How to Wash a Down Sleeping Bag

Published on 09/20/2023 · 6 min readIs your down sleeping bag getting a little dirty? Afraid of washing it because you don't want to ruin it? Read these tips from Camping and Hiking Expert Hannah K.!
Hannah K, Camping Expert
By Camping Expert Hannah K

Photo by Michael VBG

Properly caring for our gear is integral to our safety. Caring for equipment means it will work better in the field, last longer, save money, and not contribute to constant material waste. When the proper care of our gear is done correctly, we can sustain accurate comfortability and maximum insulation.

Sustainability = caring for our gear to make it last longer!

Down sleeping bags and down material, in general, can be intimidating. It is a particular and somewhat picky material that can, unfortunately, be easily damaged. If you need help caring for your down bag, keep on reading!

Caring for your Bag at Camp

Photo by Katsiaryna Ka

Regardless of if your bag is synthetic or down material, keeping it clean (dry and protected) is vital for the life of your gear. While these tips are geared towards down sleeping bags, synthetic options will benefit from these as well.

Use a sleeping bag liner

A sleeping bag liner acts as a barrier between you and your sleeping bag—think of it as a top sheet on a bed between you and your heavy blanket. Using a sleeping bag liner will help avoid any sweat and oils from your skin coming in contact with your sleeping bag and, in return, keep your bag cleaner. Many on the market range from different shapes, sizes, materials, and uses. If you need help deciding, check out this article for some tips.

Avoid putting your sleeping bag directly on the ground

If you are cowboy camping (aka sleeping under the stars and not under a tent), try putting a tarp down on the ground first. A tarp will protect your bag from mud, dirt, grass, and of course, any bug guts that you may squash accidentally!

Sleep in clean clothes

As mentioned earlier, we want to avoid (as much as possible when we are in the great outdoors) getting dirt on our bags. Sweaty clothes that we have been wearing all day to hike in are thus, not the best camping pajamas. If you are on a backpacking trip, keep a pair of clean clothes to sleep in that is different from your hiking apparel. If you are camping, do the same!

Some more luxurious campsites may even have showers or laundry facilities—take advantage of them. Also, avoid cooking in your camp sleep clothes. The odor can stick to materials, and you don’t want that when the sun sets and the animals come out.

Wash your skin

Sunscreen, sweat, and other oils can be absorbed into our bags and make them smellier. A quick rinse of your skin will avoid that.

Caring for your Bag at Home

Store your bag correctly

There are multiple ways to store your pack when not in use, and how you choose to do it is entirely up to you and the space you have. You can hang it up in your closet, keep it in a large stuff sack or big mesh laundry bag, or keep it lying flat under your bed. For more tips on storing your bag, check out these handy tips.

Don’t let the pet walk all over it

Store it in a place where the pets (and their sharp nails) can’t get all over your bag—or any other gear. They have somewhat strong nails that could accidentally damage your sleeping bag.

How to Wash and Dry your Bag

Photo by Damian Lugowski

A good “spot” wash goes a long way!

Sometimes, your bag might need a big bath after every use; other times, a simple spot wash can fix any odor or stain. After your trip, glance over your sleeping bag (inside and out) and wipe off any dirt. Washing our bag can decrease loft and increase wear and tear, so spot washing is always my go-to. Use some non-detergent soap, a bit of water, and a toothbrush to brush away anything you may see. Focus on the hood where oils from your hair may create odors. Hold the shell out so you can avoid getting the insulation wet.

Have it professionally laundered

REI partners with Rainy Pass Repairs which ensures your sleeping bag will come back as good as new. This can avoid any stress you may have when cleaning it yourself.

Washing your sleeping bag yourself…

After many trips, it may be necessary to throw your sleeping bag through a round of deep washing. Before you do that, always check the manufacturer's instructions as each one will have different suggestions and guidelines. But remember, always use a very gentle detergent—no bleach or fabric softeners.

Hand washing instructions:

  • Fill a bathtub with lukewarm water, and add an appropriate amount of soap (too much will make it harder to rinse out).
  • Gently work the soap into the fabric, let it soak for an hour then drain the soapy water and squeeze out extra soap from the bag.
  • Refill the tub and rinse off your sleeping bag.
  • Repeat this process until the bag is drained of soap.
  • Once you gently rinse your bag, either transport it to a large laundry machine or lay it flat to dry. This will take some time so you must wait until it is completely dry before you store it.

Machine washing instructions:

Make sure your washing machine is a front-loading washing machine or a top-loading machine without an agitator. If the machine is too small, it won’t have enough room for the bag to tumble and become clean. If not, check out your local laundromat.

  • Wash on a gentle cycle in cool or warm water, using as little soap as possible to avoid overproduction of suds which will make your bag more difficult to rinse.
  • You may need to rinse it twice to get all the soap out.

Using a dryer:

  • Set your dryer to very low heat. Scorching temperatures can melt or burn the fabric (and synthetic sleeping bag filling).
  • Use a few tennis balls in the dryer to help keep the loft of your bag. They will break up any clumps of down in your bag as they tumble around in the dryer.
  • Make sure it is completely dry before storing.

Extra Tips for Sleeping Bag Care

  1. “A warning to those who use my bag”: Not everyone will take as good care of it as you will. So ensure that whoever uses your bag knows the care and procedures that go along with a bag rental from you!
  2. Air it out during and after you use it: This will help remove any odors from you or your food, or whatever else nature has in store for you.
  3. Be careful with those zippers: Be careful not to snag the material and create holes in your sleeping bag. That will leave you cold and most likely very sad.

For more info on caring for down, and other types of insulation material, be sure to check out this guide on how to wash your winter ski jackets!

Any other tips for caring for your sleeping bag? Need a suggestion for a good, durable sleeping bag? Hit up a Camping & Hiking Expert on Curated to chat about all things outdoors.

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