Whether you’re planning a camping trip in the wilderness or an evening under the stars in your backyard, you’ll want to make sure that your sleeping bag is clean. With this tutorial and the proper cleaning products, you can effectively wash your sleeping bag and be ready for any adventure.
Imagine a cozy night in a tent after a long day of hiking; the trees gently whispering in the breeze, the leaves rustling quietly in the distance. You are snuggling into a warm, comfy sleeping bag when you suddenly realize that your sleeping bag is dirty, grimy, and smells awful.
Does this ruin the moment? Probably! I know from experience that this scenario is no fun and can make your night restless and uncomfortable. That’s why I created this tutorial, to walk you through how to wash and clean a sleeping bag.
Note: You may be wondering how often to wash a down sleeping bag. While you may not need to wash your sleeping bag after every use, keep an eye (and a nose) on it for any signs of mustiness, dirt, or foul smell. You may be able to get away with washing it only once per season.
Whether your winter sleeping bag is filthy with dirt or smells of mildew, follow the instructions below to learn how to clean a sleeping bag.
How to Wash a Sleeping Bag
Machine Washing Your Sleeping Bag
What you will need
- Large, front-loading, commercial washing machine (you may need to go to a laundromat)
- Sleeping bag cleaner
- Use a cleaner appropriate for the type of fill of your sleeping bag. For down sleeping bags, wash it with a down cleaner. If you have a synthetic sleeping bag, use a cleaner for synthetic types, like Nikwax Tech Wash.
- Do not use laundry detergent, bleach, or fabric softener. These will risk damage to the loft of your sleeping bag and can destroy its water resistance.
Step by Step:
Step 1: Check the label
The first step is to make sure that it is safe to machine wash your sleeping bag. Check out the label or tag on your sleeping bag, or search online to find instructions on the manufacturer’s website. Remember that you never want to dry clean a sleeping bag, because this process uses very harsh chemicals that will damage the loft.
You want to wash your sleeping bag in a commercial washer for two reasons. The first is that these washing machines are industrial size and are best equipped for large sleeping bags or hefty lofts. The second reason is that commercial washers usually have a front loader rather than a top loader mechanism.
Do not wash your sleeping bag in a top-loading washing machine, because this can twist the bag around the agitator column or plastic spiral, causing damage and tearing to the fabrics.
Another note: do not use a regular laundry detergent, because this can damage the loft in your sleeping bag or destroy its hydrophobic properties. Fabric softener liquid and bleach are also damaging. You must wash your sleeping bag in the appropriate type of cleaner, depending on the type of fill your bag uses.
Step 2: Washing the sleeping bag
Prepare the sleeping bag by unzipping it and loosening any drawcords so that they don’t cause bunching while in the washer. Turn the sleeping bag inside-out.
Again, check the instructions on the label or manufacturer’s website for care specific to your sleeping bag. Load the sleeping bag into the washer, and program the washing machine accordingly. Usually, you will want to wash your sleeping bag in either cold or warm water, rather than hot. Most sleeping bags are best washed in the gentle or delicate cycle as well.
Add in the cleaner liquid, referring to the instructions on the bottle to determine the amount.
Allow the washer to run. Make sure to put the bag through a second rinse cycle also, to get rid of all of the soap.
You can view this instructional video to demonstrate how to wash your sleeping bag in a front-loading washer.
Hand Washing Your Sleeping Bag
If you do not have a commercial washer available, as an alternative, you can wash your sleeping bag in a tub of soapy water.
What you will need
- Bathtub or another large basin
- Sleeping bag cleaner
- Soft toothbrush and sponge
Step by Step:
Step 1: Spot cleaning
If there is a particularly dirty area that you want to spot clean, you can do so before washing the whole sleeping bag.
Pour a dot of the cleaner onto the trouble area, and using a soft toothbrush or sponge, brush the area in gentle circles to loosen the dirt.
You are now ready to move on to washing the entire rectangle sleeping bag.
Step 2: Prepare the tub
Make sure that your bathtub is clean. Fill up the bathtub with warm or cool water, never hot. Pour in the appropriate amount of cleaner as indicated on the bottle.
Step 3: Wash the sleeping bag
Turn the sleeping bag inside-out and place it into the water. Gently swirl, knead, and squish the bag into the water, making sure that the soap soaks through the whole bag.
Focus on any trouble spots or any heavily soiled areas by scrubbing the fabric gently with your hands.
You can let the bag soak for up to an hour in the water.
Step 4: Drain the tub
Drain the water out of the tub. Gently press and knead on the sleeping bag in sections to remove any excessive water from the fabric.
Do not ring it out, twist it, or lift it unevenly, as this can cause damage to the bag.
Step 5: Rinse out any excess soap
Once again, fill up the tub with warm or cool water as before, but do not add cleaner this time. Gently work the water through the fabric to squeeze out the soap.
Allow your budget sleeping bag to soak again for 15 minutes.
Drain out the water once more. Press on the sleeping bag in sections again to remove excess water.
Assess whether or not all of the soap has been removed. If it hasn’t, repeat step 5 as many times as necessary until all of the soap is rinsed out.
Step 6: Prepare the bag for the dryer
Carefully gather the body of the sleeping bag into a ball, pick it up, and hold it over the tub. Gently squeeze any excess dripping water out. Do not ring or twist the bag. Once it has stopped dripping, you can transport the sleeping bag to a dryer or to a laundromat.
View this video for a demonstration of washing a sleeping bag in a tub:
How to Dry Your Sleeping Bag:
What you will need
- Large, front-loading, commercial dryer
- Three clean tennis balls (if your sleeping bag is made of a down fill)
Step by Step:
Step 1: Remove the sleeping bag from the washer
If you are removing the sleeping bag from a washing machine, do so carefully and gently. Make sure to avoid putting strain on any seams by supporting the full weight of the bag at once, rather than tugging at the bag forcefully to pull it out. Gently squeeze the fabric of the sleeping bag to remove any excess dripping water.
Step 2: Dry the sleeping bag
Load the sleeping bag carefully into a front-loading, commercial-sized dryer.
If you are drying a down sleeping bag, place three clean tennis balls into the dryer with the bag. These tennis balls will help prevent clumping of the down fill and will help the bag to dry more quickly.
Note: do not use dryer sheets, as these can damage the fabric and filling.
Close the door, making sure that all of the bag’s fabric is securely inside.
Program the dryer for low heat to avoid damaging the sleeping bag, and turn it on.
Periodically open the door and check the sleeping bag for any clumping. Manually break up any clumps with your hands. Allow it to continue drying.
Synthetic bags will take at least an hour to dry, while down bags will take much longer. Allow the sleeping bag to run through many cycles on low heat so that it dries evenly and completely. Have patience!
Before storing away the sleeping bag, make sure it is completely dry. At home, you can hang it up or lay it out flat out of direct sunlight to make sure that any extra moisture is gone. Then, you can safely store your sleeping bag until your next camping trip!
Check out the end of this video to see a demonstration of manual de-clumping of the sleeping bag during the drying process:
Can a down sleeping bag be washed?
Yes, most down sleeping bags can be washed. Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the tag or draft tube. The most effective way to wash a down sleeping bag is in a commercial sized front-loading washer with enough room for the entire bag. Avoid washers that are equipped with an agitator column, as they can cause damage.
Wash the bag on the gentle cycle in warm or cold water with a “gear wash” such as Nikwax, which is formulated specifically to be safe for down gear. Avoid using standard laundry detergent, which can damage the loft.
Allow the washer to complete at least two rinse cycles so that all the soap is removed. If residue is left behind, it can disrupt the loft. At the end of rinsing, check to see if the bag feels spongy. If so, it needs another rinse cycle. When you remove the bag from the washer, take it out all at once rather than pulling by one end. This will prevent ripping. Squeeze out any dripping water.
Can you wash a synthetic sleeping bag?
Yes, you can wash a synthetic sleeping bag. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and use a front loading commercial washer to wash the bag thoroughly. Avoid washers with an agitator column, because the sleeping bag can become wrapped around it, causing damage.
Synthetic bags should be washed with a technical cleanser, such as Nikwax’s Tech-Wash, because detergents can be damaging. Typically, synthetic sleeping bags are washed on a gentle cycle in warm water. Give the sleeping bag at least two rinse cycles to fully remove the soap. Many synthetic bags are made of nylon, which will feel spongy if it needs more rinsing.
You can also wash a sleeping bag in a bathtub. Add in a cleanser, and turn the sleeping bag inside out. Gently submerge the bag in the water and knead it around. Drain the tub, and then fill it up again with only water this time. Gently work the water throughout the fabric to rinse the soap. Let the bag soak, and then drain the tub while pressing on the bag to squeeze out water.
Should you unzip a sleeping bag to wash it?
Yes, make sure that you unzip the sleeping bag entirely. This will ensure that the zipper does not get caught on anything inside the washer.
Do you need to wash sleeping bags?
Yes, it is important to keep your sleeping bag clean. Over time, oils and residue from your body will seep into the fabrics and damage them if the bag is stored away without being cleaned first.
How often should you wash sleeping bags?
While you don’t necessarily need to wash your sleeping bag after each camping trip, you should inspect it after each use. If the bag is starting to smell, it is time for a wash. Typically, it’s a good idea to wash your sleeping bag at least once a year. You may want to wash your sleeping bag right before you store it away when the camping season is over.
Can you dry a sleeping bag in a dryer?
Yes, sleeping bags can be dried in a dryer. Make sure that you use a commercial size dryer that is large enough that the sleeping bag can tumble as needed. Also, be careful that you use a low heat setting, because heat that is too high can melt or damage the fabrics.
When drying a down sleeping bag in a commercial dryer, add a few tennis balls in with the bag. This will help to keep the loft fluffed up so that it dries more quickly. Typically, synthetic sleeping bags will be dry within one hour, while down sleeping bags take several hours to be completely dry. Make sure that you run the dryer for several cycles if needed so that the bag is totally dry.
If you don’t want to use a commercial dryer, you can also air dry a sleeping bag. Lay it down on a clean, flat surface out of direct sunlight. You can even hang up a sleeping bag to dry it, but make sure that its weight is evenly distributed to prevent ripping. No matter which drying method you choose, make sure that the bag is completely dry before you store it away.
Why does my down sleeping bag smell?
A smelly sleeping bag is often due to an excess of moisture. When you’re camping, condensation from the grass can build up on the bag. If your sleeping bag is allowed to be moist for too long, mildew or mold can grow, leading to a smell. Excess moisture can also lead to down rot, which means that the down inside the sleeping bag is starting to become spoiled.
Another source of a smelly sleeping bag is a gross one – sweat. If you sleep unshowered in your sleeping bag after a long day of hiking, you may find that your sleeping bag smells bad after using it. When sleeping, make sure that your bag is well ventilated to prevent sweating in your sleep.
More: NEMO Riff 15 Review
How do you get the musty smell out of a sleeping bag?
To remove the musty smell from the bag, you need to wash it as described above, either in a commercial washer or by hand. If washing the bag does not remove the smell, you can use vinegar in the wash to further remove smells.
If regular washing or vinegar washing does not remove the smell, it’s time for further investigation. If you have a down sleeping bag, look inside the fabric to check for down rot. In this case, you may need to replace the down or purchase an entirely new bag.
You can also purchase an enzymatic spray to help remove smells from fabrics. To prevent future smells, you can get a sleeping bag liner. This will keep moisture and sweat from seeping into the fabrics of the bag.
Now, You’re Ready to Sleep Under the Stars Again
Did you find this tutorial informative and helpful? These steps have helped my sleeping bag to stay clean over many years of camping trips. If you follow the above instructions, you can keep your sleeping bag free of mold, mildew, and grime.
Please leave a comment below to tell us your thoughts, and remember to share the article if you enjoyed it.