Stinky Sleeping Bag Even After Washing? How To Fix

A stinky sleeping bag can be a real hassle. Find out how to get rid of the stink here!

If your sleeping bag still stinks after washing, you can try a cleaner that is more specialized for sleeping bags. Rotted down or bags otherwise overcome with mold may need to have their filling replaced.

Many of us expect that our sleeping bag might experience some wear and tear. After all, we take it out into the woods and sleep in it when we’re sweaty and have dirt everywhere. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your sleeping bag should smell noticeably bad. A healthy sleeping bag smell should be of vague campfire.

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

If you’ve tried washing your stinky sleeping bag already to no avail, don’t rush out to buy a new one just yet! There are a few more steps you can take to get your sleeping bag back into shape before you have to worry about replacing the entire thing. Read on to learn all about what those steps are and how they can help you get the smell out of your sleeping bag.

How To Deoderize Your Sleeping Bag

The first thing you’ll need to consider when you’re dealing with a stinky sleeping bag is what kind of sleeping bag you’re using. Both down and synthetic sleeping bags can become stinky, but the methods needed for cleaning them can differ a little bit. For the most part, this applies to the kind of cleaner you use when washing the sleeping bag.

Synthetic sleeping bags might be a little less picky about the kind of cleaner you use, but there are still some guidelines worth following. For example, it’s not recommended that you use a cleaner with detergent in it. The chemicals in detergent can have negative effects on your synthetic sleeping bag.

When you’re washing a down sleeping bag, you’ll want to use a cleaner that can get the job done without damaging the down feathers. Many campers like to use Nikwax’s Down Wash or Down Proof options.

Washing your sleeping bag carefully with one of the above options is the first step to getting nasty smells out. Once it has been washed, allow your sleeping bag to tumble dry with low or no heat. Naturally, this process might take some time to get your bag completely dry but it’s worth it in the long run. This video from REI will give you a quick, handy guide for getting started with washing your sleeping bag.

How to Clean a Sleeping Bag || REI

If you find that your sleeping bag still smells after taking those steps, you may want to try washing it alongside a smell-reducing product like vinegar or bleach. Often, vinegar can be the better option as bleach can cause discoloration in your sleeping bag. Try an extremely high dilution first! Clorox recommends adding 1/2 cup bleach to a wash cycle–you can add 1/4 cup first for even more dilution.

As a last resort, you can also try taking your sleeping bag to a dry cleaner. It’s not generally a good idea to do this often because the chemicals used by dry cleaners can be harsh on the sleeping bag materials. However, on the rare occasions when you don’t know what else to do, it might be worth a shot.

After that, your sleeping bag should be smelling better. If it isn’t, then it might be time to take a look inside the fabric. It’s possible that something may be going on inside. Down sleeping bags can sometimes experience down rot, which can cause quite an awful smell. Additionally, chemicals released from that rot aren’t great for your lungs.

If you discover down rot, you have a couple of options. You can replace the sleeping bag completely or you can choose to replace just the down. The latter option might require more effort, but can be less costly than purchasing a whole new sleeping bag–but you will have to open up the stitching and then close the stitching again.

You can find bulk down on Amazon (here). If you click on the link you’ll see that buying your own down is MUCH cheaper than buying a new expensive sleeping bag.

How Can I Protect My Sleeping Bag From Becoming Stinky?

Getting the stink out of a sleeping bag can be a tricky and time-consuming process. If you’ve ever had to go through it yourself, or are going through it now, then it may help to have some prevention tips on hand that you can use to avoid the problem in the future.

Luckily, there are a number of ways you can keep your sleeping bag from getting stinky. At the very least, using these tips can ensure it happens less often. Fewer days spent giving your sleeping bag a thorough wash means more days planning your next camping trip.

Use these tips to keep your sleeping bag odor to a minimum:

  • Avoid wetness. No matter what the source is, water is the enemy of your sleeping bag. If it gets wet and stays wet for too long, mold, mildew, and down rot are likely to follow. A great way to help with keeping your sleeping bag dry is to invest in a tent that has solid waterproof capabilities. These kinds of tents are great for keeping things like rain and dew on the outside only. Unsure what kinds of tents are waterproof? You can learn more about the topic in our article here.
  • Dry it quickly. If your sleeping bag does get wet (accidents happen), then make sure you get it dry as quickly as possible. Put it into a tumble dryer on a low setting for as long as it takes, or at least get it out into the sun until it is completely dry again. Don’t leave it too long as you can damage your bag this way.
  • Ventilate. Chances are that if you are sweating so much while you sleep you don’t have enough ventilation. Unzip your sleeping bag partway if it’s warm enough. If your tent guy lines are not pulled out, you should make sure to do that so as much air moves through the tent as possible.
  • Go to bed clean. Take a shower or at least use some wet wipes or a damp rag to clean off before bed. The less dirt and sweat you bring to bed with you, the less likely it will be that your sleeping bag starts to absorb those smells.
  • Use regular smell maintenance. After each camping trip, use an enzyme spray or fabric spray to limit smells and kill germs. This will decrease the chances that mold can grow and increase the chances of your sleeping bag smelling nice and fresh the next time you use it. This may especially be necessary for extremely humid locations.
  • Try a liner. it might be worth getting a liner for the inside of your sleeping bag. Some may find liners a little less comfortable, but they can provide a valuable buffer that keeps dirt and sweat from reaching the sleeping bag itself.
  • Use a Vapor Barrier. A vapor barrier is an impermeable material that retains all moisture (think space blankets)… This will prevent moisture from permeating the sleeping bag, and if you get too hot you will know to ventilate. If you’re long-hiking, this may be an indispensible technique.

If you already have a tent you enjoy, then you might not want to spend extra money on one that is waterproof. Instead, you can use tarps either above or below your tent to help with keeping rain and condensation at bay. This option might take a bit more finessing, but it can be a great way to help keep your tent (and therefore, your sleeping bag) completely dry. To learn about more ways in which tarps can be useful while camping, check out our article on the subject here.

Reasons Your Sleeping Bag Stinks Even If You Wash It

You may not always think about the smells your sleeping bag can accumulate. Some campers might just expect that their sleeping bag is going to end up smelling a little, though most of us probably expect that smell might be reminiscent of campfire smoke rather than sweat, mildew or other bad odors.

There are a variety of circumstances that might result in a sleeping bag that is no longer pleasant to sleep in because of the smell. Here are just a few things that might cause your sleeping bag to start stinking:

  • Dampness. Excess moisture can be the starting point for a lot of other issues, such as mildew or even rotting. More often than not, this dampness may not even be due to things like nighttime accidents or other situations where a resulting smell may be obvious. Often, condensation or just an inability to dry completely can be the culprit. One great way to make sure your sleeping bag stays dry is to use a camping cot to keep it away from the ground. Air mattresses are also capable of doing this but can come with the risk of going flat or being closer to condensation on the floor of the tent. To learn how to use a cot in your tent without causing any damage, take a look at our article here.
  • Bodily fluids. This is an obvious one. Naturally, if someone gets sick or wets the bed by accident, smells are sure to follow. There’s one bodily fluid we may not think about as often, but it has much higher chances of coming into contact with your sleeping bag. Sweat. The good news is, there are things you can do to protect your sleeping bag from these kinds of problems.
  • Down rot. If you use a sleeping bag that is filled with down, it can sometimes begin to rot if there is excess moisture coming into contact with the sleeping bag.
  • Mildew. Sleeping bags that are damp for a longer period of time can begin to grow mildew, which will leave it smelling funky.

Sweat is a REAL problem for thru-hikers (those who are hiking long distances)–Night after night of sweating in your sleeping bag can add significant weight to the sleeping bag and significant smells.


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.

Recent Posts