How To Wash A Sleeping Bag: A Comprehensive Guide

man taking laundry out of a washing machine

Let’s face it – camping isn’t always the cleanest activity.

All it takes is a little bit of rainfall the next thing you know, you’re covered in mud from top to toe.

And, so is all your stuff, including your sleeping bag.

So, what’s the best way to go about cleaning your sleeping bag?

Should you wash it in the machine or by hand?

What kind of soap should you use?

How hot should the water be?

How should you dry it?

This article will answer all of these questions and more. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll know everything there is to know about how to wash a sleeping bag.

Sound good? Awesome.

Let’s get started!

General Tips For Washing Your Sleeping Bag

laundry tag

Before we get started, and I can’t stress this enough, make sure you always read the washing instructions on your sleeping bag’s tag.

The tag will tell you whether or not you can machine wash it, what temperature it should be washed at and more.

Make sure to use the right kind of soap. Using a harsh detergent when washing your bag could damage it significantly. You can find special soaps made especially for sleeping bags. Don’t use any fabric softeners or bleach, either.

While we’re on the topic of chemicals, don’t dry clean your sleeping bag. Dry cleaning uses harsh chemicals that will likely damage the bag.

There are some dry cleaners that specialize in sleeping bags, so those are obviously fine. Just avoid your average neighborhood dry cleaner.

Lastly, it’s a good idea to repair any damage to your bag before washing it, especially if you’re going to be putting it through the washing machine.

The Difference Between Washing Synthetic And Down

OK, so, the first thing you have to take into account is whether you’re washing a sleeping bag with a synthetic fill or down fill.

Synthetic

If it’s a synthetic sleeping bag, you’ve got a slightly easier task on your hands. The only real precautions you need to take are using a mild non-detergent soap, and making sure to rinse well.

You could also use a special soap for synthetic insulation, if you’d prefer.

If you’re washing your sleeping bag in the washing machine, run it through an extra rinse cycle at the end, to make sure there isn’t any soap left in the fill.

Down

A down-filled sleeping bag is a bit trickier. If you’re not careful, your down bag could take a battering in the wash.

So, how do you make sure it comes out in good shape?

For starters, don’t wash it too often. Only wash your down bag when it really needs a wash. Frequent washing is likely to decrease the effectiveness of the bag’s insulation.

Also, make sure to use special soap for down insulation.

If you’re drying your sleeping bag in the dryer, throw in a couple of tennis balls. This will help keep the insulation fluffed and evenly distributed. You can do this with synthetic bags as well, but with down it’s a must.

How To Wash A Sleeping Bag In The Washing Machine

washing machine

The easiest thing to do is throw your sleeping bag in the washing machine. Be careful though, because this is much tougher on the bag than hand washing it. So, you’ll need to take the necessary precautions to make sure it doesn’t get damaged.

What are they?

  • First off, turn your bag inside out, close any and all zippers, buttons etc. and loosen any drawstrings.
  • Add your soap and run the machine on a gentle cycle for delicates. Set the temperature as recommended on your sleeping bag’s tag. If your tag has faded and you’re not sure, go for the lowest possible temperature setting.
  • Once the wash cycle is done, run an extra rinse cycle to make extra sure there isn’t any soap left over.

Keep in mind that a front loader is less likely to damage your bag than a top loader. If you are using a top loader, make sure it uses an impeller, rather than an agitator.

It’s also better to wash your bag in a nice, big washing machine, rather than a small one. To be washed properly, it should have enough space to move around inside the machine.

If you haven’t got the right kind of machine, consider taking your sleeping bag down to your local laundromat.

When you’re taking your sleeping bag out of the machine, make sure to support it from underneath. This is to avoid straining and potentially damaging the seams.

How To Wash A Sleeping Bag By Hand

woman hand washing laundry in the sink

Washing your sleeping bag by hand is definitely the more labor intensive option. It is, however, a much safer way to wash your bag and make sure it doesn’t get damaged in the process.

I recommend using your bathtub, as it’s the perfect size and you’ve got running water that goes directly into it, which is super convenient. Make sure to give your tub a good wash before you get started.

  • Fill your tub with warm water (not hot) and whichever soap you’ve elected to use. Place your sleeping bag into the tub and rub it against itself in a few places, making sure the soapy water drenches it completely.
  • Let it soak in the lukewarm water for about half an hour to an hour.
  • At this point, you can take a soft toothbrush and use it to gently rub any problematic spots or stains.
  • Once you’ve done this, empty the tub and fill it up again with clean water. Take both ends of the sleeping bag and rub them against each other. Repeat this until there are no longer any visible soap suds left.

It’s important that you don’t leave any soap in the insulation, so rinse thoroughly. I like to give it a couple of extra rinses after I can’t see any more soap, just in case.

Press as much excess water out of the bag as you can. Push down on the bag with your hands or fists. Whatever you do, don’t wring it out.

Tips For Spot Cleaning

toothbrush foaming

If there are certain parts of your sleeping bag that are particularly dirty, you might want to consider spot cleaning them.

You can do this before you wash it or, if you’re hand washing, while you’re washing it.

Apply some soap and a little bit of warm water directly to the area you want to clean, and use a soft toothbrush to rub it in. When you’re done, use a wet sponge to rinse off the soap.

If you manage to do this without getting your insulation wet, it shouldn’t take long to dry. If, however, your insulation does get wet, make sure it dries completely before packing it away. This will take a couple of days unless you’re using a dryer, but more about that in just a moment…

Drying Your Sleeping Bag

When it comes to drying your sleeping bag, there are a couple of ways you can go about it. You can either hang it up and let it dry naturally, or you can speed things up by using a tumble dryer.

On The Line

pegs on a clothesline

Hanging your sleeping bag up and letting it dry naturally is definitely the safest way to do it. You’re far less likely to damage it than if you were using a dryer.

On the downside, it takes way longer.

You’ll need to leave it hanging for at least a couple of days before it dries completely.

Make sure you don’t hang it up in direct sunlight, though. UV rays can damage the fabric of your bag. So, either hang it up inside, or in a shady spot away from the sun’s rays.

In The Dryer

a dryer in a bathroom

If you’re using a dryer, you’ll be able to dry your sleeping bag significantly faster. A down bag will take between 2-3 hours to dry, and a synthetic bag will only take about an hour.

Use a front load dryer if possible, and run it on the lowest heat setting. Like with the washing machine, make sure there’s plenty of room in the dryer for the sleeping bag to move around.

Again, if the dryer you have at home doesn’t fit this description, you should be able to find one at your local laundromat.

Throw a couple of clean tennis balls into the dryer along with your bag. This will stop the insulation from clumping, while also speeding things up.

Avoid using dryer sheets, for the same reason you avoided fabric softener while washing. The chemicals are too harsh for the fabric on most sleeping bags.

Sleeping Bag Storage Tips

Before storing your sleeping bag, make absolutely sure it’s 100% dry. A wet sleeping bag will breed mildew and bacteria. If there’s any moisture left when you pack it away, it’s not going to smell pretty the next time you unpack it.

Once it’s completely dry, you can pack it away, but don’t put it back in its stuff sack. Keeping a sleeping bag compressed for long periods of time can diminish the effectiveness of the insulation. Instead, hang your bag up in a closet, or fold it loosely and store it with the rest of your bedding.

If you’re having a hard time getting your sleeping bag back into its stuff sack, check out our guide on how to fold a sleeping bag.

That’s All Folks

What have we learned about how to wash a sleeping bag?

The safest way to wash your sleeping bag is to hand wash it, and hang it up to dry naturally. This takes quite a bit of time and effort, though.

If you haven’t got the time or energy, machine washing is perfectly safe for most sleeping bags. Just make sure you’ve read the tag and you’re using the right kind of soap.

Follow these tips and your sleeping bag will be looking brand new and smelling lovely for your next trip.

To find out more about cleaning your camping gear, check out some of our other articles, like this one on cleaning your hiking backpack.