HOW TO WASH A SLEEPING BAG
Sleeping bags are an important piece of outdoor kit and can make the difference between a comfortable night under the stars, or one that’s memorable for all the wrong reasons. So taking good care of your sleeping bag is really important.
As a general rule, the less you wash your sleeping bag, the better. Washing a sleeping bag can subject it to mechanical wear and tear, and even reduce its insulation performance. However, if it’s used frequently, and covered in grime – say after a few years – then a full wash is of course a sensible course of action. In the case of a down-filled sleeping bag that’s heavily used for a long time, washing can actually restore some of the bag’s lofting performance (insulation) and overall functionality.
If you just want to get rid of a bit of dirt on your sleeping bag, we recommend spot cleaning it as a first course of action.
Sometimes, all your bag needs is a bit of tender loving care:
- Apply a little non-detergent soap or washing up liquid using lukewarm water.
- Use a simple damp cloth, or an old toothbrush to gently clean the shell.
- Rinse off any soap with a wet sponge.
- Hang it out to dry.
- Make sure it really is completely dry before packing it away in its storage sack.
Important: The hood and collar are where hair and skin oils tend to accumulate, so gently working away at these areas, trying not to get the fill wet, will give good results. You can try holding the shell or liner fabric away from the insulation.
- Synthetic fill sleeping bags are easier to care for in general than down sleeping bags.
- Always check the care label and follow the specific guidelines for your bag.
- Either send your synthetic sleeping bag away to be professionally washed.
- Or wash it in a domestic washing machine, as long as it has enough capacity.
- As a general rule, larger, winter sleeping bags will require a 6+ kg load capacity.
- For lighter, one- or two-season bags, a smaller machine is enough.
Before washing your sleeping bag at home, inspect it for rips or damage, because these can get worse in the machine. If you find any, make sure you repair them, for example by sewing them, before proceeding. Like all synthetic laundry, your synthetic sleeping bag can be washed at lower temperatures.
- Make sure your washing machine is clear of any residue (run a rinse cycle first to make sure).
- Make sure all the zips and Velcro tabs are closed and draw strings loosened, then turn the bag inside out.
- Use a non-biological washing detergent, or even better, a technical wash.
- Run the washing machine on a gentle, cool (ca. 30°) wash.
- Run it through several rinse cycles, to make sure there is no soap residue left.
- Use a low spin programme of around 400 – 600 rpm.
Important: Do not use any fabric softener as this will clog the pores of the fabric and destroy any water-repellent characteristics.
We recommend that you do not take your synthetic sleeping bag to a standard dry cleaner.
If your washing machine isn’t big enough, you might want to consider hand washing your synthetic sleeping bag.
- Check for damage, close all zips etc, and turn inside out).
- Wash in a clean bathtub or large sink, using a technical wash or mild detergent and lukewarm water.
- Rinse several times to make sure there is no soap residue.
- Carefully lift the bag out of the bath.
- If possible, run it through a low spin cycle.
- Hang it to dry, with the weight nice and evenly spread out.
Important: Make sure you do not knead or wring the bag while washing it. Gently rubbing or ‘massaging’ the soap into the bag is the best way to do it.
Down-filled sleeping bags require more careful attention, because of the natural makeup of the feathers. If you’re daunted by the task of washing your high-performance mountain bag, you can send it away to be professionally washed by a specialist outdoor gear laundry company. If you decide to wash it at home, then you can wash it by machine or by hand.
Once you’ve checked the general condition of your down sleeping bag and are certain it’s in a good state of repair, you can machine wash it at home in your washing machine. Make sure that your machine has a big enough load capacity to accommodate the bag you’re washing. You could also use a commercial grade washing machine in a launderette. A large winter-grade down sleeping bag is most likely too big to be washed in a domestic machine. But if yours is a thin summer bag, then proceed as follows:
- Make sure all the zips and Velcro tabs are closed, the draw strings are loosened off, and turn the bag inside out.
- Make sure your machine is free from residue by running a rinse cycle before you begin.
- Place the bag carefully in the drum and set it on a gentle cycle at 30°, using a functional wash specifically designed for down.
- Run at least two rinse cycles to remove all soap.
When taking the sleeping bag out of the washing machine, support it with a towel underneath and very gently coax the bag out of the drum, bit by bit, making sure you’re not placing any strain on the shell or lining fabric. Then gently squeeze out any excess moisture by hand, before drying.
Many would advise only ever washing your down sleeping bag by hand, as this is the best way to ensure it is handled gently.
- A clean bathtub and technical down wash in lukewarm/30°C water is the way to go.
- Make sure you prepare the bag before washing (see above).
- Use gentle hand actions and ‘massage’ the soap into the bag or leave to soak.
- Don’t squeeze it or wring it as this can damage the feathers and internal chambers.
- Rinse several times to wash away in residue.
- Then let the water out and very gently compress to remove excess water.
Important: When taking the bag out of the tub, it will be very heavy because of the water-logged feathers, so try supporting it with a towel underneath, like a cradle, so that you’re not pulling on the fabric and risking tearing it.
Yes. Is the short answer. And in the case of a down in particular, it’s the best way to revive the loft, or air spaces between the feathers. Use a front-loading dryer or commercial dryer (launderette) on a synthetic / cool setting.
You can also choose to let your sleeping bag dry naturally by spreading it out evenly on a surface or hanging it so that there is no strain on the fabric, but this will take longer, and will require you to pay special attention to regularly ‘fluffing up’ the fill.
Synthetic sleeping bags dry quicker than down, typically taking an hour or so in a dryer, while down can take anything up to 8 hours or even more to dry thoroughly.
- A front-loading domestic dryer with very large capacity or a commercial dryer (launderette) is best – use a synthetic / cool setting.
- To make sure the fill spreads out and regains its loft, try putting 2-3 clean tennis balls in with the bag to agitate it through the cycle. This is particularly effective with down fill – and also works with down jackets.
- Stop the machine every 20-30 minutes, take the bag out, and gently shake it up to spread out the fill.
- Do not be tempted to remove the bag from the dryer too soon. The shell fabric may feel dry, but the feathers or synthetic fill may still be slightly damp. And it’s really important to dry them out completely.
- Using a sleeping bag liner, made of cotton or silk for example, will help keep your sleeping bag cleaner, so there is less need to wash it frequently.
- It will also reduce the amount of perspiration and potential odours that might develop inside the bag. You can wash the liner as frequently as you like.
- Airing out your sleeping bag after every use will also keep it fresher.
- And making sure you only wear clean clothes inside it also helps.
HOW TO CHOOSE A SLEEPING BAG
Having a cosy night’s sleep can make a huge difference to the enjoyment of any night out camping or bivvying, so it’s important to spend some time carefully considering what sleeping bag is the right choice for the activities you’ll be undertaking and the environment you’ll be in.