How To: Wash a Sleeping Bag
Trust your down or synthetic summertime slumber essential to this comprehensive cleaning routine.
Your sleeping bag is your bed away from bed during warm weather, whether during full-on camping or nights of backyard stargazing. But set up outdoors, this essential summer accessory is bound to accumulate dirt, stains, and odors, on both the rugged outer shell and the delicate inner lining. Cleaning a down or synthetic sleeping bag must be done with care to avoid bleach, fabric softeners, and dry-cleaning fluid that could cause discoloration and damage. After you wrap up your next night outdoors and need to figure out how to wash a sleeping bag, this guide offers easy techniques to restore a downright dingy sleep sack to like-new condition. If your sleeping bag only has a few minor marks or stains, banish them with the spot treatment that follows; if the bag has large or multiple stains or doesn’t smell daisy fresh, proceed to more comprehensive hand- or machine-washing. Then snuggle in, zip up, and sleep like a baby!
Check the outer shell and inner lining for stains, paying close attention to the top of the bag where the neckline meets the lining—the area most prone to stains from exposure to oils from skin and hair. If the stain is on the inner lining, unzip the bag partially or fully to expose the stain before spot-treating.
In a small bowl, combine a teaspoon of non-detergent liquid soap, such as castile soap, with a quarter teaspoon of warm water to form a thin, runny paste.
Dip a clean toothbrush or terrycloth towel into the paste, then scrub it over only the stain using a gentle circular motion. Repeat until the stain has faded, then wipe the soap from the scrubbed spot with a clean, damp cloth.
Lay the bag flat, with the damp side facing up, on a clean outdoor surface that receives at least partial sunlight to dry. In inclement weather, air-dry the bag indoors by laying it flat (with the spot-treated side facing up) across two adjoined coat racks. Air-dry the bag completely before zipping it and storing it indoors.
HAND WASHING AND DRYING
Plan to hand-wash and dry your sleeping bag early on a warm, sunny day to speed up the drying time.
Fill a clean bathtub halfway with either warm or cold tap water. Pour a half-cup of liquid soap into the tub (if using a specially formulated down soap for down sleeping bags or a tech wash for synthetic sleeping bags, use the manufacturer-recommended amount). Waft the soap through the water with a clean hand to distribute well.
Unzip the sleeping bag completely, then submerge it as flatly as possible in the tub. Starting at one end of the bag, use both hands to gently knead the soapy water into both the outer shell and inner lining of the bag until you reach the other end. Spend extra time kneading any areas of the bag with visible, prominent stains.
Let the sleeping bag soak for one hour. Then drain the tub with the bag still in place.
Refill the tub with warm or cold water. Use your hands to knead out any residual soap from the bag. Then, drain the tub again. Repeat until the water in the tub runs clear and the sleeping bag is free of soap. Then, use your hands to gently squeeze out as much water as possible from the bag.
With the sleeping bag still in the tub, fold the bag in half and roll it up from end to end. Then reach both arms under the bag to remove it from the tub and take it outside. Unfurl and unfold the sleeping bag and lay it flat with the outer shell side facing up (this waterproof side usually takes longer to dry) on a clean outdoor surface (such as a patio table) that receives at least partial sunlight. Turn the bag over several times during the drying process. Let the bag air-dry completely before zipping it and storing it indoors.
MACHINE WASHING AND DRYING
The best machine for washing a sleeping bag is a large, front-loading model. While a top-loading machine can be used, steer clear of those with an agitator located in the center of the wash drum. This spindle with vanes could tear the delicate lining or expose the insulation of your sleeping bag.
Zip up your sleeping bag and turn it inside out so that the inner lining faces up. Because the outer shell of sleeping bags is often waterproof, it can prevent trapped water from escaping during the spin cycle; the ultra-permeable inner lining will encourage water to be drawn out during the spin cycle, expediting drying time.
Load the sleeping bag, by itself with no other laundry, into the drum of the washer and pour a half-cup of any liquid, non-detergent soap into the detergent basin. If you prefer to use a specially formulated cleaner, opt for down soap for down sleeping bags, or tech wash for synthetic sleeping bags, in the manufacturer-recommended amount.
Run the machine on a gentle cycle using either the warm or cold water setting. After the cycle is complete, if the sleeping bag is still sopping wet, run an extra spin cycle to wring out excess water.
Remove the damp sleeping bag from the washing machine and turn it inside out again. Transfer the bag to the drum of a large dryer (preferably front-loading), then run the dryer on low heat. A low temperature is especially important for synthetic sleeping bags, whose synthetic insulation can melt under high heat. If you’re drying a down sleeping bag, toss two tennis balls into the dryer drum near the end of the cycle to get rid of clumps and distribute the down evenly. When completely dry, store the sleeping bag indoors before its next use.
Tip: Reduce the need for frequent washings using a detachable sleeping bag liner. This will help prevent stains and odors from forming and ultimately prolong the life of the bag.