How to wash a down or synthetic sleeping bag

Need to wash your sleeping bag? Here’s our full guide on how to clean a down or synthetic sleeping bag at home.

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How to wash a sleeping bag

Sleeping bags are the ultimate companion for any adventurer. Whether you’re scaling the Himalayas or going on a cosy overnight camp in the Lake District, you’ll need a sleeping bag to keep you warm for the night.

Used for a midsummer bivy camp or an overnight ice cave stay – whatever your need, a sleeping bag has you covered!

However, using the same sleeping bag night after night does come with some challenges. Namely, how do you wash a sleeping bag? Do sleeping bags self-clean? If only!

Unfortunately, sleeping bags require the same amount of upkeep as any of your normal hiking garments. With that in mind, here are some tips for how to wash a sleeping bag. 

Editor’s notes

We’ve tested a number of fantastic sleeping bags here at Adventure Pending. It’s so important to look after yours to keep it working at its best – this includes washing, drying, and repairing your sleeping bag properly.

Pair yours with a great bivvy bag for the ultimate camping adventure!

Types of Sleeping Bag

Sleeping bags come in various shapes, styles, and sizes. They also have different warmth ratings – a 2-season summer bag provides a different service to a 4-season sub-zero specialist, for example. A lot of this variety comes down to the material used to fill the bag.

Down and synthetic are the two main materials used for your average sleeping bag. Their functions are similar – aiming to trap your body heat for insulation. However, if you want to know how to wash a sleeping bag, you need to know that these two materials react differently with water.

Sleeping bag accessories

Down is a feather harvested from beneath a duck or goose. It is extremely effective at insulating and has an excellent warmth to fill ratio while staying extremely light. However, it is crucial to know that down is not waterproof. Once wet, it loses its structure and insulation properties.

Synthetic fibres are manufactured to insulate in the same way as natural feathers. They don’t compress as well as down, and some say they aren’t as comfortable. Despite this, synthetics are water-resilient. That means you can still gain some insulation from a damp synthetic sleeping bag.

In general, down sleeping bags are more expensive than synthetic and require more care. However, if properly maintained, a down sleeping bag can last for many years. If you’re on a budget and don’t want the hassle, synthetic bags still deliver on many fronts. To get the most out of each, here’s how to wash your sleeping bag.

How to Wash a Down Sleeping Bag

Knowing how to wash a sleeping bag is mostly about understanding what material your bag is made from. Extra care must be taken with down to ensure you’re treating it correctly. You can hand wash your sleeping bag in a bathtub, or send it to a special cleaning service if you want to be extra careful. 

Alternatively, you can wash your down sleeping bag using the process below.

How to wash a sleeping bag - Washing machines

Note: All sleeping bags have a label with printed washing directions. Be sure to read this label before you start washing your bag as this may provide you with additional info to prevent your sleeping bag from getting damaged.

Avoid using a classic detergent. You need to purchase a special detergent such as Nikwax Down Wash which is specifically designed for down sleeping bags. On top of this, it’s important to use a large front-loading washing machine (10kg or more), to avoid damaging the sleeping bag. 

Follow our steps to wash your down sleeping bag: 

  • Zip up the sleeping bag then turn it inside out to allow the detergent to get inside the bag for a thorough clean.
  • Place the inverted sleeping bag inside your washing machine and add detergent. Put the machine on a gentle cycle and use a low heat setting (30-40 degrees) to begin the wash. 
  • Use the rinse setting on your washing machine to clean out any remaining detergent.
  • Squeeze any last drops of water out of your down sleeping bag. If there are still soap suds present, give it another rinse. 
  • Once it’s clean, transfer it to a dryer to complete the cleaning process. We have a full step-by-step guide on drying your sleeping bag further down this article. 

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How to Wash a Synthetic Sleeping Bag

Washing a synthetic sleeping bag is slightly less problematic than a down sleeping bag. The synthetic fibres are more resistant to water and there are fewer things to be cautious about.

 If your sleeping bag is only a little dirty, consider spot cleaning with a sponge. Alternatively, follow a similar cleaning pattern to the down sleeping bag steps above to wash your bag perfectly.

Sleeping bag at base camp

As always, check the label on your sleeping bag and read up on any specific washing instructions. From there, use the following process to wash your synthetic sleeping bag: 

  • Turn the sleeping bag inside out, zip it up, and fasten any cords or straps that may be loose.
  • Place your sleeping bag inside the washing machine. Again, a front loader is preferable, but you can use a top loader if there are no other options. However, be warned that the rough action of a top loader may damage your bag.
  • Add your special detergent. We recommend the Nikwax Tech Wash or the Toko Eco Wash, which is made for both down and synthetic bags. Lazy campers sometimes use standard clothes washing detergent for synthetic bags, but this could damage the fill material. 
  • Set a delicate wash cycle with a high spin finish. The temperature can be warm (40-50 degrees) to help get the ingrained grease and dirt out of the material.
  • Rinse out the sleeping bag before transferring it to a dryer to retain the fluff and insulation of the fill. 
  • Hang the sleeping bag to air-dry or place it loosely in a canvas sack. Keep reading for a full guide on how to dry your sleeping bag.

Drying Your Sleeping Bag 

Washing a sleeping bag properly is important to keep its fill material light and fluffy, successfully catching and maintaining its heat. However, the job is only half done once your bag is washed. To truly fluff up a sleeping bag, it needs to be dried properly.

Start by selecting a dryer with a large drum to give the bag space for the air to circulate. Clean out any lint from the filter, and empty the water tray before you start the process.

Drying Clothes on a Fence

You can then use the classic hiker’s tip to dry your sleeping bag – buy a set of dryer balls and place them inside the drum with the bag. The Grangers Down Wash Kit includes a set of these alongside its special technical wash. 

These balls will bounce around inside the machine and stop the sleeping bag from bunching up inside, and will also help to fluff the down. Use a low heat setting to gradually draw the water out from the material. You can then hang your sleeping bag to airdry overnight to finish the process.

Repairing Your Sleeping Bag

Sleeping bag damage happens. If your bag is on the outside of your backpack, it may be torn by a branch or sharp object when you’re hiking or sleeping. If the fill starts to poke through, you will need to fix the bag on the fly to ensure it keeps you warm!

If you carry a needle and thread in your survival tin, this is a good time to put your kit to use. Alternatively, you can use duct tape to cover the tear -but bear in mind this may leave a mess when you try to remove it later. 

Needle and Thread

Medical tape can work, but it isn’t as strong as duct tape. If you want to be super prepared, you can even purchase special adhesive repair kits such as Willdbond patches that can be applied directly to your sleeping bag.

Having said this, sleeping bags are tricky to repair properly. You may need to send your bag back to the manufacturer to be mended, or buy a replacement if the damage is severe. If you’re ready to buy a new bag, check out our guide to the very best sleeping bags.

How to wash a sleeping bag – more tips

This guide should have given you a good idea of how to clean your sleeping bag, but here are a few extra pointers to bear in mind.

First, always avoid using bleach or fabric softener on your sleeping bag – treat it as a delicate item that can be easily damaged by extreme heat and strong chemicals. 

Cleaner and Bleach

It’s also important to maintain that prevention is better than cure. A good way of prolonging the life of your sleeping bag is to use a sleeping bag liner – this is a thin layer that slips inside your sleeping bag. It provides you with a little more warmth and acts as a barrier to prevent sweat, dirt, or oils from reaching the inside of your bag.

These liners can easily be washed after each camping trip, and are much easier to replace if worn out. This means you won’t have to stress as much about how to wash a sleeping bag, and can instead regularly wash the liner. 

However, knowing how to wash a sleeping bag is an essential part of a hiker’s toolkit. There’s nothing worse than having a cold night’s sleep or crawling into a smelly sleeping bag at the end of a long hiking day. With these tips, you should be equipped to keep your sleeping bag in tip-top condition for years to come!

There you have it – our top tips to clean your sleeping bag! Have a tip you think we’re missing? Let us know on our socials and we’ll share it here!

FAQ: How to wash a sleeping bag

Searching for the answer to a question on how to wash your sleeping bag? You’re in the right place – check out our FAQ below and we’ll hopefully be able to help with any queries! 

If you’re still looking for the answer to a question – don’t hesitate to reach out! The Adventure Pending team tests a whole range of outdoor gear and is always happy to help.

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