So, you’ve got yourself a brand new sleeping bag, but have a few questions about how to take care of it. For instance, should you wash it before you use it? Is it okay to put a sleeping bag in a dryer? Also, is it even okay to wash a sleeping bag in a washer? All of these questions and more will be answered in this article.
You can wash your sleeping bag on delicate wash cycles with front loading washing machines or with top-loading washing machines without an agitator. However, your sleeping bag R-Value will decrease over time as you wash the sleeping bag. Down sleeping bags require special detergents and other treatment to prevent damage.
Can You Wash Your Sleeping Bag Or Will It Ruin it?
You can wash your sleeping bag, but just know that your sleeping bag insulation will reduce in effectiveness the more it’s washed. Many synthetic fills can lose up to 30% of their warmth retention after 40 washes.
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It seems like you should just be able to put your sleeping bag in the washer–it’s fabric, what could go wrong?
Well, a lot.
An incredible study performed by the US Military showed that depending on the type of insulation, you may lose over 30% of the R-value (insulation) over the course of 40 washing and drying cycles.
|Fabric Type||Difference In R Value after 40 Washes|
|Thinsulate M200 (100% Polyester More Info)||-27%|
|Thinsulate CS150 (65% Olefin, 35% Polyester More Info)||-36%|
|PolarGuard (100% polyester)||-21%|
|Hollofill (100% polyester)||-30%|
It’s commonly believed that synthetic sleeping bags can be washed with no effects, but from this study you can see that the process of washing and drying your sleeping bag can decrease how warm it keeps you over time.
One note, from these data, the down insulation actually broke apart due to the laundry detergent that was used and it’s thought that the broken feathers actually broke apart and clumped up to create additional air pockets (increasing the R value).
To avoid deteriorating the softness of your down insulation, do not use standard laundry detergent.
Which Detergent For Down?
Feathers/down are sensitive insulation and can deteriorate and break apart when using standard laundry detergent. For that reason, if your sleeping bag is using down as its insulation, you should use a detergent designed for down/feather insulation.
Here are a couple of the more popular options on Amazon:
Is it Okay to Put Your Sleeping Bag in a Dryer
You can put your sleeping bag in the dryer and in fact it can help increase insulation loft for your wet sleeping bag. Just make sure to follow the labels recommended drying instructions. Also, a lot of people use a few tennis balls when drying down sleeping bags in order to work the clumps out. Just know that this can also break apart the down itself, which can impact the down sleeping bags comfort and warmth retention.
Also, I personally don’t like to completely dry my sleeping bags in the dryer. I prefer to dry them about 75% in the dryer, then let them air dry outside or in the garage until completely dry. The total drying time usually takes about 6-24 hours depending on what drying cycle you use and how humid it is, etc.
How Often Should You Wash a Sleeping Bag
Washing your sleeping bag decreases its ability to keep you warm, so you should wash it only as needed. How often you wash your sleeping bag, really depends on how often you use it.
One thing is for sure though, unless you just want to, you don’t have to wash it after every use. In fact, some of my friends haven’t washed theirs in years.
Unless my sleeping bag gets wet, or just downright disgusting, I usually only wash mine once at the end of the camping season. Keep in mind that there is such a thing as washing a sleeping bag too much! If you throw it in the wash after every time you use it, you risk damaging the fabric, not to mention decrease the R-value.
What Type of Soap Should You Use
Avoid using heavy detergent soaps like Tide and Gain when washing sleeping bags, especially bags made with down! For down bags, your best bet is Nikwax Down Wash and for synthetic bags, a mild detergent like Woolite should do the trick. You can find Nixwax here on Amazon.
If you are in a pinch some people will use dish soap. If you decide to go this route, make sure not to overdo it, as you may come back to a laundry room full of suds.
Is Spot Cleaning a Sleeping Bag Sufficient?
If all your sleeping bag has is a little dirt and grime on the outside of it, then spot cleaning will do until you can get around to giving it a proper cleaning. However, if you’ve spent countless nights sweating up a storm, or if it’s been exposed to moisture, then spot cleaning is not going to do too much for it.
Most sleeping bags these days are made with some type of waterproof coating, so chances are that any stains didn’t make it past the surface. In most cases, a little warm water and a rag/sponge is all that you’ll need to remove any stains. If that doesn’t work, just use a little bit of whatever type of soap that you have handy. When using soap, remember to get it all off the bag before you dry your bag.
How to Wash a Sleeping Bag
Choose Your Soap
Washing a down sleeping bag is a little bit different than washing a synthetic bag. First, you really need to use Nixwax or some other type of soap for washing down. However, before you wash any bag, make sure to read the manufacturer’s suggested washing instructions, because if you use something you’re not supposed to, it can void the warranty.
Washing a synthetic bag in the washer is not much different than washing a down bag. The biggest difference is that you don’t need to use Nixwax.
Unless otherwise stated by the label, you’ll want to wash the bag in cool/warm water on a gentle setting. Before you place the sleeping bag in the washer, make sure that it’s turned inside out with the zippers zipped up. It’s also a good idea to check your washer, making sure that there isn’t any residual detergent left behind.
Also, while it’s always best to hang out your sleeping bag to let it air dry, it’s a good idea to run it in the dryer for at least 45 min or so on a low-heat setting. After that time has passed, open up the dryer and toss in a few tennis balls or clean tennis shoes. The tennis balls/sneakers will work out any clumps that may have formed during the washing cycle. Once done, hang out the bag until it’s completely dry. You still might have to work out the clumps by hand, as the tennis balls sometimes don’t get all of them out.
How To Handwash
You can also handwash your bag in the bathtub if you like. However, this is a lot of work and I wouldn’t recommend it unless you have no other option. If this is the route that you decide to take, simply fill your tub with warm water, pour the soap in, mix around, and let the sleeping bag soak for about an hour. Next, you’ll want to gently massage the bag to give it an all-around good cleaning. Finally, drain the soapy water and fill with clean water to rinse out all the soap. Repeat the rinsing until all the soap is gone.
Lastly, you’ll need to dry your bag! To start, ring out the bag as best as you can. Take the bag outside and spread out on a clean tarp and let it air dry in the sun for an hour or so. Once the bag is about 75% dry, place it in the dryer and follow the instruction listed above.
This handwashing process can also be used for synthetic bags as well.
Should You Wash Your Sleeping Bag Before You Use It
Whether or not you wash your sleeping bag before you use it is really a matter of preference. If you’re the type of person who likes to wash their new clothes before wearing them for the first time, then I say wash it. If you really don’t care one way or the other, then don’t.
Keep in mind if you do decide to wash it, don’t wait until the last minute right before your camping trip. The whole process of washing and drying a sleeping bag can 24 hours or even longer.
Also, many sleeping bags lose their heat retention after the first wash. I’d personally only wash your sleeping bag if you can’t stand the smell. Another way to get past this is to unzip the sleeping bag and let it air out for 24 hours to get out some of the new sleeping bag smell… or, you can just sleep in the bag and overtime the new sleeping bag smell will go away.
Why You Should Never Dry Clean a Sleeping Bag
Most dry cleaning companies are not equipped to care for sleeping bags, especially down bags. However, there are a few cleaning services that specialize in it, including the one that REI uses called Rainy Pass. The process is pretty simple! You download and fill out a form and send off your bag(s).
If you don’t have a front-loading washer or if your washer isn’t big enough, you could always go to your nearest laundromat. Just make sure to bring your own soap, as they definitely won’t have any Nixwax in their soap dispensers. (if you have a down bag)
How Often Should You Reapply The DWR
Most sleeping bags come pretreated with a water repellent known as DWR (durable water repellent). However through regular use, weather, and washing, it can wear off and will need to be reapplied for maximum waterproofing. If you start to notice that after getting wet, water no longer beads off the surface of your bag, then it may be time to re-apply. I personally like to re-treat my bag every couple of years regardless if it needs it or not. For re-treating your bag, I once again suggest that you use Nixwax.
Will a Sleeping Bag Liner Help to Keep Your Bag Clean
While a sleeping bag liner won’t do any good in keeping the outside of your sleeping bag clean, it can help keep the inside of your bag clean. Think of it as one big piece of underwear that you’re placing over your underwear. A liner will place a protective barrier between you and your sleeping bag, reducing the chance of sweat, moisture, and other nasty things from getting all over your bag. A liner can also provide an extra layer of warmth when camping in the cold. Sleeping bag liners come in all shapes and sizes, so choosing one that best fits your needs shouldn’t be a problem.
How to Properly Store Your Bag After Each Use
To help keep your bag in top notch shape, I recommend that you wash it after what you think will be your last camping trip for the year. After it is completely dry, store it in a dry place, preferably in your house somewhere, where it will be less likely to be exposed to moisture, which could give it a musty smell.
When it comes to washing your sleeping bags, there really needs to be a happy medium. While you probably don’t need to wash it after each camping trip (unless you’re rolling around in the mud), I do recommend that you don’t wait several years before you introduce it to Mr. Maytag. Like I said before, I like to wash mine about once a year. This keeps my bag nice and fresh and it has yet to wear down (no pun intended) the down or wipe clear the DWR waterproofing.
If you have any thought or tips that you would like to add, please share them with us in the comment sections below.