How to Wash a Sleeping Bag

by Raymond Archambault
packed sleeping bag

The best sleeping bags are made out of specialty fabric and fill to keep you dry and warm when backpacking in the great outdoors. While this is the main reason we all need to have at least one reliable sleeping bag for our camping trips, it’s also why it is so difficult to clean and care for this essential piece of outdoor gear.

If you’ve taken the time to find the best sleeping bag for your needs, it stands to reason that you should also take the time to learn how to wash it. Don’t worry, you won’t have to take it to a laundromat. Here are some tips on how to wash a sleeping bag that will help you properly clean and care for yours.

 Tips on How to Wash a Sleeping Bag

Note: The steps you take to clean and care for your sleeping bag are determined by whether it’s synthetic or down. Of the two main types, down requires the most care, and that’s why most people prefer to pay a professional to help clean it. That isn’t to say that you can’t do it yourself.

Tip 1: How to Spot Clean Your Sleeping Bag

In many cases, you will find that a full-blown wash isn’t necessary. This is especially true if the sleeping bag doesn’t see that much camping action and isn’t that dirty, to begin with. In these cases, all you need to do is give the bag a little TLC to keep it spotless and smelling fresh. Besides, frequent washes increase the rate of wear and tear on your sleeping bag. Here’s how to hand wash your sleeping bag:

  • Take some lukewarm water and a little non-detergent soap and use that to make a paste
  • Using a toothbrush, keenly spread that paste on the most problematic parts of your sleeping bag to clean them (focus on the collar and hood, as those are the sections that will have grime or body oils on them)
  • Do this by holding the sleeping bag’s shell away from the internal insulation (this allows you to clean the shell without wetting the insulation)
  • Scrub some mild soap on the zippers and the sleeping bag liner as well, as that is where mildew can build up. 
  • Once you have covered all the problem spots, simply wipe the paste off using a clean piece of cloth and some clean water. Then wipe off any excess water and air dry.

Tip 2: How to Wash Your Sleeping Bag

Occasions will arise when your sleeping bag needs to be washed. This is especially true if you enjoy all-weather camping where you might get rained on and track mud into your sleeping tent. In these cases, you might begin to notice that your sleeping bag is darkening and losing loft, thanks to the accumulated dirt. In this case, you have no choice but to wash it. Here are some tips to follow:

Note: Start by checking if the manufacturer has printed washing instructions somewhere on the bag.

How to Machine Wash Your Sleeping Bag

front load machine

Source: Pixabay

  • Try as much as you can to use a front-loading washer; the larger the capacity, the better, since this will ensure that your bag is properly rinsed in the process. Avoid using top-loading washers; your sleeping bag could get damaged by wrapping or getting entangled around the agitator column.
  • For synthetic and down sleeping bags, you need to use the right kind of detergents, such as a gear wash specifically designed for down items since regular laundry detergent could cause clumping and reduced loft.
  • Make sure the bag is fully unzipped to prevent the zipper from breaking or snagging.
  • Typically, you should wash the bag in warm water and on a gentle cycle. However, if the manufacturer’s instructions say otherwise, it’s best to follow their recommendation.
  • You will have to put your sleeping bag through at least two rinse cycles or rinse the sleeping bag until it doesn’t feel sponge-like anymore. This ensures that all the residue from the detergent you used is removed 
  • After the spin cycle, carefully remove the bag from the washer by supporting the entire bag instead of pulling it out by one end. This will prevent straining or ripping of seams.
  • There might be some leftover water when dealing with a synthetic sleeping bag; hold the bag up and gently squeeze that out before drying the bag.

Tip 4: How to Dry Your Sleeping Bag

There are several methods of drying your sleeping bag once you have washed it thoroughly. It should be noted that down sleeping bags will take much longer to dry (about three hours), while synthetic sleeping bags typically take about an hour. 

Here are some tips on how to dry your sleeping bag:

  • Use a huge dryer: Commercial-size dryers tend to have capacities large enough to allow for the lofting of sleeping bags as they tumble dry.
  • Use low heat: Whether you have access to a commercial-size dryer or use a big home dryer, be sure to set it on low heat. High heat can damage the sleeping bag by melting its components or the delicate nylon fabrics. While high heat might get the job done faster, it could also prove costly.
  • Use tennis balls: If you are dealing with a down sleeping bag, you need to use at least two or three tennis balls while drying the bag. These will help to agitate the fill and bring it back to its original loft. These balls simply help to break down the clamps as well as speed up the drying process.

There is no specific number of cycles you need to run to completely dry your sleeping bag. It’s going to take as many cycles as necessary. It’s advisable to run the dryer for at least an hour.

There are also other drying methods available if you don’t have access to a commercial-size dryer. One of the best and most effective methods of drying a sleeping bag is to lay it out on a flat surface outside (NOT under direct sunlight). 

You could also hang it up in your garage or someplace safe, so it can slowly dry out. If you are going to hang it up, be sure to equally distribute the weight to prevent putting too much strain on any one part of the fabric.

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