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How to Wash a Sleeping Bag

How to wash a sleeping bag

There are some folk that say you should avoid washing your sleeping bag at all costs as it can damage the down insulation. Then there others that suggest washing a down sleeping bag actually revitalises down that is old and losing its loft and effectiveness. Either way, at some point or other you’ll need to know how to wash a sleeping bag. And when that time comes, it’s kind of useful to know what the process entails as it’s not quite as simple as just throwing it in the washing machine and hoping for the best.

We advise washing your sleeping bag only when it really needs to be washed. For some folk this will be more often than for others. Try to minimise the number of times your sleeping bag needs to be washed in its lifetime, to prolong its effective life.

Looking after your sleeping bag

If you are careful with your sleeping bag then it will accumulate less dirt. Pack it away when not in use, and avoid the temptation to eat or drink on or in it. Of course this is not always practical. But it’s something to keep in mind.

Sleep in clothes or use a sleeping bag liner

Both of these methods mean that very little of your skin will ever touch the bag. This means that less sweat and body oils build up over time and use. And less of that means less bacteria growth, and less stink! Sleeping bag liners can be washed easily and they also add a layer of insulation in cooler temperatures.
sleeping bag liner gear guide

Spot wash your sleeping bag

If there is a particular area of your bag that has become soiled or dirty, clean that bit first before you go cleaning the whole thing unnecessarily. The area around the hood or opening of your sleeping bag is prone to a build up of oils and sweat from your head and face.

To spot clean this area or another area that has become soiled:

  • Use gentle soap, a soft toothbrush or sponge and water.
  • Gently rub the soiled area until it appears clean.
  • Leave to dry.
  • Repeat if necessary.

Revitalise your down

It’s also worth noting that if your down sleeping bag has been used a lot, the effectiveness of the down as an insulator will start to deteriorate over time. The down can become compressed and lose its loft. A loss of loft means there are fewer air pockets between the tiny fluffy bits of down. And fewer air pockets means less insulation. So, if this sounds like you then washing your down sleeping bag with a specialist down wash will not only clean the dirt and smell from your bag, but it will also revitalise the down inside the bag.

Opt for a sleeping bag cleaning service

Cleaning and drying a sleeping bag at home can take a long time. And if you go to the laundrette to use their facilities then expect to use up half a day waiting for the machines to do their thing. The benefit of this is that it is cheap to do.

However, if you don’t have that kind of time on your hands, you can send your sleeping bag away to be professionally cleaned. Rainy Pass offer a down sleeping bag cleaning service that costs much more than if you do it yourself at home. But it saves a lot of time, and also the worry that you are doing it right (although it’s super easy to do).

NOTE: A sleeping bag cleaning service is VERY different to dry cleaning. Dry cleaning a down sleeping bag is NOT advised under any circumstances as the chemicals used can damage the down inside the sleeping bag.

How to wash a down sleeping bag in a washing machine

If you’re sure that the time has come to freshen up your sleeping bag, this step by step guide on how to wash a sleeping bag has you covered.

  • Sleeping bag seam

    01Prepare your sleeping bag for washing

    Before you chuck your sleeping bag in the washing machine it’s important to check it for any small tears or rips. If you find any then be sure to fix these first. Otherwise the tear can become much worse and down can leak out during the washing process.

  • Front loading washing machine

    02Use the right washing machine

    Ensure that your washing machine is front-loading, without an agitator. Most top loading washing machines have agitators that can be too aggressive for sleeping bags to handle, causing irreversible damage.

  • Checking washing machine

    03Check the washing machine

    Check your front-loading washing machine thoroughly before you use it. Run your hands around the inside of the drum feeling for anything that may rip or damage the bag. Take a look in there, too!

  • Zip on sleeping bag

    04Zip up your sleeping bag

    Do up all the zips and and any velcro tabs at the hood of the sleeping bag. If the outside of your sleeping has an DWR (durable water repellent) coating, be sure to turn the bag inside out before you zip it up. This will allow the water and down wash or soap to get inside the bag to thoroughly clean it.

  • Washing machine dial

    05Adjust the settings of your washing machine

    Be sure to check what your sleeping bag manufacturer label recommends when it comes to the temperature settings and washing cycles. Apply these recommendations when adjusting the settings of your washing machine.

    Otherwise, put your washing machine on a delicate setting at 30ºC with a slow spin.

  • Down wash

    06Use down wash or a gentle soap

    To get the best results use a specialist down wash that washes everything, revives the down and revitalises the DWR coating. Add the recommended amount of Down Wash to the detergent dispenser and press go!

    If you don’t have access to down wash then use a very gentle liquid soap. Be careful not to use too much soap as the sleeping bag can be difficult to rinse properly if it becomes too suddy.

How to wash a down sleeping bag by hand

If you don’t have access to a top-loading washing machine, or just prefer to do things the old-fashioned way, washing your sleeping bag by hand is super easy. It also gives you much more control over your precious down bag than when it’s in the hands of a washing machine!

  • Fill a bathtub or large sink with cold or warm water.
  • Add the recommended amount of down wash or a small amount of soap.
  • Rub the most heavily soiled areas of your sleeping bag with a sponge. Focus on the area around the hood and opening of the bag as these accumulate the most dirt.
  • Leave your sleeping bag to soak for an hour or so, depending on how dirty it is!
  • Drain the bathtub or sink.
  • Gently squeeze out as much water from the sleeping bag as you can.
  • Refill the bath or sink with clean cool or warm water to rinse the bag. Use your hands to agitate the sleeping bag.
  • Drain the water again, squeeze out the water (again), and repeat this process until all the soap suds are gone and the water runs clear.

How to dry a down sleeping bag

Drying your down sleeping bag is the really time consuming bit! You can do it one of two ways.

Drying a sleeping bag in a tumble drier

Be sure to do this when you’re at home for the day to check on it at frequent intervals. Or if you’re at the laundrette, take lots of coins and a good book!

  • Inspect the drum of the dryer for any sharp or rough edges.
  • Transfer your sleeping bag carefully from the washing machine or the bathtub to the drier.
  • Support the whole thing when moving the sleeping bag. This is to prevent sharp down feathers from poking through the lining and causing damage.
  • Put the drier on a low setting and run it for half an hour before checking its progress.
  • Keep checking every 20 minutes or so for the next 2+ hours.
  • Add a couple of tennis balls or rolled up socks to the drier after an hour or so of drying. These help to re-loft the down inside the sleeping bag.
  • Once your sleeping bag is dry, lay it out on a flat surface overnight. This finishes off any damp bits that you might have been missed, and it gives the down chance to fully re-loft before putting it in a storage sack.

Drying a sleeping bag naturally

  • Carefully lay the sleeping bag out on a clean, dry surface in a well ventilated room or outside in the shade. Lay it on a clean towel or tarp.
  • Avoid placing your sleeping bag in direct sunlight as it can become damaged by UV rays.
  • Turn the sleeping bag over every couple of hours to allow the down to redistribute more evenly.
  • As the bag dries, pull apart the clumps of down to allow them to dry more quickly and to help the loft to return.
NOTE: If you hang dry your sleeping bag the down will clump at one end of the bag. If the bag has sewn-in baffles this won’t be too much of a problem as the down will clump inside each baffle. However, you will need to keep turning the bag to help prevent clumping and to help re-loft the down.

How to wash a polyester sleeping bag

Washing polyester or synthetic fill sleeping bags is a much more straightforward process than washing down sleeping bags.

  • Check the manufacturer’s instructions before washing.
  • Follow the above instructions for either machine washing or hand washing.
  • Instead of down wash you can use mild soap.
  • Dry in a tumble drier for around an hour, or hang up in a well ventilated area to dry naturally.

See, knowing how to wash a sleeping bag isn’t that complicated, right? Take your time, double check the manufacturer’s instructions and follow our advice. And if in doubt then you’ve always got a sleeping bag cleaning service as backup!

Happy cleaning, happy campers!

sleeping bag gear guide

About the author


Joey Holmes is based in Cornwall, UK, and runs Cool of the Wild. She can’t get enough of being outdoors – whether that’s lounging around the campfire cooking up a feast, hitting the trail in her running shoes, or attempting to conquer the waves on her surfboard – she lives for it. Camping is what she loves to do the most, but has also spent many hours clinging to the side of a rock face, cycling about the place, cruising the ski-slopes on her snowboard, and hiking small mountains and big hills.

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