How to wash a down sleeping bag

By Sea to Summit

#CARE+REPAIR #GUIDE #SLEEPINGBAG

The funk of a well-loved sleeping bag can really take away from the fresh air of the outdoors.

But more importantly, the dirt and body oils on the shell fabrics can find their way through to the down fill, affecting its ability to loft up and keep you warm.

A down sleeping bag is an investment. With the right care, it’s going to keep you warm for many years to come. Here’s how to clean your down bag properly.

HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU WASH YOUR DOWN SLEEPING BAG?

Not obsessively. You don’t need to clean it after every camping trip, but you should try and wash it yearly. If you wait to the point where dirt, grime and lumps in the insulation are noticeable, you will already be at the stage where oils and salts are sticking the down plumes together, reducing loft.

Grime of this kind first shows up around the hood and neck area, but the effect on the down insulation is out of sight on the inside of the bag.

PRO TIP: Use a sleeping bag liner to keep your bag cleaner for longer and spot clean using a specially-formulated down cleaning product.

WHAT YOU’LL NEED

  • Soap that’s specifically formulated for down. Regular laundry detergents will strip the natural oils from your down. Most outdoor retailers sell specially formulated down wash products that’ll do the job.
  • Somewhere you can hand-wash or a front-loading washing machine with a gentle cycle. We tend to err on the side of caution and handwash. But if you’re looking for a less labour-intensive way of doing things, try a washing machine that’s gentle enough to not tear any internal baffles.  
  • A large tumble dryer. The more room you have to dry your bag, the better.

PRO TIP: If in doubt as to how gentle your washing machine is, don’t risk it. Try hand washing instead.

Don’t

  • Dry clean your bag. Dry-cleaning chemicals strip the oils from the down and prevent it from lofting properly.
  • Pick up a down sleeping bag when it is full of water. The weight of the water in the down can tear out the internal baffles.
  • Use a top loading washing machine. The mechanical action of the impeller (the plastic spiral in the drum) is far too rough for a sleeping bag.
  • Use dryer sheets or softeners. Fabric softeners can damage outer fabrics and the down filling.
  • Store a damp down bag. This is how mildew and mould can form. If you can feel clumps in your down bag, it’s not completely dry.

HOW TO WASH A DOWN BAG

HAND WASH INSTRUCTIONS

It’s best to use a bathtub but, in a pinch, you can use your laundry sink.

  • Turn the sleeping bag inside out, place it in the tub and add warm water (enough to cover the bag)
  • Using the recommended amount of the down wash, gently knead the sleeping bag to force the soapy water through it. Do not pick up the down bag during this process.
  • When the sleeping bag seems clean, drain the bathtub and then carefully roll up the bag to squeeze the water out.
  • Gently turn bag right-side out. Refill the tub with clean water and knead the bag to force clean water through it—continue until there are no more suds.
  • Carefully roll up the sleeping bag again to squeeze the water out of it.

MACHINE WASH INSTRUCTIONS

  • Zip up all zippers and turn the sleeping bag inside out before putting it in the machine.
  • Select a delicate wash cycle with a temperature setting of no higher than 40°C and add in an extra rinse cycle.
  • Carefully roll up the sleeping bag again to squeeze the water out of it. It’s important to get as much water out of the bag as possible before removing it from the drum.

PRO TIP: Check on your spin cycle regularly, as it can stall due to weight imbalance. If this happens, redistribute the weight of the bag and keep going.

HOW TO DRY A DOWN BAG

TUMBLE DRY

Once the water has been gently squeezed out of the sleeping bag, you can roll it up and transfer it to the tumble dryer.

  • In the drum, gently roll out the bag so it will fill the whole tumble dryer when it gets going.
  • Put two clean tennis balls (or wool balls) into the drum with the sleeping bag. They will help to break up clumps of down.
  • Set the dryer to low or ‘delicates’ and run a complete cycle—do not use dryer sheets for this process.
  • Turn the sleeping bag inside out and put it back in the dryer.
  • Repeat these drying cycles until you are absolutely certain that the down is completely dry. If the bag is put away even slightly damp, mould or mildew can form. If you can feel clumps in the down, it’s not dry yet.
  • Once completely dry, air your bag for at least 48 hours before storage.

PRO TIP: Drying a down bag takes time. You may need to dry it 6–10 times before the job is done.

HATE DOING LAUNDRY?

If laundry is your least favourite chore, best invest in a sleeping bag liner.

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