Skip to Main Content

How to Wash a Sleeping Bag - Down & Synthetic


When was the last time you washed the sheets on your bed? How many nights do you have to spend in them before it’s time to clean them? Now think about your sleeping bag, your answers are probably pretty different. Usually, when you’re using a sleeping bag, you’re not at your cleanest - maybe you just hiked 15 miles in 80-degree weather, maybe you’re on a two-week backpacking trip, and you haven’t showered in ten days. Regardless, you’re putting your dirty body into sleeping bag - it’s going to get dirty eventually. Once it does, it’s important to wash it the right way. Most folks don’t wash their sleeping bags often, because there’s not much info on how to do it correctly, and they’re afraid to ruin them. That’s why we’ve designed this guide to help you figure out how often you should clean your sleeping bag, and how to do it well, without compromising its warmth.


How Often Should I Wash My Sleeping Bag?

With most types of bedding it’s pretty easy to stay on a washing schedule. Every week, or two weeks, or whatever you decide, you wash your sheets. But because sleeping bags don’t get as much consistent use as regular bedding, and because you’re often much dirtier when you sleep in them, it’s harder to create a consistent schedule. But there are a few rules of thumb.

If it Smells - Wash Your Sleeping Bag

Even if you’ve only spent two days in your bag since its last wash, if it’s got any kind of funky odor, it’s time for another wash. Thanks to their insulation, when sleeping bags get dirty, they create great places for stinky bacteria to grow. If you can smell it, it’s time to clean it.

Wash Your Sleeping Bag At the end of Every Camping Season

Most folks use their sleeping bags through late spring to early fall and then store them through the winter. Even if you haven’t slept in it that much, and it doesn’t smell bad, it’s worth washing and drying your bag before you put it into storage. That ensures there won’t be any nasty surprises when you pull it out next spring.

Wash Your Sleeping Bag Every 20 Days of Camping

If you camp a lot in your sleeping bag every year, you may need to clean it more than once a season. If that’s the case, you can count about twenty nights spent in the bag between washings. That’s a solid number to live by, even if it doesn’t smell, it’s still worth cleaning it out.


How to Wash a Sleeping Bag

  1. Look on the sleeping bag for washing instructions and guidelines.
  2. Choose a detergent based on the type of sleeping bag and manufacturers recommendations.
  3. Wash the sleeping bag alone, without other clothes, on the gentle cycle with warm water (unless specified otherwise).
  4. Dry on low heat.
  5. Add tennis balls to the end of the drying cycle to break up clumps and fluff up insulation.

Washing a Down Sleeping Bag

Down sleeping bags rely on the natural loft or fluffiness of the feathers inside them to trap air and create an insulating layer. Often these feathers are coated with special waterproofing products to keep them fluffy even if they get wet. That’s one of the most important features of a good down bag.

For down sleeping bags, you want to be very careful to not do anything that could break down the individual feathers or the coatings on them. Normal detergents can attach to the natural and artificial waterproof coatings the feathers have and make them clump together and degrade, affecting the warmth and performance of your sleeping bag. Instead, always use a down-safe detergent to wash your down sleeping bag. Several outdoor brands, like Nikwax make detergents specifically for use on down-filled products. Make sure to only use down-safe detergents on your down bag.

Make sure the bag is all the way unzipped and open, and run it through a mild wash mode on a front load washing machine. If the tags don’t specify the cycle and temperature, the gentle cycle with warm water is a good bet.


Washing a Synthetic Sleeping Bag

The rules for washing synthetic sleeping bags are similar, but you can get away with a more generic detergent, or use down-safe detergent. Only wash one bag in each load. Otherwise, they’ll get jammed up in each other, will take longer to dry, and won’t get as clean. And always make sure the bag is fully unzipped. Otherwise water can collect in the toe box and it will take forever to dry, and won’t get as clean.


Can You Put a Sleeping Bag in the Dryer?

Unless specified by the manufacturer, it is safe to put sleeping bags in the dryer. We recommend always using a lower temperature and more gentle cycle, this will help to prevent wear and tear. Similar to washing, only run one bag through the dryer at once, otherwise, they won’t dry all the way, and never turn the heat above low as this can damage the insulation.

It’s a good idea to throw a couple of clean, new tennis balls in the dryer with your sleeping bag, or any insulated gear you’re drying. They help break up clumps of down and distribute it more evenly throughout the bag. They might be a little loud in the dryer, but they really help keep your insulation evenly distributed, and nice and puffy.

Finally, before you pack your bag up, make sure it’s all the way dry, or it might get mildewy and damage the insulation. In particular, check inside the hood and toe box, these areas have a tendency to hold moisture.


Sleeping Bag Care Between Washes

The Quick Shake & Air-Out

Bags hold things, and your sleeping bag is no exception. Any dirt, pine needles, or twigs that were stuck to your or your clothes when you got into the bag will end up in the bottom of the sleeping bag. Every time you get your sleeping bag out, turn it fully inside out, and shake it well. If it’s particularly dusty, you can hang it over a clothes line and beat the dust out. Doing this every time you use your bag will help keep it from getting too dirty, get that stuff out of your bag before it consolidates into grime. Likewise, it’s good to air out sleeping bags after use, this will keep them cleaner longer.

The Occasional Wipe Down

Every five or ten nights that you spend in your bag, wipe it down. Turn it inside out, and shake any loose crud out, then use a rag that’s been dampened in warm, soapy water to wipe down the shell inside the bag. Then let it hang dry in a warm, dry place for a few hours. This helps keep dirt from building up in the bag, cleans out oils from your skin, and keeps any nasty odors from developing. If you are consistent with your wipe downs, and never sleep in your bag when you’re really dirty, you may never need to do any more aggressive cleaning than this.

Spot Cleaning Messes and Stains

If you spilled some of your bacon and beans on your sleeping bag, and just have a nasty spot that needs cleaning, you can spot clean your bag with a clean rag, warm water, and soap. Just wipe only the area that needs cleaning with soapy water, and then wipe it down again with clean water. It’s a good idea to do this right away, before messes have time to dry into stains.


This is evo. We are a ski, snowboard, wake, skate, bike, surf, camp and clothing online retailer with physical stores in SeattlePortlandDenver, Salt Lake City, and Whistler. Our goal is to provide you with great information to make both your purchase and up-keep easy.

evo also likes to travel to remote places across the globe in search of world-class powder turns, epic waves, or legendary mountain biking locations through evoTrip Adventure Travel Trips. Or, if you prefer to travel on your own, check out our ski & snowboard resort travel guides, and mountain bike trail guides

 

Still have questions? Please give our customer care team a call at 866-386-1590, Customer Care Hours. They can help you find the right setup to fit your needs.

This is evo. We are a ski, snowboard, wake, skate, bike, surf, camp and clothing online retailer with physical stores in SeattlePortlandDenver, Salt Lake City, and Whistler. Our goal is to provide you with great information to make both your purchase and up-keep easy.

evo also likes to travel to remote places across the globe in search of world-class powder turns, epic waves, or legendary mountain biking locations through evoTrip Adventure Travel Trips. Or, if you prefer to travel on your own, check out our ski & snowboard resort travel guides, and mountain bike trail guides

 

Still have questions? Please give our customer care team a call at 866-386-1590, Customer Care Hours. They can help you find the right setup to fit your needs.