Washing a sleeping bag doesn't need to be a daunting task. In this article we cover washing a sleeping bag in a washing machine, in a bath and the best way to dry it without damaging it. Plus we have some tips on how to store your sleeping bag when your not using it.
How often should you wash a sleeping bag?
If you've been on a few camping trips through the year then washing your sleeping bag at the end of the season or about once a year is usually enough. For example it's a good idea to wash it before you store it away for the winter.
Don’t be tempted to wash a sleeping bag every time you get back from a trip. If you wash a sleeping bag too frequently then the insulation will become less effective. However, occasionally washing will keep the insulation/filling clean and help maintain the loft (bounce) of the insulation which will in turn help keep you warm.
Can you put a sleeping bag in a washing machine?
Yes, sleeping bags can be washed in a standard front loading washing machine. Avoid top loading washing machines as they can be a bit too aggressive and damage your sleeping bag. Kid's sleeping bags and lightweight adult sleeping bags should fit in a standard domestic washing machine. For adult bags with more insulation you may need to visit a launderette, look for a washing machines with around a 16Kg load capacity.
Should you dry clean a sleeping bag?
No, never dry clean your sleeping bag. Solvents used during the dry cleaning process can damage the insulation in the sleeping bag
In the video below we show you how to wash a sleeping bag in both a washing machine and in a bath and how to dry them. We've used synthetic filled kids sleeping bags for this video but the method is the same for an adult or. down filled bag.
How to wash a sleeping bag in a washing machine
Firstly make sure your washing machine is large enough for the sleeping bag. For adult bags over two seasons you may need to use a commercial front load washing machine at a launderette. Obviously read the washing label but the instructions below are pretty standard for most sleeping bags either down or synthetic.
Wash on a gentle 30 degrees Centigrade (90 Fahrenheit) cycle.
Use soap flakes, a pure liquid soap or technical cleaner like Grangers Tech Wash. Don't use the standard washing detergent you probably use to wash your clothes, as this will have extra cleaning agents to "boost colour" or similar and these in effect add extra coating to the insulation and weighs it down and therefore reduces the loft.
Do not use fabric conditioner, for the same reason as above.
Either wash the sleeping bag fully zipped up and inside out or fully open to protect the zips from snagging. If the bag is really grubby I would wash is fully open. Make sure to release any elastic toggles around the hood.
Once the gentle cycle has finished you may want to run an additional rinse cycle to ensure all the soap residue is removed.
- See options for drying sleeping bags below.
How to wash a sleeping bag in the bath
Washing adult sleeping bags at home usually has to be done in the bath as they are too large for domestic washing machines.
Run a fairly shallow (about ⅓ full) bath with warm but not hot water and pour in a cap or two of your liquid soap or tech cleaner. Don't use your standard clothes washing detergent, for the same reason as given above. Use the recommended amount of cleaner for your water type, it will be given on the back of the bottle. If in doubt use a bit less as it just takes longer to rinse if you use too much cleaner.
Turn your sleeping bag inside out and splosh it around in the bath, working the soap into any areas that are particularly grubby. I like to keep our sleeping bags zipped up for washing in a bath as it makes then easier to handle when lifting a heavy wet sleeping bag out at the end. However you can un zip them as it does make it a bit easier to rinse them out.
After around 10 minutes of sploshing drain the water then refill the bath with cold water and splosh the sleeping bag around some more to remove the soap/cleaner residue. You'll need to repeat this a few times, or more if you've used a lot of soap/cleaner. Once the water looks clear and there's no more soap residue then empty the bath and leave the sleeping bag in the bottom of the bath to drain for a while. You can help the draining along by squeezing but not wringing the sleeping bag out.
How to dry a sleeping bag
Tumble dryer method:
If you have washed your sleeping bag in a washing machine then much of the excess water will have drained away during the spin cycle so you should be able to transfer it directly to a tumble dryer.
Set the tumble dryer on a very low heat setting. If the settings provides too much heat it may damage the nylon outer. Be prepared for the drying process to take a few hours. If you are drying a down sleeping bag then keep coming back to the tumble dryer periodically and shaking the bag around to redistribute the down. Also chuck a couple of tennis balls in with a down bag to help keep the down moving.
Natural drying method:
If you have washed your sleeping bag in the bath it will most probably be too wet and heavy to use a tumble dryer. Or, you may not have access to or not want to use a tumble dryer. It's no problem you can easily leave your sleeping bag to dry naturally, but be prepared for it to take a while.
If you have washed your sleeping bag in a bath then before you attempted to move it leave it for 30 minutes to drain. Squeeze the bag to help drain more water but don't wring it out, especially if you have a synthetic filled bag as the extra weight of the water can tear the insulation.
After 30 minutes Ideally you'll transfer your sleeping bag outside and lay it down on a flat surface to dry. I find using an airer on its side works really well, or drape it between a couple of chairs. Do the same if you are removing your sleeping bag from a tumble dryer. If you can't dry your sleeping bag outside use the same method but put a towel underneath the airer/chairs or do it over a bath as a lot of water is going to drip off!
Initially come back to the bag every ten minutes or so and squeeze some of the water that will have collected out of the bag. Then after a few hours when the bag is lighter you'll want start giving it a shake. This is particularly important if you have a down sleeping bag. If you don't the down will clump together and it will be difficult to redistribute it. Also bear in mind that it will take several hours for your sleeping bag to dry so try not to be impatient! Most of the down redistribution will happen when the sleeping bag is quite dry but its worth coming back throughout the drying process to keep shaking it out.
Finally once you think your sleeping bag is dry I would always recommend you leaving it out on a bed or over a banister or similar for a couple of days before you pack it away to make sure its 100% dry.
How to store a sleeping bag
Each time you come back for a trip where you've been using your sleeping bag it is important to air it out overnight to allow any residual dampness from the bag to evaporate before you pack it away. Before you store the sleeping bag away make sure it is 100% dry.
Your sleeping bag may have been supplied with a compression bag which is perfect when you are on your trip and need to pack your sleeping bag down small, but when you get back home you shouldn't store it in the compression bag as the fill can be damaged if compressed for a long time. Instead store it in a much larger stuff sack made from cotton or mesh. These stuff sacks are often supplied with your sleeping bag, if not a large cotton pillow case can do the same job.
A good sleeping bag is an investment. If you look after it by occasional washing and storing it correctly it should last many years and keep you warm on your adventures.