oils and dirt are going to build up in it.

If you use your sleeping for around 2-3 weeks a year, then an annual wash will suffice. But, if you’re going camping every weekend from spring to the end of autumn, then you’ll need to double up to twice a year or more.

When Should You Wash Your Sleeping Bag?

If you only need to wash your sleeping bag annually then the best time to wash it is once the season is over and you’re not going to use it again for a while. This means you can store it fresh for next season and not have a horrid surprise when you take it camping for the first time the following year.

If you’re washing it twice a year or more, still do your end-of-season wash and throw a few more in before it. The key, as you can see, is to make sure it goes into storage clean so the dirt doesn’t get into the insulation.

Spot Cleaning

You don’t always need to fully wash your sleeping bag and a regular spot clean is a great way to keep it in shape during the season. The lining of your sleeping bag will tend to collect the most amount of dirt and these are the areas to focus on. When spot cleaning, remember to pull the lining away from the insulation while cleaning it to avoid the insulation getting wet.

The first thing to do is to buy some down or synthetic detergent for your sleeping bag. Then apply a small mont of detergent to your spot and use a soft toothbrush to clean it. Once clean, use a wet cloth to rinse it off, making sure not to get the insulation wet.

Down & Synthetic Sleeping Bags

Your sleeping bag will either have a down fill or a synthetic fill and each one should be cleaned a little differently. Whatever you do, don’t send your sleeping bag to be dry cleaned as dry cleaners use intense products that can damage the shell or insulation.

The first thing you should always do is to check your sleeping bag’s cleaning instructions. If you have lost them, you’ll easily be able to find them online. Not all sleeping bags are machine washable, so don’t just assume you can throw them into the washing machine. If your sleeping bag is machine washable, here are the instructions for both down and synthetic-filled sleeping bags.

How To Machine Wash A Down Sleeping Bag

1. Check the manufacturer’s instructions

Always defer to the manufacturer’s recommendations. If they differ from below, then follow them instead.

2. Use a front-loading washing machine

Top loading washing machines have a column in the middle that your sleeping bag can easily get entangled in and get severely damaged.

3. Use the right kind of detergent for your sleeping bag

There are detergents specifically made for down that maintain the down’s insulating properties like this one. Normal detergents can cause the down to clump and reduce its loft which will make it less effective at keeping you warm.

4. Unzip your sleeping bag fully

Unzipping it protects the zipper from getting damaged.

5. Set the right water temperature and spin cycle

Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions here. It will usually say wash at a warm temperature and put it on a gentle spin cycle.

6. Rinse the sleeping bag well

The sleeping bag now needs to be rinsed very well in order to remove all the detergent. Any leftover detergent can get stuck in the insulation and stop the down from lofting.

7. Remove as much water out of the bag as possible

If it feels spongey leave it in the washing machine for another rinse until it feels clumpy. This is how you know all the detergent has been taken out.

8. Remove your sleeping bag gently

It’ll be full of water and heavier than usual and therefore you’ll need to support the entire bag so as not to put too much pressure on certain parts of it.

9. Squeeze out any leftover water

It is useful to do this in a clean bath, where you can push on the full bag and let the water run out easily.

10. Lay flat to dry

The final step is to put your bag somewhere flat to dry. I don’t recommend hanging it as the heavy down can damage it. Use a clothing dry rack if possible.

Machine Washing A Synthetic Sleeping Bag

The instructions for a synthetic sleeping bag are exactly the same, just make sure you swap out the down detergent for a synthetic sleeping bag detergent like this one.

Hand Washing Your Sleeping Bag

You can hand wash either a down or synthetic sleeping bag and here is how. You’ll need a bathtub and the right detergent.

  1. Fill your bath with cool to lukewarm water.
  2. Now add some down or synthetic detergent. Don’t use too much detergent or you’re going to struggle to get it out of your sleeping bag and will end up having to rinse it over and over again.
  3. Now full unzip your sleeping bag and gently place it in the water. Slowly and softly work the soap into every part of the bag.
  4. If there are any dirty spots that won’t come off, rub them together gently to pull them out.
  5. Let your sleeping bag soak in the bath for an hour.
  6. Once it’s done, drain the bath and press the sleeping bag to push out any excess water.
  7. Now refill the bath to rinse, working the soap out gently and let it sit for 20 minutes and then drain.
  8. Press out any water and repeat these steps until you’re sure all the detergent is gone.
  9. Now squeeze all the remaining water you can and carry it supportively and safely to the drying phase.

How To Wash A Sleeping Bag

Drying Your Sleeping Bag

This is where the process gets a bit technical and we start using tennis balls, yes that’s right, tennis balls. IN general, down sleeping bags take a lot longer to dry than synthetic ones and you should allow an hour for a synthetic and 2-4 hours for a down bag.

The idea behind the drying process to not only to remove all the moisture but to also fluff up the insulation to give it maximum efficacy to keep you as warm as possible. This is where the tennis balls come into play. By fluffing up the insulation you create pockets that trap heat, the more pockets the warmer the bag.

Drying Your Sleeping Bag With A Dryer (Recommended)

It’s best to use a laundromat for this as their dryers are a lot larger than home dryers which will give your sleeping bag the space to move and puff up.

  1. Place your sleeping bag in the dryer on low heat along with 3 clean tennis balls. You don’t have to use tennis balls with a synthetic sleeping bag but it is a MUST with down sleeping bags.
  2. Leave the sleeping bag in the dryer for 1 hour if synthetic and 2-3 hours if down. The tennis balls will help bounce the insulation around to make it as fluffy as possible.
  3. Keep going until your sleeping bag is completely dry.
  4. Then hang it up a home for a few hours before storing to be safe.

Drying Your Sleeping Bag Manually

If you don’t have access to a dryer, then you can dry it at home by either laying down flat on a smooth surface with little humidity and no direct sunlight. Or you can hang it to dry, again not in the sun, making sure the weight is distributed evenly.

This is a much longer and less reliable option and you should use a dryer if you can find one.

Washing Up

In the end, it’s quite simple to wash your sleeping bag but you do need to be careful not to damage it. Just make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions, get the right detergent, find a good dryer, oh, and don’t forget the tennis balls.

About the Author Roger Timbrook

Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!

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