BACKPACKING BASICS

How to Wash Down Sleeping Bag: Plus Some Sleeping Bag Care Tips You Should Know

How to Wash Down Sleeping Bag
Sean Nelson
Written by Sean Nelson

If you like to go camping, then you probably know how important a sleeping bag is since they make the difference between a comfortable sleep while you are out camping and a long cold and sleepless night. Sleeping bags are one of the essential camping gears that anyone intending to go out camping or hiking must be armed with.

Sleeping bags are either synthetic or down sleeping bags. Like all beddings, your sleeping bag will from time to time get dirty and will need to be cleaned. Follow these instructions on how to wash a down sleeping bag if you want your sleeping bag to retain its loft for a long time.

Woman in sleeping bag on the mountain

Down sleeping bags are made in such a way that they have an internal baffle system which consists of fine lightweight mesh panels that are filled with down. This makes washing a down sleeping bag to require special care so that you don’t damage it in the process of cleaning it.

What is down and why is it used?

Thermal insulators come in different categories, sizes and shapes. Sleeping bag manufacturers usually use down or synthetic insulators. Down is by far the most preferred thermal insulator since it is exceptionally warm, very light and is very effective.

Down is not made from goose or duck plumage – the soft layer of under loft that is located under the harder exterior feathers. The loose structure of down is what gives it its insulator properties by trapping air against the bird’s body hence trapping heat and making the bird more buoyant.

Goose down

In sleeping bags, the down is used to form a breathable layer that helps to maintain the temperature of the body by allowing for thermo-regulation.

Degrees of down

There are varying degrees of down which include:

  • High-loft goose down: It is by far the finest quality of down. It comes from mature geese. It is, therefore, the warmest and the most expensive down.
  • Goose down: It is not that lofty as compared to the high lofty goose down. It is thus less expensive.
  • Duck down: It is the least expensive since it is less fine than all the other degrees of down. It is thus the most affordable down in the market.

Although down is the warmest insulator material, it has a downside. Down loses a lot of its insulating powers whenever it gets wet. This is because water makes it clump together. This makes the down to shrink in size hence leaving some areas not insulated. This makes its heat retaining capabilities to plummet. Wet down also takes a long time to dry.

Duck down

Another downside of down is that it doesn’t blend well with humid environments. This has been overcome by the use of water resistant materials to ensure that the fillings stay dry.

Although many campers may prefer to pay a professional to wash their down sleeping bags, if you follow these instructions, you can actually do it by yourself. There is more than one method that you can use to clean your sleeping bag. You can choose to machine wash your bag or hand wash it.

Machine washing your sleeping bag

Due to the large size of the sleeping bags, you will need a machine with a large room so that the bag can move around. If the washing machine is not large enough, during the washing process, it will cause friction which will melt your sleeping bag.

Machine wash sleeping bag

Here are the steps to follow when washing your down sleeping bag inside the washing machine.

  • First of all, do a rinse cycle in the machine before you put your sleeping bag in it. This is to remove any previous residues of detergents that may damage the fabrics of your bag.
  • Set the machine into a wash on a cold water option. Warm water can melt your sleeping bag.
  • Check your bag to see if it has a waterproof shell. If it has, then you should turn it upside down. Ensure that you close the zippers before putting your bag in the washing machine.
  • You can then place your bag in the machine and then add a technical wash that is suitable for down. You can choose to add a couple of tennis ball to prevent your sleeping bag from lumping together while it is spinning around the machine. The tennis balls will bounce around in the cycle.
  • Resist the temptation to add a fabric softener as this may damage your sleeping bag.
  • When you are done with the wash, run the sleeping bag in another spin cycle to remove any soapy residue.
  • After that, take your bag out of the machine, lay it flat on a table and roll it up in order for the water to stream from the bag. Care must be taken when you are doing this so that you don’t crunch up your bag as this can cause clumping of the filling.

Hand-Washing

If you don’t have a washing machine or if the one you have is not large enough for your sleeping bag, then you can just wash it with your hands. The best place to hand wash your down sleeping bag is in a bath tub. Here is how you can go about it.

  • Fill your bathtub with water, approximately 15 cm.
  • Add your favorite down cleaner in the water or a mild washing powder.
  • Place the bag into the bathtub and press it down until it is completely submerged in water.
  • Massage the water into the sleeping bag with your hands and leave it to soak for 3 to 4 hours.
  • After that, drain the water from the bath and replace it with fresh and clean water. You should then repeat the process of massaging the water into the bag so that all the soap suds disappear.
  • Drain the water again from the bath. You can then press the sleeping bag down effectively to remove the soaked water.
  • Take the bag out of the tab and squeeze again to further remove any remaining water from it. You should be cautious to avoid removing the sleeping bag from the tub while it is still soaked in water. This is because wet downs are very heavy and are likely to cause the internal baffles to tear hence damaging your sleeping bag. Avoid twisting your sleeping bag while hand washing it as this can cause the filling to lump together.

Spot cleaning your down sleeping bag

If you don’t like the options of your sleeping bag being machine washed or hand washed because you don’t want your sleeping bag to be subjected to wear and tear, there is an easy way out for you. It is called spot cleaning, where you don’t have to immerse your sleeping bag in water to get it spiffed up.

Down wash

This method is suitable for removing minor stains. The things you will need are soap, a rough sided sponge and some little water. You can also use a down’s specific wash instead of soap. Once you are set and ready, here is how you can go about it:

  • Locate the dirty spots that you would like to clean by laying out your sleeping bag on a clean surface.
  • Soak the sponge with a rough side in the warm water. Scrub the spots with the rough side of the sponge that you have soaked in warm water. This will dampen the spots and cause the dirt particles to break up.
  • Dab a bit of soap or down’s specific wash onto the spot and scrub it using the rough side of the sponge. The good thing with most sleeping bags is that they usually have an external nylon coating that is water repellant. This makes it hard for stains to go beyond the surface layer.
  • Rinse out the sponge to remove any soap suds from it and then use it to wipe away the soap lather from the bag surface. Ensure that no soap suds are left on the surface of the bag.
  • Put the sleeping bag out in the sun to dry.

Drying your sleeping bag

Now that your sleeping bag is freshly washed, there are two methods of drying that you can use.

Hang it out to dry in the sun

A sleeping bag usually takes at least 24 hours to dry in the sun. You should thus ensure that the weather is suitable for drying before putting your bag out on the washing line.

Drying sleeping bag

Using a tumble dryer

When using a dryer, ensure that you change the temperature settings to low heat to avoid melting the fabrics and fibers. Check out for any imperfections on the drier that can cause your sleeping bag to catch and tear.

After putting your bag in the dryer, feed in quarters of 20 minutes after which you will be checking the bag after every 20 minutes.

If you notice clumps of down in the sleeping bag, use your hands to break them gently and allow the bag to dry for another 20 minutes. Repeat this process until all the down clumps are gone. The whole process may take roughly 3 hours for the bag to be completely dried.

How you can care for your down sleeping bag in camp

If you want your down sleeping bag to last longer and insulate more efficiently, you will have to do your best to ensure that it doesn’t take a trip to the washing machine more often. Here is how you can always ensure that you keep it clean, dry and protected while you are out there camping.

Always sleep in clean clothes

Sometimes you may find yourself exhausted after engaging in several camping activities during the day that you will find yourself crawling into your sleeping bag with the same dirty clothes that you hiked in. The sweat, dirt and body oils will accumulate with time and will rob your sleeping bag of its insulating properties.

Girls in sleeping bags

Therefore, no matter how worn out you are, always change into clean clothes before you sleep. You can also wash off your face to remove the sunscreens and makeups.

Use a sleeping bag liner

Liners act as a barrier between your skin and the bag hence helping to keep your bag clean. This will make life easy for you since you will only have to wash the liner.

Another advantage of using a sleeping bag liner is that they will boost the temperature ratings of your sleeping bag by 5 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit. These sleeping bag liners come in a variety of fabrics which include silk and cotton.

Sleeping bag liner

Protect your sleeping bag from the ground

Although most sleeping bags come with durable waterproof lined on their underside, it is still a good idea to always put a pad on the ground first before you put your sleeping bag on the ground. This will help to keep your bag clean on the underside.

Air out your sleeping bag every day

When you are camping, you should always air out your bag to dry out any moisture. However, you should not leave it out in the sun for too long since too much exposure to UV light can make the fabrics of your bag to degrade slowly. When airing it out, it should be turned inside out.

Sleeping bag care tips you need to know

The seams, drawcords and zippers should always be checked regularly to make sure that your sleeping bag is in good shape. Here are some other tips for caring for your sleeping bag.

Restoring the durable water repellant

Down sleeping bags always have a water repellant finish that usually wears off with time depending on how frequently you are using your sleeping bag. You can restore your bags water repellency by reapplying the finish. You can also check out other products that you can use to restore the durable water repellant to the shell fabrics of your sleeping bag.

Waterproof sleeping bag

Leaking down

Sometimes the down of your sleeping bag may leak if the woven fabrics of your bag’s shell become loose and hence unable to hold the down. When this happens to your bag, just pull the down gently back inside and close the holes back up.

Fixing broken zippers and fabric tears

If tears develop in the shell of your bag, they may end up forming holes. These holes should be fixed to prevent the down insulation from escaping. You can sew up the holes by hand or with a sewing machine.

You can patch out the holes adhesive gear repair tape or stitch up the holes using a wound bandage if you have a first aid kid. As for broken zippers, you should have them professionally repaired. One of the companies that offer sleeping bag repair services is REI.

Conclusion

Altogether, down sleeping bags are very important for campers. In fact, I don’t think if it will be possible to survive for a night while you are out camping without a sleeping bag. A down sleeping bag will, therefore, be a precious camping gear that you will have to take good care of if you want it to see you through several camping trips.

Sleeping bags

One of the ways you can take care of your sleeping bag is by always ensuring that you keep it clean. Do you believe you have any other tip on how to wash a down sleeping bag? Please let us know in the comment section.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sean Nelson
Sean Nelson

Sean was backpacking since he was 7. He was born close to the RMNP and his father was a ranger, so life surrounded by mountains and wildlife is a norm for Colorado. He likes to explore, but prefers to stay in USA. In his opinion, there are too many trails and options in US to go abroad.

  • Kevin Pavlik

    I always just hand wash my down sleeping bag as it is a little too large for me to wash in a machine. I have the Cosmic Down 20 Degree Sleeping Bag and it has been really easy for me to take care of, just in general.

  • Sean Nelson

    How do you hand wash it Kevin? Do you wash it in the tub? It’s a bit tedious but it may be the best way to clean it – sans the washing machine. I do take mine to the local cleaners if I have too much on my hand.
    You can also spot clean. I hope the article helped you with other cleaning options.

  • Scott Hamman

    If you have a down sleeping bag, I think it’s a must to have some GearAid ReviveX Down Cleaner on you. My bag can end up getting pretty dirty after a camping trip, but 1 ounce of this stuff, and it the sleeping bag comes out sparkling clean again!

  • Sean Nelson

    Tell me about it! When I can’t spot clean my bag because it’s dirt and grime are building up, then it’s time to wash it all up. I usually take it to those big cleaners, they have huge machines and my bag easily fits into those. I also tried cleaning the bag in my bathtub, but it was a tad tedious.

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