Your brand new down sleeping bag just made it through a week-long camping trip and although it started out all shiny and new, it’s now covered in dirt and smells like stinky feet.
You want to wash it but don’t know how.
You’re not even sure if you should wash it or just set it out to air dry. If you’re wondering how to wash a down sleeping bag, you’re not alone, and we’re here to help.
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Thankfully, washing a down sleeping bag is surprisingly simple. You can choose to wash your down sleeping bag by hand or you can use a regular washing machine to get the job done with minimal effort.
What’s important, though is to make sure you’re following the manufacturer’s specifications to make sure you don’t do anything that could affect your sleeping bag’s performance.
Instructions: How to Wash a Down Sleeping Bag
Yes! Someone somewhere started a rumor that you can’t put a down sleeping bag (or other down garments) into a washing machine, but we’re happy to tell you that’s just not the case.
Contrary to popular belief, washing a sleeping bag is really important because it helps ensure your down retains its loft and warmth over time.
Make sure to take note of any specific washing or drying settings you should use and follow these directions religiously. If your bag says it can’t be washed in a machine, BELIEVE IT
1. Read Your Manufacturer’s Instructions and Labels
If for some reason, the label tells you to only hand wash your sleeping bag or to air dry it, you’re better off listening to the manufacturer, who generally knows what’s best for their gear.
2. Find Yourself a Large Front-Loading Washing Machine
Larger machines are best for sleeping bags because they have the space necessary to clean really puffy objects. Smaller machines can damage your bags or rip them open because they’re packed too tightly.
Front loading machines, in particular, tend to be a bit more gentle when they handle sensitive gear than the top loading variety is, so they’re a safer bet for washing your down sleeping bag.
You can use a top loader if you are able to remove the agitator. The agitator will rip your sleeping bag. If you want more details on top-loading washing machines and sleeping bags make sure and check out this article, here.
3. Turn Your Sleeping Bag Inside Out
Before you put your sleeping bag in the washing machine, turn it inside out and zip it up. This will help ensure that the inside of the sleeping bag (which probably smells more like stinky hiker than the outside) gets nice and clean. Zipping up the bag also helps reduce the risk that your sleeping bag will get caught on something in the washing machine and rip.
4. Use Down-Specific Laundry Detergent
Then, you’ll want to get your down-specific laundry detergent (more on that later) and pour it into the machine, according to the manufacturer’s specifications. Place your washing machine on the correct temperature setting, using the manufacturer’s specifications on the sleeping bag label as guidance. If there is no guidance, use cold water.
Usually, you want to use the gentle or delicate setting on your washing machine for down sleeping bags.
5. Wash Until There’s No Suds
Once the washing machine cycle is finished, open up the door and check to see if your sleeping bag still has suds in it. Although this is a rare occurrence, if this does happen to you, you’ll want to run your sleeping bag through another wash cycle, but this time without soap.
6. Dry Out Your Sleeping Bag
As soon as your sleeping bag is washed and cleaned, it’s time to dry it out. It’s very important that you don’t let your sleeping bag sit inside your washing machine for too long, as you don’t want it to grow mold or mildew, as that smell and fabric damage will stay with the bag forever.
You really have two options for drying your sleeping bag
Sun It Out
You can always air dry your sleeping bag–just make sure that you put it in a place with lots of airflow. Sunlight isn’t the worst if you don’t forget to leave it for days in direct sunlight.
Contrary to popular belief, one can, indeed, dry a down sleeping bag inside a drying machine, it just takes some extra thoughtfulness to be successful.
Before you toss your down sleeping bag into a drying machine, you’ll want to make sure you have at least 3-4 dryer balls to help get the clumps out. while tennis balls will do in a pinch, I prefer the dryer balls that come with Grangers 2 in 1 cleaning kit.
Once the sleeping bag is nearly dry, toss those tennis balls in and let them fluff up the feathers. Voila! You now have a nice, clean fluffy sleeping bag, ready for your next adventure.
Putting dryer balls into a dryer, alongside your sleeping bag, will help fluff up the down and break down any clumps that may have formed, which would negatively impact your bag’s performance.
So, to dry a down sleeping bag in a dryer, you’ll want to set the dryer on tumble dry low, as high heat can destroy the down feathers in the sleeping bag. Sure, this will take much longer than zapping your bag with 100+ degree heat, but it’s worth the wait.
DO NOT USE MEDIUM OR HIGH HEAT ON YOUR DOWN SLEEPING BAG.
How to Hand Wash a Down Sleeping Bag
If all your sleeping bag needs is a spot clean and not a full washing machine experience, you might be better off just hand washing it. Hand washing a sleeping bag to get rid of specific spots of dirt and grime helps keep your bag clean without increasing wear and tear on the materials.
To hand wash your sleeping bag:
- Put a small amount of down-specific soap onto a toothbrush or cloth
- Hold the shell fabric away from the down insulation, so you can wash and rinse the area without getting the down wet. If you use this method, your bag shouldn’t get too wet, but it’s always a good idea to let it dry out a bit before stuffing it back into a storage sack.
- Scrub gently wherever dirt has built up. Usually, you’ll find grimy sections around the hood and collar, where dirt and skin oils have accumulated.
If you decide to hand wash your sleeping bag, but still want to put it in a dryer, I recommend you let it air dry a bit first. Placing a sloppy wet bag in the dryer is not good and will take forever to dry.
Washing a sleeping bag isn’t too terribly difficult, but there are some rules you have to follow, especially if you have a down bag. To help you out, we’ve got the answers to some of the top sleeping bag washing-related questions so you can be prepared to keep your sleeping bag clean for years to come.
Do You Need a Special Cleaner
If you’re going to wash your down sleeping bag, you definitely want to make sure you’re using down-specific soap. Sure, you could use any old soap, and you’ll end up with a clean sleeping bag, but regular laundry detergent wreaks havoc on down, stripping away the natural oils that help give the feathers the loft they need to keep you warm.
Thus, using regular soap, while great for cleaning, is not-so-great for increasing the lifespan of your expensive down sleeping bag. Our advice? Always clean your down sleeping bag with down-specific soap, like Nikwax Down Wash or Granger, to help preserve the quality of your sleeping bag.
Can You Dry Clean a Down Sleeping Bag
Dry cleaning uses some harsh chemicals and non-water-based solvents to remove dirt and grime from fabrics. This technique works really well for removing stains, especially those from grease and oils, which water isn’t much help for. This might sound like a great thing for sleeping bags, which tend to get gross from sweat, dirt, and skin oil after continuous or long-term use.
That being said, it’s usually best to prevent harsh chemicals from coming into contact with your down sleeping bag. Thus, dry cleaning is not recommended because the chemicals involved can damage both the shell fabric and the bag’s ability to maintain its loft.
How Often Can I Wash a Down Sleeping Bag
This is a tricky question as it’s important to recognize that washing a sleeping bag isn’t “risk-free”. Although it’s really important to wash your sleeping bag to remove the oil and dirt that reduces down loft and makes it smell like the great outdoors, over washing a down sleeping bag can quickly shorten its lifespan.
This is because washing a sleeping bag repeatedly in a washing machine will eventually wear out the shell fabric and damage the down. Thus, one should strive to do spot cleans by hand whenever the bag starts to get dirty and to give it a full wash only when it’s beyond a spot clean.
For most recreational campers, this is something that happens about once a year. Other people, who spend weeks or months on end in their sleeping bag might find that they need to wash it every few months, but this amount of use and washing will ultimately shorten the lifespan of the sleeping bag.
Luckily, there are ways to lengthen the amount of time in between sleeping bag washes to extend your bag’s lifespan. Wearing clean clothes to bed, using a removable sleeping bag liner, and protecting your bag from the ground by using a ground cloth and sleeping pad can all help keep your bag clean.
Ultimately, if you’re wondering how to wash a down sleeping bag, you don’t have to worry. Washing your down sleeping bag is actually quite a simple process, but is also a double-edged sword.
While you want to keep your bag clean, you don’t want to over wash it and risk ruining the down and shell fabric. Taking adequate care of your down sleeping bag is the best way to protect your investment and to stay warm at night while sleeping out under the stars.