Beginner’s Guide: How to Wash a Sleeping Bag

Knowing how to wash a sleeping bag is an invaluable piece of knowledge for any outdoor hobbyist!

Learning how to wash a sleeping bag is an essential thing for any outdoor enthusiast. A good sleeping bag is an invaluable ally to have on your side when camping, but after some adventures, it’s going to need a good clean. It will start to look bad, and smell even worse.  The oils and grime on a sleeping bag are more than just aesthetic concerns too. They can work their way into the bag and damage it from the inside out.

A dirty sleeping bag is a cold one that isn’t as effective at trapping heat anymore. There’s just one problem; They can be notoriously difficult to clean. They are made from lightweight fabrics, and their fill can be damaged if a sleeping bag is cleaned wrong. I’ll keep things simple and explain to you just how to wash a down sleeping bag to keep it clean and warm.

The Basics of Washing a Sleeping Bag 

Knowing what not to do can be just as important as knowing what to do.  A good idea would be to wash a sleeping bag once a year. Also, make sure that you never bleach, dry clean, or iron a sleeping bag. That’s another big “no.”

While you do have several options at your disposal, we recommend that you use a front-loading washing machine and dryer for washing and drying a sleeping bag with minimal risk of damage. 

A well maintained sleeping bag will last you for trips and years to come.

What You Need to Get Started

The list of things you need to clean your bag starts with your washing machine and dryer, of course. There are some extra supplies that you’ll need before you can begin the process. One thing to grab is the right cleaning product for the kind of fill that your sleeping bag has. There are plenty of down washes engineered to wash gear while maximizing fill performance to keep your bag performing its best. 

To dry a down bag and quilt, we recommend that you get some dryer balls. Throw these in the dryer with your bag to prevent the down in your sleeping from gathering together. They also help to dry out the bag properly and ensure a clean and effective wash.

How to Wash a Down Sleeping Bag 

Washing 

You can hand wash your bag or put it in a large front-loading washing machine for a machine wash. Use cold water for the wash and a gentle spin cycle complete with two rinses for a good clean. Consider adding another spin cycle at the end to ensure that water is drained from the bag before moving on to drying it. 

Drying 

You want to hang dry a sleeping bag in order to dry it. Hang drying is a long process taking anywhere up to 48 hours (if not longer), but it is the right thing to do for your down. It extends the life of the down as much as possible compared to other drying methods. It’s best to dry a bag in a low-humidity well-ventilated environment.

Gently shake the bag or hand tease it to break down any clumps of down and flip it every so often to speed up the drying process. Also, If you don’t want to wait that long for your bag to dry – or you can’t – then a tumble dryer will do. Just be sure to use a large tumble dryer and have it set to a low heat for the best results. As the bag dries up it will start to loft and expand to the point it fills the chamber.

If your sleeping bag doesn’t have a healthy amount of room, it can lead to hot spots on the bag. It may even lead to damage because the extra heat can melt a sleeping bag. Additionally, be sure to check the sleeping bag regularly to make sure that it isn’t overheating. During these checks, you want to feel the bag for lumps of wet down. If you run into any, then hand-tease them out or gently shake the bag to distribute the down across the bag properly.

Throwing a few tennis balls into the dryer agitates the bag for you, breaking down clusters of wet down and increase drying time for your bag.

Storage 

Storage is a surprisingly important part of proper sleeping bag maintenance. The less time you keep your bag compressed, the longer it is able to preserve the amount of loft needed to keep you warm and toasty at night. If you do have to store it in a bag, though, then we recommend using the storage sack that the bag came in, if not something even more significant than that if you can find it.

You should never keep a sleeping bag stored in a waterproof bag in the long term.

How to Wash a Synthetic Sleeping Bag 

Washing 

Washing a synthetic and down sleeping bag are fairly similar processes. However, the main thing to do is to hand wash them or wash them in a large front-loading washing machine for the best results. Be sure to use a mild non-detergent soap to clean the bag too. Choose a cold water gentle cycle and give the washing two rinses before taking it out and drying it.

Drying a sleeping bag properly will ensure that it doesn't get damaged!

Drying 

You should hang dry your synthetic sleeping bag as much as possible. The process can take a while (up to 48 hours), but it does give you the best results for longevity. Hang the sleeping bag in a low-humidity ventilated area. Unzip the bag fully and flip it every so often in order to speed up the drying process. If you can’t afford to wait that long and want to dry your bag even faster, then you can use a tumble dryer.

Pack it into a large tumble dryer with plenty of room and put it on low heat. Make sure there’s some room for it to breath too, so it doesn’t melt. It’s a good idea to check the sleeping bag every so often to ensure that it isn’t overheating.

Storage 

Proper storage is key to giving your bag a good long life.  It should be kept loose in a cool and dry place. If you want to store your sleeping bag in a bag, then you should use the storage sack that it was delivered with, if not something big. Also, never store a sleeping bag in a waterproof bag.

Putting all of these tips together

Washing a sleeping bag can be a chore, but it’s essential to do it properly. As a reminder, always use a cold and gentle cycle, properly rinse the sleeping bag, and let it hang dry. Store it properly between use and wash it once a year or so. Never iron, bleach, or dry clean a sleeping bag. According to REI, dry cleaning chemicals will damage your bag!

These tips will help you get the most out of your sleeping bag for years to come. As always, if you have any questions please feel free to ask!