OUTDOOR BASICS

How to Clean a Sleeping Bag: Avoid Unpleasant Surprises

washing two sleeping bags
Jessica Bayne
Written by Jessica Bayne

Nowadays we live in a world full of problems and we are seeking a chance to escape from our daily routine. Camping is probably the best way to disconnect, relax and maximize your opportunities for adventure away from the chores of daily life (work, school, business).

A camping trip does not have to take up more than a week, although you should pack all necessary supplies and the right sleeping gear. When we sleep well, we wake up feeling refreshed and full of energy.

That’s why a comfortable and clean sleeping bag is of vital importance in order to let our body repair and restore itself and keep us warm during cold camping nights. Most people already have sleeping bags, but they’ve forgotten or are unaware of the importance of keeping them clean.

sleeping bag in a washing machine

This article will discuss the importance of a clean sleeping bag because a dirty one will not only make you feel uncomfortable, but it could also lead to severe health problems. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to clean your sleeping bag, either while you’re home or out in the nature.

Furthermore, this article will analyze the reasons you should clean your sleeping bag on a regular basis. Some tables are also provided to help you to memorize the details of the cleaning ways.

Sleeping with Bacteria and other Health Hazards

Despite the fact that we are spending a third of our lives sleeping, many of us do not pay attention to the right maintenance of our bags. Sleeping out under the stars, breathing fresh, the campfire and the opportunity to spend time with your family and friends- what is not to love?

camping under the stars

Camping is an outdoor activity that involves much action. Obviously, you are going to get dirty, so as your gear. Most camping gear is made of synthetic materials which are the perfect surfaces and ideal habitats for dust mites, pathogenic germs and mold. Not to mention the insects (creepy crawlies) that could carry many diseases.

Ticks

Insects are hard to avoid in nature, especially if you want to sleep out under the stars, so there are big possibilities that you get infected. Moreover, some of you may have noticed small red bites on your skin. This is a classic sign of ticks, which can transmit a severe disease called Lyme disease, also known as Lyme Borreliosis.

Symptoms include fever, headaches, stiffness and swelling of the joints, bull’s-eye patterned rash, and muscle pain. But you do not have to be bitten by a tick directly to get infected.

bull’s-eye patterned rash symptom

The disease could be transmitted to an animal like a squirrel.  Fortunately this can be prevented by washing your bag to eliminate any fleas that may be dwelling there.

Dust mites

These are microscopic health threats. Just thinking of these creatures living in your padded stuff should be enough to make you sick. They are commonly found in mattresses and everything that is padded.

dust mites on a mattress

These insects can cause allergies and have been proven to trigger asthma. Lying on a dust mite0infected surface can cause skin problems, which can greatly affect the quality of your camping experience.

Odors

After a long camping trip you may be exhausted and tired. The only thing you want to do is to crawl in your bag and sleep. Keep in mind that crawling into the bag wearing the same clothes you hiked in is a really bad idea. The materials could absorb all that odors.

man and woman in their sleeping bags

Dirt, sweat, mud, body oils and grime could build up and make the bag smell awful and moldy. If you want to expand your bags life and save money, the only thing you have to do is washing it properly.

Cleaning after our Camping Trip

Most sleeping bags come with their own cleaning instruction, but I will give you some more effective ways. With these care and washing tips, you can make sure that your bag will last longer.

Hand-Washing

First of all, I would like to mention that this method is highly recommended for all materials.

  1. Fill your bath with cold water and 75g – 90g laundry soap
  2. Add a little cup of laundry fabric softener
  3. Open all zippers
  4. Stir the water and put in your unzipped sleeping bag
  5. Try to sink it into the water and make sure that it is as flat as possible
  6. Use your hands to create the washing action. Another funny way is to use your feet! Step into the tub with bare feet and walk up and down the bag
  7. Leave it for about 20 minutes in the water to soak
  8. Drain the water from the bathtub and fill it with fresh cold water
  9. Ensure that all soap is removed. You may have to refill the bath more than five times in order to get rid of all the soap.
  10. Now, roll your bag into a cylinder and try to squeeze out the water
  11. Do this more than three times
  12. At last, you have to dry your bag. (The drying methods will be analyzed after the second section)

drying a sleeping bag

Spot cleaning is also an option, if notice just a few spots on the shell. Simply make a paste-mixture of soap and water and use a toothbrush to clean the surface. Wipe away with a damp rag to completely eliminate the mixture and allow to air dry.

Launderette

Maybe you do not have enough time or your sleeping bag requires to be cleaned professionally, so bypassing all the steps above you could just go to a launderette store.

laundry machines in launderette store

Several laundry stores have a pickup service so you do not have to wait around for them to finish. This method is a bit more costly, but you can ensure that you’ll have a clean sleeping bag at the end of the day.

Machine-Washing

Maybe that is the easiest way to wash. Keep in mind that a top loader washing machine is not a good choice, because the agitation could ruin the insulation.

Attention! Check the label and see if it is machine wash friendly. Once you’ve determined if your bag is washing machine friendly, turn your bag inside out and put it into the washing machine.

Washing Cycle

An appropriate wash cycle is necessary in order to avoid the stuffing to lump together. Sleeping bags are made of delicate materials that should be washed only with cold water. Hot water can damage the bag completely or even melt the outer shell.

woman putting sleeping bag in a washing machine

The delicate-handwash cycle is the most appropriate cycle, because it is designed to mimic the hand wash way and is less abrasive especially for items that require a light ‘’touch’’. The cycle treats the bag sustainably, meaning that the wash cycle uses a slow or lesser degree of agitation and the spin cycle uses a slow spin to extract water.

Timer

Now you’ve picked the cycle, but what about the time? A 30-40 minute washing time is absolutely capable. On some machines, the numbers are replaced with super heavy, heavy, normal and light signs. Keep in mind that the ‘’light’’ sign is considered 35-40 minutes or below. Strictly avoid the super heavy, heavy and normal signs.

Temperature

Most washing machines generally give us the option to select a temperature, so you should select one that is appropriate for the material of your sleeping bag. The laundering instructions should state the temperature it is safe to wash your bag in.

adjusting the temperature on a washing machine

Depending on how filthy your bag is, choose the right temperature but certainly avoid the hot selection. Hot water can cause your bag to shrink or melt especially synthetic bags. Cooler water will prevent fading in several types of dyes and fabrics.  Not to mention the fact that this way could help you to save energy! Do not forget to use gentle detergents formulated specifically for cold water.

MaterialHand WashMachine WashTemperatureFabric Softener
Cotton bag15°-40°One cup
 NylonXRoom TemperatureX
Synthetic40°X
LinenXRoom TemperatureX
Polyester30°Should be avoided
Mixed materials or spandex 15°15-20 ml maximum

Drying

The goal is to dry the sleeping bag completely. If you have used the washing machine, you can prime your clothes to dry more quickly. Additionally, you can use a high spin setting. Choose a sunny day to wash your bag and make sure that it is not wet before putting it in the storing package. There are two ways to dry your bag on your own.

Hang drying method

Hang drying is the best method for sturdy items, cottons, polyesters and linen. You can hang it unzipped on a washing line or a horse dryer. If you want to dry your bag much quicker, you could put your wet zipped sleeping bag in a big towel to absorb moisture.

drying a sleeping bag

Leave it for about 40 minutes and then hang it on the horse dryer. Never store a wet sleeping bag. If you have decided to wash it, try to select a sunny day. It has been proven that sunlight kills dust mites, but there is also the fact that direct sunlight will cause the colors of your sleeping bag to fade. You should carefully weigh the options to determine what is best for you.

Dryer

A dryer is a powered household appliance which could help us to dry our bag quicker. Most sleeping bags are a bit large, and you might not have enough space in your home to hang dry. So if the bag does not dry completely, it could smell a little moldy.

sleeping bag in a dryer

Living in rainy and humid countries could make the situation worse. So why do not we use a dryer? You have to be careful with the dryer. Set the dryer on low heat and use a delicate cycle to maintain the integrity of your sleeping bag.

Sleeping Bag Liners to Keep Bags Clean

Sleeping bag liners are not expensive and they keep our bag clean. Not to mention that they could add valuable degrees of warmth (+ 10°C).  According to the climate you plan to camp, you should choose the right material. There are cotton, silk, synthetic and fleece liners. At the end of each camping trip, simply wash the liner.

  • Silk – Silk liners are more breathable so they should be used during the summer. They are suitable to keep our body dry and cool and can help us relax, as it feels really nice on the skin.
  • Fleece – Fleece fabric is the perfect choice if you’re looking for something durable, soft and eco-friendly. It is very strong, holds warmth and dries quickly. It is warm and comfortable, and highly breathable. People who are allergic to wool can use fleece instead of that. Make sure that you are not close to the campfire because fleece is extremely flammable.
  • Cotton – Cotton is a natural hypoallergenic fibre and does not contain chemicals. This material allows air circulation that discourages fungi from growing in the sleeping bag and offers a high level of ventilation. Cotton liners can easily absorb body moisture and are durable and strong. Although cotton has poor elasticity and can shrink after washing it.

orange sleeping bag liner on the snow

Conclusion

The majority of sleeping bag users sleep in their bag many times before washing it, despite the obvious threats that they are exposed to when backpacking or hiking (mud, perspiration, spilt drinks, insects). A well-maintained sleeping bag can help to solve hygiene issues.

Once you have to wash it, make sure that it is thoroughly dry before storing it. A stored sleeping bag that is wet tends to develop a moldy environment, causing an awful smell. In this case you have to wash it again.

Cleaning our sleeping is a time consuming procedure that could be avoided by using liners. Once you’ve washed it, put on the liners and you will appreciate the fact that they are removable. Keep in mind that there is no need to wash your sleeping bag after every camping trip.

How to Clean a Sleeping Bag

When it comes to camping, it is not all about the camping gear. When all hygiene issues are solved, you will be free to enjoy the trip. Spending time with our family and friends, away from TV, mobile phones and the daily anxious problems and sitting around a campfire or hiking through the woods are more valuable than you can ever imagine.

Do you have any helpful tips for keeping sleeping bags clean? Please share your stories with us in the comments section below.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jessica Bayne
Jessica Bayne

Jessica believes that the only things you need to explore the world are a good backpack and a bit of courage to make the first steps. She also loves the beauty of a sunset seen from the mountaintop and the delicious flavor of a meal prepped over the camping fire. Ready to start a new adventure at any given time, Jessica knows how to be prepared for any situation and understands how important is to find the right gear. She also knows a lot about the type of gear to have and how to choose the products you actually need.

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