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How to wash a sleeping bag

Sleeping bags are one of the several essential items for camping. Whether you’re camping by yourself, camping with kids or camping with dogs, it will ensure that everyone is snug and comfortable as they doze off through the night. It will provide that needed warmth especially when you find yourself suddenly camping in the rain. If you use your sleeping bag for it, as well as activities other than at-home sleepovers, there’s a strong possibility it’s going to see its fair share of dirt and grime. When your adventure bag starts to show this extensive use (read: stink), it’s time to give it a thorough cleaning.

Here’s exactly what you need to know about how to wash a sleeping bag. And before washing, make sure all zippers and other attachments are fully closed.

Synthetic filler sleeping bags

Synthetic sleeping bags are lined with polyester fragments or foam-like filaments to keep you warm and protected. These sleeping bags tend to be affordable, highly water-resistant, and allergen-free. If your sleeping bag doesn’t explicitly say that it’s made with down filler, it’s almost certainly synthetic.

Option 1: For small stains and spills, you can hand wash the sleeping bag to quickly get the grime out. Mix a small container of warm water and a very light soap (try to avoid heavy-duty laundry detergents if possible), grab a sponge or cloth, and clean the affected area. Switch to clean water to rinse and leave the bag out to dry.

You can also do this in a bathtub for a much more thorough cleaning but you’ll have to squeeze all water out of the bag after rinsing it — plus, drying will take a bit of time. Synthetic sleeping bags can be lightly tumble-dried but it’s important the heat stays relatively low to avoid the chance of burning the bag.

Option 2: If you have a large front-loading washing machine, you can also choose to use it to wash your bag. This is a good solution for sleeping bags that are old, completely dirty, or need a more thorough washing.

Note: Smaller washing machines will not be able to tumble a sleeping bag enough and top-loading washers tend to tear them.

When preparing, it’s important to use a mild soap or a very mild detergent, set the washing machine to a gentle cycle, and use warm water for the full washing process. It’s also a good idea to run the rinse cycle several times to make sure all soap residue is cleaned away. Again, air-drying is best but a very light tumble dry may be an option afterward as long as you regularly check to make sure no part of the sleeping bag is getting too hot.

Do not: Don’t send your synthetic sleeping bag out for dry cleaning or try to bleach it free of germs. Also, avoid ironing wrinkles out of your sleeping bag.

Down sleeping bags

Down sleeping bags are filled with soft down feathers, usually from geese or ducks (sometimes even specific species, for very fancy campers). Down is a perennially popular sleeping bag material because of its high fill power which basically means it traps heat and keeps it efficiently, while still being extremely lightweight. Down sleeping bags are more expensive but are also comfortable and well-suited for particularly cold environments.

If your sleeping bag has any down in it — including down/synthetic blends — you should follow these instructions for the best results. If you received the bag as a gift and aren’t sure, it’s worth it to look up the model online (although you can usually feel down with your fingers).

Option 1: Due to the way down sleeping bags are manufactured, they’re more sensitive to water and can actually sustain damage making it unusable if it gets too wet. So, your first step must be to purchase a laundry soap specifically made for down feathers — i.e. One that won’t ruin them. Nikwax is the most common and you can pick some up for around $10. Many people also prefer to throw in a tennis ball when washing their down sleeping bag, with the hope it will break up clumps of down.

Once you have a soap that treats your down right, make sure you’re using a large, front-loading washer and give it a warm wash on a gentle cycle. If there’s a waterproof membrane on the outside of your sleeping bag, we recommend turning it inside-out first.

When finished, rinse the bag several times to remove leftover soap. Move the bag over to a dryer, set it on the lowest warmth setting, and carefully dry it out. It’s a good idea to dry carefully in 20-minute intervals to make sure nothing gets burnt. Expect this stage to take a while.

Option 2: With the right soap and some extra time, you can do the same process in the bathtub by hand. The benefit to this option is that it’s easier to make sure the sleeping bag doesn’t damage. However, it does take a long time to wash the sleeping bag yourself before thoroughly rinsing it to make sure there’s no sign of soap in the water.

Option 3: Use a professional down cleaning services company that accepts sleeping bags. This is by far the most expensive option, and you have to send your bag off for a vacation, but it is easier on your end.

Do not: The same rules apply here as above. No dry-cleaning, no using harsh chemicals, etc. To add to this, do not use a traditional soap (as mentioned) and do not use a washing machine or dryer without checking to make sure it doesn’t have any snags or cracks that could damage the sleeping bag.

Additional tips

Does the inside of your sleeping stand a good chance of getting a little grimy or sweaty on your adventures? We recommend considering a sleeping bag liner to help protect it and to make cleaning sessions more effective. If the ground is likely to be dirty or muddy, think about investing in a sleeping pad, as well.

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