How to wash a sleeping bag. Two sleeping bags in the back of a vehicle. Photo by lucas Favre on Unsplash

How to Wash a Sleeping Bag Easily & Effectively in 2024

Whether you’re camping in the UK or exploring further afield, there’s nothing better than having a sleeping bag that reminds you of home. Many of us have a warm relationship with our sleeping bags, but knowing how to wash a sleeping bag can seem daunting, especially if you’re doing it at home.

When it comes to washing a sleeping bag, the general rule is “as little as possible, and only when necessary.” I’ve had my sleeping bag for years and have probably only washed it a handful of times. But how exactly do you wash a sleeping bag? And is there any difference in the process when it’s a down sleeping bag or a synthetic sleeping bag?

Fear not, we have you covered! Read on to find out the top tips that will keep your sleeping bag in the best condition for years of use.

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Key Takeaways

  • Properly washing a sleeping bag involves understanding the material (down-filled or synthetic), pre-wash preparation such as inspecting for damage and shaking out dirt, and choosing the correct washing method (hand wash or machine wash with appropriate detergent and temperature).

  • Drying the sleeping bag correctly is essential, favouring air drying on a warm day or tumble drying on low heat with precautions to prevent damage, and ensuring the bag is completely dry before storage.

  • Long-term care includes using a sleeping bag liner to maintain cleanliness, storing the sleeping bag loosely in a cotton or mesh sack in a cool, dry place, and handling repairs like fixing small holes or addressing zipper issues with appropriate tools or professional assistance.

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How to Wash a Sleeping Bag: Understanding Sleeping Bag Materials

Someone holding their sleeping bag in the breeze up a mountain. Photo by Martin Jernberg on Unsplash

Getting to know the material of your sleeping bag is the first step in its care. The two main types of materials used in sleeping bags are down-filled and synthetic.

Now, why does this matter?

Well, the type of material impacts how you wash your sleeping bag. A down bag, for example, requires more careful attention during washing such as the water temperature than a synthetic bag.

But don’t worry, whether your bag’s material is as fluffy as a duck’s feather or as synthetic as your gym shirt, we’ll guide you through the best cleaning methods for each.

Pre-Wash Preparation

A few essential steps should be taken before initiating the washing process of your sleeping bag. This is the pre-wash preparation stage, where you inspect your sleeping bag for any damage and give it a thorough shake to dislodge any loose dirt.

Inspect for Damage

A comprehensive inspection of your sleeping bag is necessary before using any detergent. Here are some things to check:

  • Look for any tears or holes in the fabric;

  • Check the zippers to make sure they’re in good condition; and

  • Focus on the seams, as they are often the spots where damage occurs.

Damaged zippers can make washing a nightmare, so make sure they’re in good condition before proceeding.

Regular inspections of your sleeping bag are key to preserving its quality, as prevention surpasses cure. By checking your sleeping bag regularly and taking care of it, you’ll ensure its longevity for years to come.

Shake Out Loose Dirt

There’s no need to wash your sleeping bag if it’s just a little dusty. That’s what shaking out the loose dirt is for. Open your sleeping bag fully and give it a vigorous shake. This will remove dirt and small particles, making the washing process more effective and keeping your washing machine happy.

Plus, it’s a great arm workout, and who doesn’t love that?!

Washing Techniques: Machine vs. Hand Wash

A washing machine in a room. Photo by PlanetCare on Unsplash

With your sleeping bag now prepared, we can proceed to the critical part: washing. But should you machine wash your sleeping bag, or is hand washing better? The answer depends on a few factors: convenience, thoroughness of cleaning, and potential for causing damage.

Machine washing offers a less strenuous and potentially evenly distributed clean, while hand washing, despite requiring more effort, allows for finer control. Whichever method you choose, the goal is the same: a clean, fresh-smelling sleeping bag.

Machine Washing

A few considerations need to be kept in mind if you choose to machine wash:

  1. Always check the care label.

  2. Make sure your sleeping bag fits comfortably in the machine.

  3. Use a very mild or technical detergent, and avoid any fabric softener.

  4. Choose a gentle cycle and a short rinse cycle.

  5. The wash temperature should be low, ideally on a ‘handwash’ setting or no higher than 30°C.

To properly wash a sleeping bag, follow these steps to ensure that your wet sleeping bag gets a thorough clean with the proper sleeping bag wash technique, without any damage.

Hand Washing

For those who prefer a more hands-on approach and choose to hand wash their sleeping bag, these tips could be useful. Be prepared to deal with a heavy wet load, which can be difficult to handle. Use a small amount of a non-detergent soap such as Grangers Down Performance Wash.

When washing your wet bag, the water should be cool or warm, not hot. Also, remember to remove excess rinse water gently, as aggressive wringing can damage the bag’s material.

Spot Cleaning Tips

If your sleeping bag isn’t overly dirty, but has a few spots and stains, you can clean small stains and dirt without washing the entire bag. Use a soft brush and mild soap to gently remove the spot. For stubborn stains, you can pretreat them with an enzyme-based stain remover.

And if you spot any mould or mildew growth, don’t panic! Wipe them with full-strength vinegar to kill the spores and deodorise the fabric.

How to Wash a Sleeping Bag: Drying It Properly

A washing line with clothes on it. Photo by Manu B on Unsplash

Once your sleeping bag is thoroughly clean, drying it becomes the next step. But don’t just throw it in the dryer and forget about it. The method of drying your sleeping bag plays a critical role in preserving its insulation properties and materials.

While air drying is the recommended method, you can also use a tumble dryer on a low heat with wool dryer balls for added fluffiness.

Air Drying

Air drying is the gentlest way to dry your sleeping bag, which is why it’s the preferred method. To do this, lay your bag flat on towels over two portable clothes racks in a shaded area. This will prevent damage from direct sunlight.

Choose a hot, dry, and windy day to speed up the drying process. Remember, it’s always worth waiting for your sleeping bag to dry properly to avoid any damage or mould growth.

Tumble Dryer Precautions

Certain precautions should be taken if you are using a tumble dryer for drying your sleeping bag. Use a low heat setting as a high heat setting can damage the fabrics and components of the bag. Also, ensure that the bag doesn’t fill the dryer chamber completely to allow proper tumbling and prevent hot spots.

With these precautions, you can ensure a dry, safe, and effective drying process.

Sleeping Bag Liner Maintenance

A tent with two sleeping bags inside. Photo by Ali Kazal on Unsplash

If you want to take your sleeping bag care a step further, consider using a sleeping bag liner. A liner adds an extra layer of protection, keeping the inside of your sleeping bag clean and extending its life by preserving the sleeping bag’s shell. It’s a bit like using a phone case – it provides an extra layer of protection against damage.

We always use sleeping bag liners as it means we only need to wash the liner every time we use it rather than our sleeping bags. Plus, it adds a bit of extra warmth on those cold nights camping.

Here are some tips on how to maintain your sleeping bag liner.

How to Wash Your Sleeping Bag: Caring for Down-Filled Sleeping Bags

While down-filled sleeping bags require extra care, it’s not a difficult task with the right information. When washing, use a soap formulated for down to preserve the natural oils and maintain the loft. A range of effective soaps for this purpose includes:

  • Grangers Down Wash;

  • Nikwax Down Wash Direct;

  • Storm Down Wash; and

  • Fibertec Down Wash Eco.

The hand-washing process involves:

  1. Rinsing the bath

  2. Filling it with lukewarm water

  3. Adding the specialist down cleaner

  4. After 30 minutes of gentle agitation, drain and rinse thoroughly with clean water before air drying. Don’t forget the extra rinse cycle to ensure all detergent is removed.

Caring for Synthetic Sleeping Bags

Compared to their down-filled counterparts, synthetic sleeping bags are somewhat easier to care for.

You can either hand wash or machine wash your synthetic sleeping bag using a front-loading washing machine and a specialist cleaning product like Grangers Performance Wash or Nikwax Tech Wash.

Always use a cool, gentle wash to protect the material and insulation. And remember, synthetic bags should only be washed when necessary to avoid compromising their insulation properties.

Storing Your Sleeping Bag

A man sitting in a tent folding up a sleeping mat. Photo by Chaewul Kim on Unsplash

Proper storage of your sleeping bag holds as much importance as washing it correctly. The right storage techniques can ensure your sleeping bag’s longevity and performance. Keep it loosely in a large cotton or mesh storage sack.

Avoid compressing it in its stuff sack or storing it in watertight storage bags. This is because proper air circulation is crucial for maintaining the bag’s loft and preventing mildew.

Storage Bag Selection

Choosing the appropriate storage bag for your sleeping bag is important. Cotton or mesh storage sacks, such as mesh bags, are the best as they allow air circulation, which is essential for maintaining the bag’s loft and preventing mildew. Jumbo cotton storage bags or cotton/mesh sleeping bag storage sacks are some recommended types of storage bags to consider.

Ideal Storage Environment

A cool, dry area is the perfect spot for storing your sleeping bag to avoid the growth of mildew. Humidity can encourage the growth of mould, mildew, and bacteria, so it’s best to store your bag away from damp areas like basements, garages, and attics.

To safeguard your sleeping bag from pests like insects or rodents, consider placing mothballs or cedar chips inside the storage bag, ensuring a clean sleeping bag inside. The last thing you want when you get your sleeping bag out is to find it’s been the cosy home for insects.

Repairing and Restoring Your Sleeping Bag

Sleeping bags in a tent. Photo by Ivana Cajina on Unsplash

Despite diligent care and maintenance, your sleeping bag might occasionally require minor repairs. Don’t worry, though – with a little know-how, you can easily repair small holes, fix zipper issues, and handle down leakage. And remember, if the damage is too extensive, it’s better to seek professional help rather than attempting to repair it yourself.

Fixing Small Holes

Small holes in your sleeping bag can be bothersome, particularly if they begin to leak insulation. But, fixing small holes is easier than you might think. You can use adhesive patches like Tenacious Tape or apply a sealer such as Seam Grip.

Another option is to use glue to coat the area and press a fabric patch over it, securing it with a weight.

Addressing Zipper Issues

Zipper issues can turn a cosy sleeping bag into a frustrating mess. If your zipper is stuck, try gently moving the material sideways to free it. Use a stiff brush to clean each side of the zipper tape and track.

Lubricants like Vaseline can also help to unstick the zipper teeth. If the issue is too complicated, consider using a zipper repair kit or getting professional help.

Dealing with Down Leakage

Down leakage is a frequent issue in down-filled sleeping bags, but it’s not a cause for undue concern. If you notice feathers protruding from your down sleeping bag, just push them back in. The little hole it made should close up.

If there’s a recurring spot where down frequently leaks, try taping the seams with duct tape to prevent further leakage.

Final Thoughts

We’ve covered a lot of ground in this guide on how to wash a sleeping bag, from understanding sleeping bag materials to washing techniques, drying tips, and storage methods.

Taking proper care of your sleeping bag not only prolongs its life, but ensures that it continues to perform at its best, keeping you warm and cosy on those chilly camping nights. Knowing how to wash a sleeping bag is a great skill to know. Most sleeping bags are easy to clean, but do it wrong and you could damage your synthetic sleeping bag or down sleeping bag, which is the last thing you want.

So the next time you return from an adventure, remember to give your sleeping bag the care it deserves with our trusty how to wash a sleeping bag guide!

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you put a sleeping bag in the washing machine?

Yes, you can put a sleeping bag in the washing machine, but use a front-loading machine or top-loading machine without an agitator to avoid damage. Wash on a gentle, cool setting, and tumble dry on a low heat.

Should you wash a sleeping bag zipped or unzipped?

It’s best to wash a sleeping bag zipped up to prevent the slider from snagging or breaking. Use a delicate wash cycle with a temperature setting of no higher than 40°C, and rinse at least twice to remove any cleaning agent.

Should you wash a sleeping bag inside out?

Yes, you should wash a sleeping bag inside out to protect the outer shell and allow for a good wash of the fill. Use a non-biological detergent for best results.

What temperature do you wash down sleeping bags?

You should machine wash your down sleeping bag at a temperature of no higher than 30°C/ 100°F on a delicate cycle to ensure proper cleaning and maintenance. After washing, it is important to select a faster/longer spin cycle to remove as much water as possible.

How often should I wash my sleeping bag?

Wash your sleeping bag only when necessary to avoid compromising its insulation properties. Instead, shake out loose dirt and spot clean small stains to keep it clean and fresh.

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