Washing your down sleeping bag is crucial for your health and for prolonging its life. This article will offer you full instructions on how to wash a down sleeping bag.
Knowing how to wash a down sleeping bag will help maintain the loft, or fluffiness, of the down feathers. A dirty down sleeping bag starts to lose its ability to keep individuals warm on chilly nights.
If you want to make sure you pick the right down sleeping bag, I can help you make a decision, just read our article Duck Down vs Goose Down: The Better Insulator, to get an idea which one is best for you.
Properly washing a down sleeping bag between hiking or camping trips will fluff them up, making sure you’ll be warm no matter what, on your next trips. So here are the instructions you need.
Instructions on How to Wash a Down Sleeping Bag
Washing your sleeping bag is not difficult, but it takes a lot of time. 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, much safer this way.
Important note: purchase a detergent specifically made for washing down, goose or duck, to prevent damaging your sleeping bag. Regular detergents, both powder and liquid, are too harsh for down feathers.
Use Front Loaded Machines at the Laundromat
Going to a laundromat can be an inconvenience. Besides needing change to use the machines, the entire process of washing your sleeping bag can take between four and six hours.
They also have advantages, especially size-wise, as they are bigger, both washers and dryers. This gives your sleeping bag more room to move inside keeping the down not crammed up.
Important note: Pick laundromats that have large capacity or commercial-sized front loading washing machines, because top loading washers can damage your sleeping bag.
While washing a sleeping bag at the laundromat seems 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, because chemicals that aren’t made to wash down, can damage your sleeping bag.
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. Delicate cycle
Wash the sleeping bag on a delicate cycle to prevent damaging the down. The rotations of this cycle are much more gentle on the fabric and the down.
6. Repeat steps 3-5
You want to wash the sleeping bag again to make sure all the soap rinses out of the sleeping bag.
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.
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 6-7 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.
Use A Professional Cleaner
Taking your sleeping bag to be cleaned by a professional will cost you more money than washing it yourself. It’s 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 regular 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.
Drying a Down Sleeping Bag
There are only three options for drying your sleeping bag. The laundromat option should only be done if you already washed your down sleeping bag at a laundromat.
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. So first option is only if you’re already there.
Using A Laundromat Dryer
Drying your sleeping bag at the laundromat 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 have 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.
Set the temperature to a low setting. Do not dry your sleeping bag on high heat.
The sleeping bag should dry for only 20 minutes. 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.
Drying tip: 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.
4. Repeat step 3
Repeat the drying step until the sleeping bag is completely dry. This process could take three or more hours, as it should only be done 20 minutes at a time, gently breaking the clumps, and repeat.
Only do this is if you have plenty of patience and time. Otherwise, you risk damaging the down. So be gentle.
5. Putting away the down sleeping bag
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.
Using A Dryer at home
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 bag 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.
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. So, air drying your sleeping bag should only be done if 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.
Other Helpful Maintenance Tips for Your Down Sleeping Bag
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. Make sure you buy the right ones.
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 stitch 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.
To find out how to repair zippers to extend the life of your gear, check out our DIY instructions in my previous article.
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.
Being stored in a more aired place, with more room to “breath” it will prevent all that.
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.
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.
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.
To find out how to choose the best synthetic sleeping bag, check out our article on this important topic.
Please share any washing or drying tips for down sleeping bags you would like to share with other readers in the comments below.
Daniel is a gear freak when it comes to hiking, climbing and camping. He went to REI Outdoor School to meet new people and learn best practices. Don’t even try to argue with him about the latest backpack or ice axe, he tried most of them. Daniel’s dream is to climb Mount Everest.