Tips for maintaining and washing sleeping bags

Sleeping bags come with one of three types of insulation: natural (down or down and feather), synthetic fibres or fleece. But whatever type of sleeping bag you have, if you use it only a couple of times a year and treat it well, you may be able to go 10 years without having to give it a thorough cleaning.

Tips for maintaining and washing sleeping bags

1. To keep a sleeping bag in good shape

  • Spot-clean it after a trip with a sponge and soapy water.
  • After a camping trip, air your sleeping bag for a couple of hours or place it in the dryer for 10–15 minutes to get rid of any moisture.
  • Store your bag in a large breathable storage sack, not in its own stuff sack (if it's impermeable) nor in a plastic bag

2. To hand wash a sleeping bag

  • The most careful way to do it is to fill a bathtub with warm water and just a little soap.
  • For down bags, you can safely use a mild laundry detergent or a no-rinse eucalyptus wool wash.
  • Don't use any detergent containing bleach on a down bag (but it's okay for synthetic-fibre bags).
  • Check the package instructions to determine the amount of detergent to use. Remember that using too much will mean more rinsing later on.
  • Gently knead the bag to help the soapy water penetrate the material.
  • If your sleeping bag has a waterproof outer shell, you will need to turn the entire bag inside out before you immerse it so the soapy water will be able to penetrate the sleeping bag.

3. Rinse your bag twice

  • Use clear water (unless you're using no-rinse wool wash). Don't cut corners on this step, particularly if you're working with a down bag. It's very important to remove all the soap before the down has dried.
  • Do not wring water from your sleeping bag. Instead, squeeze out the water by rolling up the bag tightly and carefully.

4. Dry your sleeping bag well to preserve it

  • If your bag is not dried thoroughly before you store it away, the matted lumps that formed when it was wet will stay that way. The bag will lose its loft, will no longer offer optimum insulation and may be susceptible to mildew.
  • For these reasons, it's better to dry your bag at a self-service laundry, where you can use a large dryer.
  • In a home dryer, the sleeping bag will take up so much room that it won't tumble well. Consequently, the clumps of down or synthetic fibres will not be broken up during drying.
  • If you decide to wash your sleeping bag at home and then dry it at a self-service laundry, put it in a plastic bag for the trip to the laundry.
  • Use the largest dryer and set it to high heat. Melting the nylon shell is not a danger because the bag has room to tumble, but if you're in doubt, use a lower setting.
  • Once the nylon shell is dry, set the dryer on medium heat so that the interior feathers can dry.
  • Throw in a couple of clean tennis balls to help break up clumps of down.
  • Remove the bag as soon as it's finished tumbling.
  • Check that your bag is definitely dry. Even if your bag feels dry, the down insulation may not be. Look for lumps — a sign the down is still wet.
  • After drying a sleeping bag with fibre-pile insulation, gently fluff up the fleece with a comb or brush.
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