Care & Maintenance

Looking after your sleeping bag

“A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything.” Author unknown

Sleeping bags can be used for several years before they need a wash. Washing tends to add wear and tear to the bag and reduces the loft (i.e. insulation), so if you can delay the need for washing by caring for the bag, this is the best long-term option.

Check your bag over regularly to make sure that all the zippers are working and the seams are intact. Check that the insulation is evenly distributed as over time the insulation can clump unevenly (suggesting that a wash might be in order).

Carry out small spot-cleaning jobs on areas such as the hood that are likely to accumulate sweat and dirt. Mix a little water with non-detergent soap to create a paste. Hold the shell away from the filling and use a toothbrush to clean and rinse the shell. By keeping the shell away from the filling you can clean the area without getting the inside wet.

When you do decide to wash it, do it as per manufacturer’s instructions.

Hawks, Leona K., “Care of Down and Synthetic Sleeping Bags” (1990) provides this table as a guideline:

Type of sleeping bagHand washMachine washDry clean
DownBest method - wash using soap and water softener

Don't use detergent - it will strip natural oils from feathers

Machine dry on low heat or no heat. Heat can burn off the natural oils
Use only if recommended by manufacturer

Wash with soap and water

Don't use detergent - it will strip natural oils

Machine dry on low heat or no heat. Heat can burn off the natural oils
Not recommended

Dry cleaning chemicals residue toxic when inhaled

Attacks down's natural oils
SyntheticGentlest method
Use detergent or soap and water softener

Washing or drying should not be above 60° Celsius
Fastest and easiest method
Use detergent or soap and water softener

Washing or drying should not be above 60° Celsius
Not recommended

Dry cleaning chemicals dissolve resin and silicone finishes used to stabilise fibers

Fibers lose crimp above 60° Celsius

In general, the process for washing a sleeping bag looks like this (but check and follow specific manufacturer’s instructions):

  1. Washing: Do up all zippers before washing to protect them.
    1. Hand washing: Fill up a large bucket or bathtub with warm water. Add a small amount of non-detergent soap. Gently massage material and leave to soak (but no more than 1 hour). Gently squeeze bag to remove any water and empty the water. Refill with clean water, massage the material to remove suds, and let the bag sit for 15 minutes. Repeat until all suds are gone.
    2. Machine wash: Many sleeping bags can be machine washed in a front-loader or a top-loader without an agitator. Add a small amount of appropriate soap (do not over-soap to ensure no suds are leftover). Consider adding a few additional wet garments to balance out the spin of the machine (e.g. t-shirts). Consider running the cycle a second time soap-free to remove all soap residue).
  2. Transferring: Take care when handling your wet sleeping bag so as not to damage the fabric. When the down is wet and heavy, it is particularly vulnerable to stretching and tearing. Take time to squeeze out as much water as possible from the bag as possible, and lift the bag from below to support the material.
  3. Drying:
    1. Dryer: Once most of the water is out of your bag place it in the dryer and use a low heat to ensure that synthetic materials do not melt. As the bag dries, the insulation tends to clump together. This can be avoided by placing objects (tennis balls or other soft but firm objects) into the dryer during the final stages of drying to displace the clumps. Once dry, air the bag out overnight to make sure there is no residual moisture before storing.
    2. Air drying: Place the bag on a clean surface outside in partial shade as UV rays can degrade synthetic materials. As the bag dries, the insulation tends to clump together, so check the bag periodically and manually break up the clumps.
  4. CAUTION: What not to do!

    • Never dry-clean your bag. The chemicals used in the dry-cleaning process can damage the bag fabric.
    • Avoid using fabric softeners or bleaching chemicals on your bag. Follow manufacturer’s instructions for what soap to use (usually a non-detergent soap).

    Other maintenance jobs:

    • Rips to fabric: If the outer layer of fabric is damaged, consider doing a small repair job by hand if it occurs in the field to prevent loss of insulation, then back home, remove stitching and do a more thorough job using gear-repair tape.
    • Leaking down feathers: Over time, a few down feathers may work their way through the outer shell fabric and poke out. Work the feathers back into the insulation layer by gently massaging the surface and pushing the feather back in.
    • Waterproofing: Some sleeping bags have a water-resistant outer layer which helps protects the bag from water damage and dirt, but eventually wears off. Consider reapplying the durable water repellent using a suitable product (check with your manufacturer).

    Store your sleeping bag in a cool dry area away from direct sunlight. The bag is best stored fluffed up. Many sleeping bags come with a large breathable storage bag us this otherwise a cloth bag like a pillow case of larger is ideal.