BACKPACKING BASICS

How to Clean a Sleeping Bag: Tips on Proper Cleaning and Maintenance

How to Clean a Sleeping Bag
Bradley Page
Written by Bradley Page

Heading out into the Great Outdoors is not only about ensuring you have the right equipment for the job, but it’s also about maintaining it. You won’t need anyone to tell you about the expense of certain pieces of equipment, so it makes sense that you should look after them as best you can.

In terms of your sleeping equipment, perhaps this is the most important thing to look after, so you might be wondering how to clean a sleeping bag effectively, without causing damage or decreasing its lifespan.

A sleeping bag can’t just be thrown in the washing machine and hope for the best, because in that case you’re going to damage it. It also depends on which type of sleeping bag you went for in the initial buying stage. Did you opt for a down sleeping bag? Did you opt for a synthetic sleeping bag? You need to wash each one slightly differently.

Blue sleeping bag

What You Need to Look For in a Sleeping Bag

Yes, we are talking about how to wash a sleeping bag but we also need to know about what to look for when buying one first of all. What material do you want? From there, you need to look at:

  • Temperature rating
  • Comfort rating
  • The survival temperature, also known as the extreme rating
  • Season rating
  • Price
  • Size
  • Shape
  • Weight

These are vital components of picking the right sleeping bag for your outdoor endeavours. Once you get the right type of sleeping bag, you need to look after it seriously well.

How to Look After Your Sleeping Bag

Washing is just one part of the deal, because your sleeping bag needs a little TLC in other areas too. Whenever you notice a spillage or mark on your bag, you should try and clean it at source, using a damp cloth and warm water; from there allow the section to simply dry naturally, as it should only be a very small area anyway.

This should cut down on the amount of times required for you to wash sleeping bag, but if the mark or spillage is larger, you are going to need to go down the line of washing.

Sleeping bag care

On top of this, to reduce the number of times you do wash it, to increase its life, you should be using a sleeping bag liner too. This means you are going to be giving yourself a layer of protection between yourself and the sleeping bag, as well as the ground and the external environment.

How to Wash Down a Sleeping Bag

First things first, you need to use only pure soap, and avoid any detergents with anything added in. This will help elongate the life of your sleeping bag, and will also help anyone who has any skin sensitivities.

From there, you need to follow these steps.

  • If you have a bath tub, your life is going to be infinitely easier when it comes to cleaning your sleeping bag. If you don’t, a very large tub is required. Fill the bath with warm water, not too hot, not too cold, and mix in the soap.
  • Mix the water around well, so the soap is combined with the water – this should now be white and soapy, but not overly so.
  • Place the sleeping bag into the tub and press down until it is laying on the bottom of the bath, totally submerged.
  • Leave the bag submerged for around 30-40 minutes, every so often moving it around gently to get the soap into the fabric.
  • After this time, leave the bag in the bath, but pull out the plug, to get rid of all the water.
  • Once the bath is empty, squeeze the water out of the bag without lifting it, e.g. press and scrunch, and then roll it up to get rid of the excess – the bag should be wet/damp.
  • Now you need to fill up the bath again with warm water and submerge the bag again – this step is to get all the excess soap out, and is going to take a little elbow-grease to do just that!
  • Pull the plug out again and get rid of the water the way you did before.
  • Once all the excess water is gone, and the soap is rinsed out completely, lift the bag out of the tub.
  • Hang the bag somewhere warm and airy, and leave it to air dry on its own – you need to make peace with the fact that this can take a while!

Cleaning a sleeping bag

How to Wash a Synthetic Sleeping Bag

If you invest in a synthetic sleeping bag, the types of which are very common on the market, then you have two options in terms of washing – you can either hand wash or machine wash. Let’s check each method out in turn.

Handwashing

Handwashing a synthetic sleeping bag is pretty similar to handwashing a down sleeping bag in many ways, and this is always a better option than dry cleaning, which can prematurely age your equipment.

  • Fill a bath or very large tub with around 150 mm of lukewarm water and add a mild soap or a detergent – you can use detergent for a synthetic sleeping bag
  • Add the sleeping bag into the water and move it around, to massage the soap/detergent into the fibres
  • Leave the bag to soak, for anything between an hour and a few hours, this totally depends on how badly your sleeping bag needs washing!
  • Take the plug out of the tub and allow it to drain, before trying to squeeze out the excess carefully
  • Add clean water and repeat the process, to get rid of the excess suds
  • Take the plug out of the tub again and drain the excess water
  • To get all the excess out of the sleeping bag, fold the ends into the middle until you have a large circle shape and press down to push all the water away
  • Remove the bag from the tub and allow it to air dry somewhere warm and airy for as long as it takes to totally dry it.

Handwashing a sleeping bag

As you can see, handwashing a synthetic sleeping bag is basically the same as a down sleeping bag, except for the fact that you can use a detergent, because the material isn’t quite as sensitive as when you are using a down version. Now let’s check out how to machine wash a synthetic sleeping bag.

Machine Washing

The fact that you can throw your sleeping bag into the washing machine if you go for a synthetic option is a big advantage, but it’s really not as simple as actually ‘throwing’ it in the machine!

You do need to be careful how often you machine wash a sleeping bag, because if you do it too often, you’re going to make the material less strong, and you’re going to cause it to bobble or weaken. If you want your sleeping bag to last as long as possible, you need to look after it and minimize the amount of washing attempts.

Now, if you have just come back from an outdoor expedition and your sleeping bag is certainly in need of washing, then fine, no problem with giving it a good clean, but if it’s only for a quick one night trip, and it doesn’t really need it, it’s worth simply cleaning any marks by hand, and delaying your machine wash.

Machine wash a sleeping bag

Okay, warning over, this is how you should machine wash a synthetic sleeping bag.

  • First things first, any zippers and Velcro tags or sections should be fastened up before you put your sleeping bag in the washing machine. This is to minimize damage and also to make sure they don’t get caught on any of the inside mechanics of your washing machine
  • The machine you wash with matters too, because you should be using the heavy duty type, and one with a front loading mechanism
  • Set the machine to wash at 30 degrees; any hotter and you will risk shrinking or causing a problem with your sleeping bag – not something you want!
  • Use a detergent or mild soap, but don’t go overboard
  • Set on a normal cycle and wash!
  • Once the cycle is finished, allow the sleeping bag to rest for a few minutes before you remove it

How to Dry a Sleeping Bag

It doesn’t matter whether you are machine washing or handwashing your sleeping bag, and it doesn’t matter whether it is a synthetic or down version, you should try and dry your sleeping bag as naturally as possible. A synthetic sleeping bag however can be put into a tumble dryer. Let’s explore each option.

Naturally drying your sleeping bag

We touched upon the natural drying side of things in our washing sections, but it’s worth reiterating and giving it some air time of its own. Basically, drying your sleeping bag naturally is always the preferred option, because it means that the material has chance to regroup and refresh itself in the air of Mother Nature!

Think about when you wash your bedding at home, it’s always so nice to crawl into fresh sheets that have been dried outside, and a sleeping bag is no different. This can also help elongate the life of your sleeping bag too.

Drying a sleeping bag

Now, the downside? The time it takes to dry. Because you can’t effectively get every last drop of water out of your sleeping bag when you handwash it, it may take a considerable amount of time to actually be bone dry on the washing line, or wherever you choose to dry it. If you machine wash your synthetic sleeping bag, the extra water will have been expelled much more, so it’s probably not going to take as long.

It’s very simple to air dry your sleeping bag, you literally hang it on the washing line and wait! If you don’t have a garden space to dry it, you can leave it hung somewhere in your house where it is airy and warm, and the same job will be done.

It’s worth mentioning that synthetic sleeping bags shouldn’t really be dried in excessive sun, because the UV rays can actually work to slowly erode at the fabric, so somewhere shaded is the best spot to go for if you’re going to dry it outside.

Using a tumble dryer to dry your sleeping bag

A synthetic sleeping bag can be tumble dried, but do be aware of the small shrinkage risk. Of course, this come about from drying on a temperature which is too high, or for too long, so keep the temperature low – with synthetic materials, high temperatures can melt the fabric also, so this is something to bear in mind.

Wrinkled sleeping bags

Once the drying process in the machine is done, it’s a good idea to lay your sleeping bag flat, perhaps over two clothes airers, to let the heat dissipate naturally; it is normal to have a slight build up of heat from using a tumble dryer, and if you let the sleeping bag get rid of this in its own way, then you shouldn’t come across any damage over time.

Look After Your Sleeping Bag, and Your Sleeping Bag Will Look After You!

A sleeping bag is an investment in your outdoor endeavors, whether you’re heading off on long camping trips, or you simply use it every so often. Looking after your sleeping bag is therefore vitally important, and that starts with the decision you make on what type of sleeping bag to go for.

You will have noticed that cleaning a synthetic sleeping bag is a little easier and quicker than cleaning a down sleeping bag, but there is the quality and durability to take into account also.

Sleeping bag in nature

The best advice? Weigh up your options before you part cash for a sleeping bag, and then make sure you wash it according to instructions. This will not only mean that your sleeping bag is ultra-clean and comfortable the next time you use it, but also that it will last you for much longer too.

Any other tips on how you can safely wash your sleeping bag? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bradley Page
Bradley Page

With several decades of experience as a backpacker and outdoor adventurer, Bradley is an open encyclopedia when it comes to gear, clothes, and other items that matter on the trail. He tested hundreds of shoes, pants, jackets, and backpacks in his long career and is always up to date with the new appearances in the niche. His experience makes him one of the authority figures in backpacking and he can help anyone to get prepared for a great adventure!

  • Marcus Sheehan

    Love the tips here on how to clean a bag and I definitely agree that you should take care of your bag as you notice problems, to cut down on the number of washes. That’s what I do with my IFLYIING Outdoor Ultra-Compactable Lightweight Camping Envelope Bag. It’s lasted me a good long time thanks in large part to taking good care of it.

  • Bradley Page

    “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
    Taking time to take care of our gear is important. Regular cleaning and maintenance is great. It’s also a sound practice to have.

  • Trish Oostdyk

    Totally agree! These tips are great! And I do think that the best way to dry out your sleeping bag is by letting it air dry. It does just feel so much fresher when you crawl inside at night. At least, that’s how I feel when I air dry my Coleman Trinidad Warm-Weather Sleeping Bag. It’s already a comfortable warm weather bag to begin with and air drying it just helps it feel even more comfy!

  • Bradley Page

    Hi Trish! It’s also hygienic to be cleaning these sleeping bags periodically for obvious reasons. Also, I found out with my years of backpacking that if we don’t clean these, the dirt accumulates and embeds, decreasing the lifespan of the sleeping bags.

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