Sleeping bags should be washed from time to time. You wouldn’t think twice about the importance of washing your bed sheets, but a lot of people go years without washing theirs! Dirty sleeping bags hold in years of sweat if unwashed, which gives them a bad smell every time you hop inside. Plus, the dirt and grime left in dirty sleeping bags can damage the insulation, leaving you colder at night than you anticipated.
So if yours is going to keep you warm in your tent and smell fresh for years, you are going to need to wash it. Most brands will come with cleaning instructions, but these vary depending on the type of bag (synthetic or down) you own.
Below are a few steps to follow when you have realized it’s time to clean your sleeping bag.
Synthetic vs. Down
The first thing you want to check is the material of your sleeping bag. This is important because certain cleaning methods will damage some materials.
Down Sleeping Bags
Down material comes from bird feathers, usually from ducks or geese. Dry cleaning chemicals and conventional laundry detergents can damage the natural oils on down. That is why it is important NEVER to dry clean a down sleeping bag. If you use laundry detergent, be sure to go with one made explicitly for down materials.
Synthetic Sleeping Bags
Synthetic insulation is made from polyester fibers. The chemicals in some conventional laundry detergents can damage these fibers, so we recommend that you use a mild detergent. There are even many options available that are designed specifically for synthetic materials. Because many dry cleaners use intense chemicals, we do not recommend that you get your synthetic sleeping bag dry cleaned.
Machine Wash vs. Hand Wash
Once you figure out what material your sleeping bag is made of, and you have bought the appropriate cleaning supplies, it’s time for the actual wash. The next decision you will need to make is if you want to do a machine wash or a hand wash.
Machine Washing a Sleeping Bag
First off, check the cleaning label on your sleeping bag to see if it is suitable for machine washing. Make sure never to use a top-loading washing machine. Sleeping bags can easily get caught on the plastic spiral inside the drum of these machines, causing them to get twisted up and torn apart. Most household washing machines are top loading, so this probably means you will have to go to your local laundromat to use an industrial machine. Once you are ready, here are a few more steps to follow in the machine washing process:
- Set the machine to a delicate wash, and use the cold water option.
- Unzip the bag all the way before loading. The puller on the zipper should also be left halfway up the zipper.
- Never use fabric softener. This will damage or even destroy your sleeping bag.
- If possible, throw in a couple of tennis balls into the machine. The balls will bounce around during the wash, which will help prevent the stuffing from clumping together.
- After the wash cycle, run the bag through another rinse cycle to get rid of any soap that might be left on it.
- After the rinse cycle, press down on the bag to check for soap suds. If any appear, run it through another rinse cycle. Repeat this process until no soap suds appear after pressing down on the bag.
- Once no soap suds appear, take it out of the machine and roll it up gently to get as much excess water out as possible before drying it.
- Be sure to NEVER wring or scrunch up the bag too tightly as this can clump up the filling and damage your bag.
Hand Washing a Sleeping Bag
If you have an old sleeping bag, you might be worried that a machine wash could damage it. Or, maybe you just don’t want to take a trip down to the laundromat. If that’s the case, you can always go with a manual hand wash. Just head to the bathtub in your house, and follow these steps:
- Fill your bathtub with cold water and add a half cup of mild laundry detergent.
- Stir the detergent into the water until it fully dissolves.
- Make sure your bag is fully zipped up and then lay it into the bathtub as flat as possible.
- With clean bare feet, step into the bath and walk up and down the bag until it is completely submerged in the soapy water. Continue to walk up and down the bag until the soapy water has been worked through the entire bag.
- Drain the soapy water and refill the tub with clean cold water.
- Walk up and down the bag in your bare feet again to work the clean water through the material. This is so the soap washes out.
- Once the water appears soapy, drain it and refill the tub with clean cold water again. Then repeat walking up and down the bag to continue working the soap out of it.
- Continue this process until no soap is coming out after to press down on the bag.
- Drain the water from the tub, take the sleeping bag out, and gently roll it up. This helps drain excess water out of the material before you move on to the drying process.
- DO NOT wring or scrunch up the bag too tightly as this can clump up the filling and damage your bag.
Drying Your Sleeping Bag
Once you have either machine-washed or hand washed your sleeping bag, it’s time to dry it. Your two choices are to use a dryer machine or to hang dry. But be careful during this process. No matter which method you choose, there are mistakes to avoid that could damage or destroy your sleeping bag.
It’s also essential to make sure that all moisture is gone from your bag, especially if you are preparing to put it away for the season. If you store away a wet sleeping bag for the winter, the next time you unpack it, it could be covered in mildew and have a bad smell.
- If you choose to machine dry, the first thing remember is NEVER to use high heat. High temperatures can melt synthetic fibers and fabrics. This will leave you with a very uncomfortable or even destroyed bag. You should always use low heat when using a machine dryer. Be sure to choose a large dryer.
- There needs to be enough space for the sleeping bag to toss around freely during the tumble dry. This allows the warm air to flow through every part of the bag, which significantly speeds up the drying time.
- We also recommend that you throw in a couple of terry cloth towels and tennis balls during the drying process. The terry cloth towels help minimize static electricity and also speed up the drying process. Tennis balls bounce around the machine and hit the bag, which helps prevent the filling from clumping together.
- Finally, be sure you bring a lot of quarters (and maybe a book). Plan on two to four hours of drying time before you get rid of all the moisture in your bag.
If you choose to go the old fashioned route, you can also simply hang your bag on a line to air dry. Still, there are a couple of steps to follow if this is your preferred choice:
- First, make sure to hang out your bag unzipped, so that all the surfaces get dried by the air passing through it.
- Also, you will need to leave your bag out for at least 24 hours before it is completely dry. Check your local weather forecast to make sure the weather permits this. If your bag gets rained on, you might have to start the whole process over again. On the other hand, you might get lucky and have high winds with no rain, which could speed up the process.
- Check periodically to see how dry or wet the materials are. Make sure your bag is completely dry before taking it down.
- One last thing: you also do not want to hang it in direct sunlight. UV rays from direct sunlight can break down and damage synthetic materials.
Whether you go the old fashioned way and clean your sleeping bag in a bathtub and hang it on the line, or you choose to spend a day in the laundromat using machines, it’s important to follow the right steps. Use the guide above to make sure you properly clean your sleeping bag. If you do, your bag will stay smelling fresh. You also will avoid damaging it, so that you can enjoy it for years to come on camping trips and sleepovers.
No more nights spent in an uncomfortable and sweaty sleeping bag! Yours will feel like brand new in no time.