OUTDOOR BASICS

How to Wash Down Sleeping Bag: Keep Down Fluffy and Warm

washing two sleeping bags
Jessica Bayne
Written by Jessica Bayne

When clothes, sheets, and towels get dirty they should be washed. Well the same goes for sleeping bags. Despite the mindset ‘my sleeping bag is only going to get dirty again, why should I wash it?’ Knowing how to wash down sleeping bag is part of proper sleeping bag maintenance.

Knowing how to wash down sleeping bags will help maintain the loft, or fluffiness, of the down feathers. When down gets plastered with dirt and grime it starts to lose its ability to keep individuals warm on chilly nights.

Therefore, properly washing down sleeping bags between hiking or camping trips will fluff them up, making sure you’ll be warm no matter what.

Instructions

Washing your sleeping bag will not be difficult, but it will take a good part of your day. There is only a couple of ways to properly wash a down sleeping bag without tearing the feathers, and both ways are simple. It’s not even necessary to wash your sleeping bag after each outing; although it’s recommended that you do so if you can.

Also, there is one guideline you should always follow: purchase a detergent specifically for washing down. Regular detergents, both powder and liquid, are too harsh for down feathers. Therefore, purchase a detergent specifically made for washing goose and duck down to prevent damaging your sleeping bag.

Use Front Loaded Machines At A Laundromat

Going to a laundromat can be an inconvenience. You need to have change to use the machines, and the entire process of washing your sleeping bag can take between four and six hours. However, laundromats have their advantages.

The washers and dryers at laundromats are bigger, which gives your sleeping bag more room to move around in while being washed and dried. Go to laundromats that have large capacity or commercial-sized front loading washing machines, because top loading washers can damage your sleeping bag.

woman putting sleeping bag in a washing machine

While washing a sleeping bag at the laundromat is easy, it is still important to follow the correct procedure to prevent tearing the down when it’s wet:

  1. Examine the washing machine before using it. Carefully run your hand over the interior to make sure previous users have not left behind foreign objects that could tear the fabric of your sleeping back. If you do find foreign objects, use another washing machine. Don’t risk cutting yourself trying to remove them yourself.
  2. Examine the detergent dispenser. Look to see if the dispenser has any detergent, fabric softener, or bleach residue in it. If it does clean it out or use a different machine. If you have enough change, and some extra time, you can run the machine without anything in it. This should wash out any leftover residue.
  3. Prep your sleeping bag. Don’t just throw your sleeping bag into the washer without taking the necessary precautions. Close all the zippers and fasten all the Velcro down. If your sleeping bag has a waterproof exterior shell, you can turn it inside out to give the down a deeper clean. However, if it does not have a waterproof exterior shell leave it alone.
  4. Prep the machine. Set the water temperature to warm, or as close to lukewarm as you can. Do not wash your sleeping bag with extremely hot or cold water.
  5. Wash the sleeping bag on a delicate cycle to prevent damaging the down.
  6. After the cycle is complete, repeat steps 3-5. You want to wash the sleeping bag again to make sure all the soap rinses out of the sleeping bag.

washing machine on delicate cycle

Using A Laundromat Dryer

Drying your sleeping bag is easy, but there are some important instructions you need to follow to make sure you do not damage the down. Make sure it is a front-loaded dryer, and then follow these steps:

  1. Examine the dryer. Do not use a dryer that has any bumps or cracks, or other issues, that could catch on the sleeping bag’s fabric, causing it to tear. If it does contain imperfections, find another dryer.
  2. Carefully transport the sleeping bag from the washer to the dryer. Make sure you support the entire sleeping bag with your hands, and arms if necessary. You can also use a cart if you don’t think you can support it properly. Either way, it’s necessary to make sure all the down feathers are supported. If they aren’t they could tear.
  3. Prep the dryer. Set the temperature to a low setting. Do not dry your sleeping bag on high heat.
  4. Dry the sleeping bag for 20 minutes.
  5. After 20 minutes, check your sleeping bag for clumps of down. Gently use your hand to break the clumps up. Do not pull too hard.
  6. Repeat steps four and five until the sleeping bag is completely dry. This process could take three or more hours. So only do this is if you have plenty of patience and time. Otherwise, you risk damaging the down.
  7. Another tip is to add a couple of clean tennis balls to the dryer. Tennis ball should break up clumps for you. However, first-time dryers should still check their sleeping bag every 20 minutes until they are familiar with the process, and are confident the tennis balls are doing their job.
  8. Once the sleeping bag is dry and you are ready to take it home, don’t stuff it back into a sack or bag. You want to take it home and spread it out for a few days. This way the sleeping bag will smell fresh and feel puffier, or fuller, the next time you use it. Even when you store it, avoid compressing it or squishing it down until your next camping or hiking trip.

drying sleeping bag with tennis balls

Using The Bathtub At Home

Washing your sleeping bag at a laundromat is probably easier and safer, but if you don’t have a lot of spare change, or you just don’t want to hang out all day at a laundromat, you can wash your sleeping bag at home. However, the sleeping bag must be washed by hand in the bathtub.

Most home washing machines are not big enough and are top loading washers, which can damage the down. Follow these steps to successfully wash down sleeping bags at home:

  1. Rinse and clean your bathtub. Don’t use soaps or anything that can leave residue. Just rinse it out to remove old dirt.
  2. Fill the bathtub up with lukewarm water. Do not use extremely hot or cold water.
  3. Add your down cleaner, not regular detergent, to the water and mix it around to evenly distribute it.
  4. Place your sleeping bag into the bathtub and gently submerge it. Do not scrub or rub your sleeping bag. Just let it soak.
  5. After soaking the sleeping bag for an hour, drain the water.
  6. Refill the bathtub, without removing the sleeping bag, with fresh lukewarm water.
  7. Start the process of removing all soap from your sleeping bag. To do this, gently massage the sleeping bag. Do not scrub, rub, or squeeze your bag. Just lightly push on the sleeping bag, or knead it with your fingers.
  8. Repeat steps six and seven until all the soap is gone. This could take a while, but it is important to get all the soap out of your sleeping bag.
  9. Drain the bathtub once your sleeping bag is soap free.
  10. Do not take the sleeping bag out right away. It will be water logged and taking it out when it is too heavy could tear the down. Instead gently push down on the sleeping bag to get all excess water out. Another way to remove excess water is to curl it into a cylinder, but only if you can do so without wringing or squeezing the sleeping bag.

washing down sleeping bag in bath tub

Drying Down Sleeping Bag At Home

There are only two options for drying your sleeping bag at home, which you must do. You will not be able to take your wet sleeping bag to a laundromat just to dry it, since a wet sleeping bag must be fully supported at all times. Your two drying options are: air dry or use a dryer.

Using A Dryer

Using a dryer at home is going to be the same as using a dryer at a laundromat.

  1. Make sure all the zippers and Velcro are properly fastened and gently place it into your front-loaded dryer.
  2. Dry the sleeping using a low-heat setting.
  3. Check on your sleeping bag every 20 minutes to break any clumps of down. Or use tennis balls to break the clumps.
  4. After it is finished drying, lay it out for a few days. Then store it in a place where it is not compressed or squished down.

sleeping bag in a dryer

Air Drying

Air Drying probably isn’t the best way to dry your sleeping bag. It will at least take a few days, and it must be placed in a great location to dry properly. You don’t want to dry it in a musty damp room, and you don’t want to dry it outside where the wet, fragile down is exposed to the elements. You also don’t want to dry it in a room where animals or kids could damage it.

Therefore, air drying your sleeping bag should only be done when you think your dryer is too small or the sleeping bag instructions says to air dry it. Make sure if air drying, you find a place where it can be fully supported and can dry without being disturbed.

air drying sleeping bag

Use A Professional Cleaner

Taking your sleeping bag to be cleaned by a professional will cost you more money than washing it yourself, but it is a good option for those who don’t have a lot of time or who are worried about damaging their sleeping bag by washing it themselves.

However, make sure you take your sleeping bag to a place that specializes in cleaning outdoor materials. Never take a sleeping bag especially if it has down, to a dry cleaner. Dry cleaner chemicals are way too harsh for sleeping bags. Here are a couple of other tips for finding a trustworthy professional cleaner:

  1. Read any customer reviews you can find. Customer reviews are one of the best ways to find trustworthy places.
  2. Ask questions. If you have any concerns about the types of detergents they use or how they dry sleeping bags just ask. Your sleeping bag is an investment. It’s ok to make sure it is being treated properly.

laundry machines in launderette store

Other Helpful Maintenance Tips

There are other ways to make your sleeping bag last longer; although, properly washing it does play a large part in keeping up with its maintenance. Here are some other simple ways you can preserve your down sleeping bag:

  • Repair a sleeping bag’s durable water repellent finish  Eventually, a sleeping bag’s DWR will start to wear off. Therefore, restoring the DWR when it starts to fade will help keep your bag cleaner. Products that restore DWRs are easy to find and don’t cost that much.
  • Check your sleeping bag for escaping feathers  Most down sleeping bags have liners or shells that prevent down feathers from escaping. However, sharp feather quill occasionally poke through the liner. This happens often in new sleeping bags where the down hasn’t settled down and isn’t a cause for concern. Just gently put the feathers back inside, by pulling on them from the opposite side. When this happens, the holes should be small and should not need any further repair.
  • Repair large holes and broken zippers – If a hole appears in your sleeping bag while camping, you should stich the hole together if possible. It is always a good idea to bring a repair kit. If you have a sewing machine at home, you can redo the stitching to make it stronger. You can also use adhesive gear-repair tape to patch a hole as well.
  • Store your sleeping bag in a mesh storage sack or a large pillowcase – As previously mentioned, compressing your sleeping bag in storage isn’t the best idea. It can decrease the bag’s lifespan and could cause condensation to build up, which could cause mildew to grow.
  • When camping, keep your sleeping bag clean – Sleep in clean clothes, use a sleeping bag liner, put a pad underneath the sleeping bag, and air out your sleeping bag when possible. Also, try not to lend your sleeping bag to friends, because they probably won’t take care of it as well as you do.

Give Down Sleeping Bags A Long Life

No one wants to sleep in a sleeping bag that is cold and dirty. Therefore, properly cleaning a down sleeping bag has many benefits. Properly washing and drying your sleeping bag will maintain the down, keeping the feathers fluffy and smelling great.

man sleeping in a down bag with big cushion

It’s always nice climbing into a warm, clean sleeping bag after a long day of hiking. With the proper maintenance, your sleeping bag will keep you warm on many chilly nights during its long life-span.

Please share any washing or drying tips for down sleeping bags you would like to share with other readers in the comments 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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