Can You Wash A Sleeping Bag With A Top-Loading Washing Machine?

Is it really such a bad thing to wash a sleeping bag in a top-loading washing machine? You’re in the right place to find out!

It is possible to wash a sleeping bag with a top-loading washing machine but you must remove the agitator in the machine to avoid causing damage to the sleeping bag. If you want to be as safe as possible, using a front-loading washing machine is your best bet.

You may be wondering why there is a need to remove the agitator. Why is it that everywhere you look, people say not to use a top-loading washing machine, but don’t quite explain why?

By the way, as an Amazon Associate, I earn when buying qualified products through links on my site.

Well, you’re right where you should be. Carry on and you’ll learn exactly why many campers are wary of top-loading sleeping bags and what your options are for getting your sleeping bag clean.

Can You Wash A Sleeping Bag In A Top-Loading Washer?

Yes, you absolutely can wash your sleeping bag in a top-loading washing machine, but you must modify the washing machine slightly and temporarily.

If you’ve ever found yourself scouring the internet for tips on how to clean your sleeping bag, there’s one tip you may have seen just about everywhere you look. That tip is to avoid cleaning your sleeping bag in a top-loading washing machine.

Perhaps it’s sound advice, but why? Not many places actually discuss the reasons you shouldn’t use a top-loading washing machine. They simply say not to.

Meanwhile, we at Decide Outside feel that if you know the reasons behind these suggestions, you can make better decisions about taking care of your sleeping bag.

So, why shouldn’t you use a top-loading washing machine to wash your sleeping bag with? In short, you can. It likely will get your sleeping bag clean. However, the motion of the machine in combination with the use of the agitator located in the center can create more risks for your sleeping bag. It may well end up tangled or even ripped as it gets washed. If you’re someone who has spent $100 or more on your sleeping bag, you probably want to avoid that scenario.

Meanwhile, front-loading washing machines don’t have that agitator. There’s more room for the sleeping bag to move and be washed safely. When in a pinch, you can also opt to remove the agitator from your washing machine. However, you will want to make sure you know how to do it safely. This video from Appliance Parts Pros can help you get the job done in no time.

How To: Whirlpool/KitchenAid/Maytag Agitator Assembly WP3951744

In sum, if you want to wash your sleeping bag in a top loading washer, you should:

  • Remove the agitator so your sleeping bag doesn’t get twisted excessively
  • Thoroughly rinse out the sleeping bag if you use any detergent (perhaps 2-3 extra rinse cycles)
  • NOT USE REGULAR DETERGENT if your bag is a down sleeping bag (has a feather filling)
    • To be on the safe side there are detergents that are specifically made for down such as from Gear-Aid (see on Amazon)
    • Use tennis balls (or yarn balls) in the dryer to break up any clumps of down that occur when the bag gets wet. (we actually keep yarn balls in our dryer all the time to reduce static clinginess)

When You Shouldn’t Wash Your Sleeping Bag

Sleeping bags are considered to be different from normal bedding. While you might wash your bed sheets every couple of weeks or so, your sleeping bag should only be washed about once a year. The only exception to that is if your sleeping bag accidentally gets very dirty or wet.

The reason for this is that washing a sleeping bag can result in less loft within the bag’s filling. If the loft deflates and gets too low, then you may have to either replace the filling or buy a new bag. This is especially true for sleeping bags that are filled with down.

Loft is the air gaps in the insulation. Down is particularly sensitive to moisture and is known to lose its loft over time.

In the vast majority of cases, you can easily spot clean a sleeping bag to keep it in good shape. By using a damp (but not soaked) rag and a very mild soap, you can clean away any dirty spots on the outside of the bag. After that, just let it dry and your bag will be good to go.

If your sleeping bag gets wet for any reason, especially if the wetness is beyond a small water spill, there’s a good chance it may need to be washed. Consider what substance got the sleeping bag wet. If it’s only a small portion and that substance is water, you can try simply drying out the bag.

However, if you suspect the filling has become soaked, it’s a good idea to thoroughly wash and dry the bag to avoid problems with rot, mold, or mildew.

How Often Should I Wash My Sleeping Bag?

Really you should only wash your sleeping bag if there’s an issue–washing as little as possible will ensure it’s longevity. That being said, if you’re using it often, you shouldn’t wash the bag more than 2-3 times a year.

For more details of when you need to wash your sleeping bag, check out our article, here, which goes into more detail.

Alternatives To Washing A Sleeping Bag In A Washer

If you’d rather not spend the money or take the risk of washing your sleeping bag in a washing machine, there are other options! Depending on what’s ailing your sleeping bag, you can wash it by hand, replace the filling, or simply get a new bag altogether.

In the end, the choice is all yours!

Opt For Hand-Washing

Your first, and least-costly option is washing your sleeping bag by hand. Depending on how you do this, it can be somewhat labor-intensive. However, it does also allow you to make sure the cleaning is gentle. Not to mention the fact that it costs less than many other options.

Before you get started, you’ll want to take a look at the condition of your sleeping bag. Is it just dirty on the covering, or has the filling been soaked through? If the problem is the covering, then you can use an easier method of wiping down the covering with a very gentle cleanser and a damp sponge or cloth. Then, make sure the sleeping bag is able to dry completely.

On the other hand, if the sleeping bag has been soaked through you’ll have to do a bit more work. Hand washing your sleeping bag in your bathtub can be a bit more effort, but it ensures more thorough cleaning. Instructables offers a great step-by-step guide for those who need to clean a bag in the bathtub.

Go To A Professional Cleaner

If you’ve tried cleaning your sleeping bag by hand and/or in a washing machine and it still has an odd odor to it or just doesn’t really seem to be clean, you may need to turn to a professional cleaning service. It may be a bit more costly, but if it can save you from having to dish out $100 or more on a new sleeping bag, it’s probably worth it.

When you’re looking for a professional service to use, it’s wise to look for options that are specific to sleeping bags. At the very least, the place should have experience cleaning sleeping bags.

This is because certain kinds of cleaning, like dry cleaning, can damage the loft more than other methods. Additionally, this is also why it’s a good idea to only use professional cleaning services if absolutely necessary.

Replace Or Mend

In some cases, no amount of cleaning may be enough to save your sleeping bag. For example, if you have a down sleeping bag and the filling becomes wet and begins to rot, you won’t be able to simply wash that rot away.

One of the biggest giveaways that will help you to know when your filling is starting to rot is the smell. Sleeping bags can begin to smell if they’ve gotten too wet or gone too long without being washed. To learn more about what to do if you have a stinky sleeping bag, take a look at our article here.

That said, you do have options you can make use of before having to replace your sleeping bag completely. Down filling can be replaced, and often at a much lower cost than a brand new bag.

All you have to do is open up a few of the seams, remove the rotting down, add in new down and sew it back up. It might seem like a lot of work, but when good sleeping bags tend to be a bit costly it can certainly be worth the effort to save some cash.

If you are replacing the down in your sleeping bag make sure and match the fill power. Your sleeping bag usually has an advertised fill power that is just a number. For example, Nemo’s Disco bag (on REI) advertises a 650 fill-power down. That means that if you replace the down you should use 650-fill or higher if you want the same (or better) performance. The higher the fill power the higher the performance (and cost).

Here’s an example of what buying down filling yourself looks like (bulk on Amazon).

Buy A New Bag

When all else fails, a new sleeping bag might be the only solution. Campers who spend the extra money on a high-quality sleeping bag might not enjoy this solution, but sometimes there’s just nothing else left. The good news is that with a brand new sleeping bag, you can get a fresh start at making sure the bag stays in good shape.

Prevention is your best friend when it comes to making your sleeping bag last as long as possible. Avoid getting it wet at all costs, and be careful to keep the filling as fluffy and comfortable as possible.

When you take care of a quality sleeping bag, it can last for quite a while. If you’re curious about the lifespan of a sleeping bag and how you can get yours to last as long as possible, take a look at our article on the topic here.


Peter is a software developer who loves to take every opportunity to go outside that he can get. Peter grew up going on long backpacking excursions with his family every Summer and now enjoys staying at the beautiful Texas State Parks and swimming in the amazing Texas Rivers.

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