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How to wash and care for your sleeping bag so you can use it season after season

Follow these tips to keep your sleeping bag in good shape

Sleeping bags are a camping essential. A quality sleeping bag does far more than just keep you warm. The feeling of curling up in your sleeping bag at the end of a long day of hiking on the trail — perhaps with the rain bouncing off the outside of your tent — is like crawling into a luxurious king-sized bed in a hotel. But like hotel bed sheets, your sleeping bag should be clean and well maintained.

Let’s face it, we’re not always at our freshest when we climb into our sleeping bags. After a long day of traipsing across a bog, climbing mountains, or playing with your kids at the campsite, you’re probably soaked in sweat and caked with grime. Your sleeping bag can quickly become a tapestry of past trips if you aren’t careful. This doesn’t just affect the look and smell either. A dirty sleeping bag is less effective than a clean one — the insulation often gets clumped together and sleeping bag ratings become less reliable. Our guide will help you to keep your sleeping bag clean and well maintained, so you can enjoy warm nights curled up under the stars.

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In camp care

Use a sleeping bag liner

One of the easiest ways to care for your sleeping bag is by using a sleeping bag liner. These cotton, silk, or fleece liners go inside your sleeping bag like a fitted sheet and protect it from, well, you. When you get back at the end of your trip simply toss the liner in the washing machine, air out your sleeping bag and you’re ready to go again. This doesn’t mean you never have to wash your sleeping bag, but it certainly helps.

Change your clothes

At the end of a long day on the trail, it’s not just your body that’s going to be grimy. Your hiking clothes are going to be covered in everything from the outside and inside. Change out of any dirty clothes before you get into your sleeping bag and put on clean long underwear. A thin hat can protect the hood of your sleeping bag from your dirty hair and we suggest washing any bug spray or suncream off too, as these can damage your sleeping bag.

Air your bag regularly

If you have a chance, unzip your sleeping bag and hang it over your tent every day. This can be done at breakfast or over dinner if you’re on a hiking trail and don’t have time to leave your sleeping bag out all day. If it’s raining and you can’t hang your bag outside, turning it inside out inside your tent will still go a long way to airing — just remember to turn it back again before you get into it.

Storing your sleeping bag

When you’re in camp or out on the trail, your sleeping bag is going to be stored in a stuff sack — often with compression — to reduce the size so it fits in your backpack. These stuff sacks get their names from the fact that you are supposed to stuff your sleeping bag into them. Rolling your sleeping bag will clump the down, pushing it into the same place routinely and leaving gaps in the insulation.

At home, it’s recommended that you remove your sleeping bag from the compression sack and let it loft in a larger cotton bag. This is especially important for down sleeping bags, but it lets the insulation in every sleeping bag loft and prevents it from clumping together — clumped insulation severely limits insulating qualities. This process of moving your sleeping bag between sacks is also a good time to give it a quick welfare check and repair any damage. Do not pull out any down feathers that are poking out, but try to pull them back inside the bag — this prevents the hole from becoming larger and the risk of losing more feathers.

Washing your sleeping bag

Spot cleaning

If your sleeping bag does not require a full wash, mix up a small paste of non-detergent soap and use a toothbrush to scrub the stain. Rinse this off by dabbing with a damp sponge and then air your sleeping bag out until fully dry. This works well for grease stains, dirt, and grime that have gotten onto your sleeping bag while you’ve been out camping.

Machine washing your sleeping bag

Sleeping bags with down insulation — even down/synthetic blends — require a delicate cleaning process to avoid damaging the down or clumping the feathers. Professional services are available from many companies if you would rather not risk the process. The best soap for cleaning your down sleeping bag is a professional-grade gear wash that is specifically designed for down, like Nikwax Down Wash Direct.

Synthetic insulation is less prone to clumping than down feathers and doesn’t require the same specialist wash. You should still use technical outdoor cleaner, like Nikwax Tech Wash to prevent damaging your sleeping bag.

The steps are the same for both down and synthetic sleeping bags. You can also hand wash your bag if you do not have access to a large enough washing machine.

  1. Unzip the bag fully to avoid the zip snagging.
  2. Load your sleeping bag into a front-loading washing machine and check that you have fully flushed out any detergent from the soap tray. Larger machines — like at a laundromat — give more space for the bag to move and can ensure a more thorough clean.
  3. Follow any care instructions on the sleeping bag, but these usually suggest a warm wash and a gentle cycle.
  4. Once your bag is washed, rinse it thoroughly to get rid of excess cleaner.
  5. Remove your sleeping bag carefully from the machine and dry thoroughly.
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Drying your sleeping bag

You should ensure that your sleeping bag is clear of any cleaning agents before you dry it. Be sure to fully dry your sleeping bag before you store it away — this can take some time but prevents long-term damage or mold.

Sleeping bags can either be dried naturally or in a dryer. In a dryer, your sleeping bag could take anywhere from an hour to several hours to dry thoroughly. Don’t be tempted to crank up the heat, as this will only damage your bag. Load your sleeping bag into a large dryer — again, laundromats are a good choice for their size — and turn it onto low heat. It can be a good idea to throw in a couple of clean tennis balls with your sleeping bag, as these can help to break up clumps of insulation as your bag dries.

To dry your sleeping bag naturally, hang it from a line or on a clean, flat surface and let it dry in warm weather. Avoid direct sunlight, as UV can damage outdoor gear over time. Check that you aren’t putting excess strain on the fabric of your bag and move your bag regularly to break up any clumps of insulation. You may have to shake your bag regularly to separate the insulation.

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