How to Wash A Down Sleeping Bag: 5 Surefire Tricks

Your sleeping bags are camping essentials. You’ll sit on them, lie down on them, and sleep in them throughout your camping trip. It’s like a home unto itself!

And like your home, your sleeping bag needs some periodic cleaning. Often, if you treat your sleeping bag right, it will only ever need minor spot-cleaning. Spot-cleaning means cleaning only certain portions of your sleeping bag that are most likely to collect dirt and things like hair and dead skin. Great examples of these are the hood or collar parts of your sleeping bag.

Eventually, however, your sleeping bag will accumulate dirt and grime. When this happens, that’s when you should consider washing it down. You have many options available to you. Some companies offer sleeping bag cleaning services. But as we campers tend to be DIY’ers, you’re probably more inclined to clean it yourself.

Below are my 5 surefire tricks on how to wash a down sleeping bag!

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What You’ll Need To Wash Your Sleeping Bag

1.) A steady supply of water – Not a problem for machine washing. You’ll need a lot of water to rinse out the soap you will be using to clean out your sleeping bag.

mild soap like cream

2.) Mild soap – Regular laundry detergents and fabric conditioner can ruin the material of your sleeping bag. Alternatively, you can use specialty cleaning agents for down sleeping bags.

mild soap like cream

Mild soap like cream


3.) A large tub – For handwashing your sleeping bag, you’ll need a large enough tub that will fit half of your sleeping bag lengthwise. You’ll be folding your bag and leaving it submerged.

A large tub

4.) A front-loading washing machine (optional) – Front loaders are ideal for machine-washing a sleeping bag.

A front loading washing machine

How to Wash A Down Sleeping Bag

Trick 1. Read The Label

Read The Label

It should go without saying, but not all sleeping bags are made the same. Materials and construction methods vary. That is why your sleeping bag’s manufacturer has a specific set of instructions for cleaning the sleeping bag.

Often your sleeping bag comes with instructions for both machine washing and hand washing. There won’t be much difference in result, as long as you follow the instructions.

As for knowing when to use which option, that depends on how much cleaning your sleeping bag needs. Machine washing will do in most situations, and will save you time. But if your sleeping bag has specific spots that need extra attention, then handwashing is the way to go.

No matter what method you ultimately choose, the next few tricks will help you clean your sleeping bag while keeping it safe and in tip-top condition!​

Front-loading washing machine

A front-loading washing machine

Bonus tip: If you decide to machine-wash your sleeping bag, choose the front-loading machine. If you don’t have a front loader, your local laundromat should have one. Top-leading washing machines often have agitators that help spin the clothes and water inside – these can stretch and rip your sleeping bag up easily, so avoid them!


Trick 2. Zip It Up!

A sleeping bag zippers

A sleeping bag zippers from Zips-down

Before you dunk your sleeping bag into the water, make sure to zip it up all the way. It is a simple step to take, but the one you can easily miss.

The reason for this is threefold: 

  • First, you don’t want the zipper teeth getting bent out of alignment, bent out of shape, or snapped off
  • Second, zipper teeth can get caught in the material of your sleeping bag and cause it to tear
  • Finally, if you are using a washing machine, the zipper teeth can get caught in the gaps or holes of the machine, and the force of the machine can rip your sleeping bag apart

Remeber: Your bag might have a waterproof lining on the outside. This will prevent water from getting into the material. To solve this, simply turn your sleeping bag inside-out before closing the zipper!


Trick 3. Get A Feel For Things

Get a feel for things

Feel around the inside of the washing machine. Sometimes sharp objects like safety pins or bits of broken plastic might have been left inside. Rarely, the machine itself might have some defects on the inside, such as a bent piece of metal sticking out. Take these out, or if it can’t be taken out, switch the machine.

For handwashing, feel the inside and edges of the tub you plan to use for washing. Like the washing machine, there could be sharp objects inside, or perhaps some parts of the tub’s edge could be sharp. Remove the objects or, if you can’t remove it, use another tub.


Trick 4. Don’t Come On Strong!

Do not use regular detergents

Do not use regular detergents

Do NOT use regular detergents. Your sleeping bag has a filler material called “down” that has a certain “loft” (a more rugged-sounding word for “fluffy”) to it. Laundry detergents can strip the down of its natural loft, reducing your sleeping bag to a flat, thick blanket.

There are specialty soaps that are meant for down, so you may want to explore these as well. But if you don’t have access to those, mild soaps will do just fine.​

For machines, be sure to pre-wash the machine (meaning, let it run a wash cycle without your sleeping bag) to ensure that any residue is removed. Check out the soap dispenser as well, as often these have leftover detergents and even fabric softeners. Once you’re all clear, give your sleeping bag one gentle wash cycle with the soap, and the remaining cycles with only water until you’re sure there’s no more soap left inside the bag.

For handwashing, submerge your sleeping bag in soapy water. Once you think it’s had enough, remove the soapy water, and then press down on your sleeping bag to remove the excess water. (Don’t wring it, that can stretch the material and displace the down or synthetics inside the bag!). After this, put clean water in, and then repeat the process of removing water and pressing water out of the sleeping bag until you’re confident no soap remains.

Bonus tip: Don’t use fabric softener either! This can damage the down of your sleeping bag. If you’re worried about odors, washing and air-drying should be enough!


Trick 5. Keep Out Of Sunlight

Clothesline sleeping bag

An easy mistake to make is to dry your sleeping bag in sunlight. You might think this will save you time, but the reality is that direct sunlight can damage the outer lining of your sleeping bag.

Look for a spot where you can hang your sleeping bag to dry out of direct sunlight. If you can find a spot where there is a good breeze, even better. Air-drying your newly-washed sleeping bag is the best way to dry it!


Clean as a Whistle

Clean as a Whistle

If you’ve made it this far then congratulations! Your sleeping bag is now clean and ready to go for your next camping trip!

I tend to machine-wash my sleeping bags regularly, even if I don’t use them as often as I used to. Aside from keeping them clean, regular washing ensures that I don’t have to worry about any musty odor when I decide to go camping.

Did you like this article? What sleeping bag tricks do you have up your sleeve? Leave a comment below, and share this article if you enjoyed it!

Rita Myers
 

I’m Rita Myers, and camping is one of my utmost passions. Growing up near the base of a mountain, hiking and camping have been in my system since I was just a little girl. My love for camping and hiking stayed with me well into adulthood. Now, as a mother of two boys and a wife, I keep my passion alive by bringing my family outdoors. Of course, my family isn’t always up to it, so I write these articles and tips in the hope that you and your family can enjoy the great outdoors like I do!