How To Clean a Sleeping Bag

Woman carrying sleeping bag

Cleaning a sleeping bag is not difficult and should be done periodically to increase the life span of your bag. ALWAYS refer to your manufacturers instructions, especially when dealing with new bags. However, if you are like all the other old timers that still use their sleeping bags from the 1960s, read on.

  1. Determine what type of bag you have. Do you have a synthetic bag, a down bag, or another kind of sleeping bag? Under the other category, you can include cotton and polyester. The "other" style will tend to be your older sleeping bags. Most of the new bags are made with either synthetic fill or down fill.
  2. Care for your bag on a daily basis. After each weekend outing, or short trip, take some time to clean your bag. Never store your bag wet. If you pack your bag "wet" after camping in a storm, remove it immediately upon returning home and allow it to air dry. Wipe away all debris before storing it. It is generally recommended that you take care of this problem on a daily basis while camping. It will keep your bag cleaner AND allow a more comfortable sleep. On longer camping trips, take some time to shake your bag out.
  3. Washing Synthetic Bags. A front-loading commercial washer will work the best. If you intend on washing the bag frequently, use a mild detergent. If you are like most folks, and will likely only wash the bag every couple of years, your average laundry detergent will suffice. Follow detergent instructions for the size of load you run. Choose the double rinse cycle on your machine, or if not available, wash it a second time with no soap. This option will remove more of the soap and provide the best results. Remove the bag and place it in the dryer. Commercial laundromat dryers are generally the only ones large enough to properly dry a sleeping bag. It should not take long to dry your synthetic bag (probably 1 hour). Air drying your bag is a possibility, but NEVER store the bag wet.
  4. Washing Down Bags. Again, a front-loading washer is the best. A mild detergent is best. A double rinse option as listed above will help remove additional laundry detergent. Drying is the tricky part with down bags. Tumble dry the bag on low in a commercial dryer at the laundromat. Tennis balls can be added to help "re-fluff" the bag. It will take a long time to dry, most likely more than two hours. It is essential to ensure that your down sleeping bag is completely dry before storing (even more than synthetic sleeping bags).
  5. Washing "Other" Bags. Primarily, you are looking at cotton and polyester bags in this category. A front-loading washing machine will suffice with regular laundry detergent. Dry the bag as above, ensuring that it is completely dry. Dry time should be around 1 - 1 1/2 hours.

Additional notes to be aware of for all bags

  • Never use bleach or stain remover.
  • It is recommended to store your bag out of its "stuff" sack, ideally, hanging over rafters. Most people do not have this luxury. If you do store your bag in its stuff sack, you will be reducing the "fluff" by continually compressing it. This will lead to some deterioration in the temperatures at which your bag is designed for.

If you take care of your sleeping bag, it will take care of you. A sleeping bag can last 20 years if given the proper care. Although new bags continually enter the market, a comfortable bag that has already been broken in can be a wonderful gift on a cold night.


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