How to wash a Sleeping bag

Sleeping bags are one of the four costliest items in your backpack, among tents, backpacks and sleeping pads. Many invest in a good quality sleeping bag, and forget that taking care of it is equally important to increase its shell life.

Certainly the quality tends to deteriorate with time, but it is easy to take care of it. Simple care like giving it the wash when needed, the way you dry it, how you store it, all matters.

In this article, let us delve into some top-notch advice on how to wash a sleeping bag.

Things to know before you wash a sleeping bag

Type of washing machine

If you are machine washing your sleeping bag, make sure that your washing machine is a front-load one because top-load washing machines cause agitation that can rip the seams of the sleeping bags, and ruin it. If top-load washing machines are the only options you have, make sure they are agitator-free.

Properly dried

Make sure your bag is completely dry before storing it. Particularly when the inner fill has gotten wet, give it plenty of time to gery inside and out.

No dry cleaning

Don’t give your sleeping bags ( both down and synthetic ) for dry cleaning, as the harsh solvents and detergents used in the process can be damaging to the bags. It damages the loft of the down sleeping bags, particularly.

Some of the cleaning products to avoid, are bleaches, fabric softeners, and any other alternative bleaching products.

No hot water

Make sure you don’t wash your sleeping bag with hot water, as it cause the fabric of the sleeping bag to shrink. Warm and cool waters work best.

How do I know it’s time to wash my sleeping bag?

After you have used your sleeping bag a couple of times, a layer of grime starts ( from body oils, dirt, mud, etc )  to build on top of it, or the bag starts losing its loft. The loft may or may not reduce, but the dirt still needs to be cleaned.

Otherwise, if the bag has not been exposed to rugged use, just shaking off the dirt from the bag and spot cleaning it will suffice.

How frequently should I wash my sleeping bag?

Washing your sleeping bag after every trip may appear like a good idea, but it is recommended to wash it once an year.

3 Ways to wash your Sleeping bag

Machine Washing

1. Read the instructions by manufacturer

Check the manufacturer’s washing instructions on the bag, mostly available on the tag. If you cannot find it on the sleeping bag, search online. Follow those instructions, and mainly check if it is machine-washable.

2. Identify the right product to use for the bag

Down bags are expensive, and need extra care than synthetic ones, however, the only thing you should be taking care of is – are you using the right washing product according to the nature of the bag?

For Down sleeping bags, the most popular cleaner is the Nikwax Down Wash Direct, whereas for Synthetics, Nikwax Tech Wash works best. It is recommended to use the, any mild non-detergent soap would do.

3. Water

Load the washing machine with the detergent according to the sleeping bag, and use cold or warm water for the wash ( not hot water as it might damage the fabric ). If the bag has a water repellent/resistant coating, turn it inside out before putting it in the washing machine.

Run it through a gentle wash cycle.

4. Second rinse to ensure it is clean

After the first rinse cycle, put it through a second to make sure that the sleeping bag is free of any soap / detergents from the first wash.

5. Dryer

Remove the sleeping bag from the washing machine, supporting the entire bag. Pulling it from one end can cause the seams to get ripped. Squeeze out the excess water from the bag gently and put it in a dryer on less heat. If it is a down bag, you can also add 3 to 4 tennis balls to prevent clumps forming inside the bag.

Synthetic bags take around an hour in the dryer whereas down bags take more than 2 hours. Run enough cycles until it is dry.

6. Drying it

The best option to dry sleeping bags is air drying. It ensures that the sleeping bag does not get exposed to too much heat, and gets dried in mild winds. Don’t leave your bag in direct sunlight or too long.

Hand Washing

Hand washing a sleeping bag can be a very tedious process. If you don’t have the luxury of time for it, other options are giving it to professional cleaning services in your town.

1. Identify the right product to use for the bag

The instructions are same as explained above.

2. Prepare the wash

Fill your bathtub with cold or warm water, and then add the detergent according to the nature of your bag. Don’t add too much of the detergent as you will have to manually clean this to make sure it is entirely clean.

3. Lay the bag and work the soap

Place the sleeping bag in the water, spread it evenly across the tub and work the soap on the sleeping bag, giving special care to areas that are the most dirty. Being too rough on it too hard might damage the fabric.

4. Let it rest

After you have done this for about 10-15 minutes, let the sleeping bag rest on the tub for an hour.

5. Drain and prepare the second wash

After an hour, drain the water completely from the bathtub and then squeeze out the extra water from the bag gently. Clean the tub slightly and then fill it with water for the second rinse. Work out the soap on the outer layer slowly and let it rest for about 15 minutes.

6. Drying

Keep repeating the process until no detergent froth comes from the bag. After you are done, squeeze out all the water from the bag as much as you can and then put it in a dryer on a gentle cycle with low heat. Tennis balls help in removing clumps of insulation inside the bag.

If you don’t prefer using a washing machine dryer, after squeezing out all the water from it, air dry/hang it in a place that doesn’t have direct sunlight hitting in. Since you cannot use tennis balls here, you would have to manually break the clumps of insulation.

Spot Cleaning

Spot cleaning is the best when you just have a few dirty spots on the bag on an otherwise clean sleeping bag ( particularly when you have just washed a sleeping bag entirely ).

Identify the dirty spots on your bag first, and then have a brush and a bowl of cleaning detergent diluted with water ready. Use the brush, dip it in the diluted solution and use it to clean the spots filled with dirt.

After you are done with the cleaning, the spots might still have some amount of soap remnants on them, so you can either just wipe them off with a wet cloth, or dip the brush in clean water and clean it roughly.

Drying after spot cleaning should not take much time, before tucking the bag in your storage sacks, just make sure that the spots you cleaned are completely dry.

Drying Your Sleeping Bag

Sleeping bag liners

Liners are a great way to keep your sleeping bags away from dirt by acting as a barrier between your skin and the bag. They can be silk, cotton, linen, etc and are fairly lightweight. You could use a sleeping bag liner on top of the sleeping bags and all you’d need to do the next day is shake the dirt off the liners or wash them after the trip ( which is a lot easier than washing the bags themselves ) , and you have your sleeping bags intact.

Sleeping bag liners also add 5-10F of warmth to the sleeping bags.

Additional tips

DWR Restoration

Sleeping bags that come with a DWR ( durable water repellent ) coating, tends to wear away with time depending upon the usage. But no worries, you can always restore the DWR coating with sprays. The best of them is the Nikwax TX.Direct Spray-On Waterproofing.

Sleeping bags care

If the tear is minor, they can be fixed using round shaped repair patches can work. Sewing it with a needle and thread or sewing machines also work.

Snappy zippers can be quite annoying. You can get the broken zippers fixed from professional repair services.



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