Even the best sleeping bag needs to be cleaned after regular use.
Not only does washing your sleeping bag remove dirt and grime, but it also helps prevent stinky odors and reinvigorates any lost fluffiness.
Luckily, washing your sleeping bag isn’t difficult at all.
We recommend spot cleaning your bag throughout the main camping season plus deep cleaning it once per year at the end of the season. But, very frequent campers can deep clean their sleeping bag more often without risking damage.
Today, I’m going to break down everything you need to know about how to wash, store, and maintain your sleeping bag.
How to Spot Clean a Sleeping Bag
I spot clean my sleeping bag throughout the camping season.
Usually, I take a few minutes to look over my bag for any damages (like tears or sticky zippers) after each trip.
During this inspection, I take a few minutes to clean any serious stains, especially if it’s something sticky like pine sap.
Spot cleaning a sleeping bag is easy. All it requires is a soft bristle toothbrush and some cold water. For heavier stains, add a small amount of mild soap.
Remember to rinse off any soap after gently scrubbing with the toothbrush. A soft, non-abrasive sponge works like a charm.
Let the area where you spot cleaned dry out thoroughly before storing your sleeping bag.
How to Wash a Sleeping Bag in a Washing Machine
Special care must be taken when cleaning a sleeping bag in a washing machine to prevent damages. Follow the same steps for both synthetic and down bags.
- Front-Loading Only – Only ever use a front-loading washing machine for washing a sleeping bag, whether synthetic or down. Top-loading washers, especially those with agitator columns, often entangle sleeping bags and ruin their loft.
- Laundromat If Possible – A commercial sized washing machine is your best bet. So, head to the laundromat if possible and use one of their front-loading commercial washers.
- Gear Wash Is Best – Avoid using laundry detergent. For a down sleeping bag, a special down gear wash, like Nikwax Down Wash Direct, is best. For a synthetic sleeping bag, Nikwax Tech Wash is a good choice. Both cleaners will help reduce clumping and preserve loft.
- Unzip the Bag – Never machine wash a sleeping bag without first unzipping it to help prevent damage to the zipper.
- Warm Water on Gentle Cycle – Using warm water on a gentle cycle is a safe and efficient bet, but check the brand maker instructions for specific recommendations.
- Rinse Twice – Leftover gear wash residue can damage your sleeping bag. I recommend putting it through at least two, if not three, full rinse cycles.
- Gently Remove – Don’t just yank your bag out of the washer. Gently remove it while trying to support as much of its weight as possible (rather than pulling from a single end).
- Squeeze Water – Gently squeeze the bag to remove as much water as possible before starting the drying process.
Always double check manufacturer recommendations before washing. Some bag makers recommend a special cleaning process for their down and synthetic bags (although it’s most likely very similar to the method described above).
How to Dry a Sleeping Bag After Washing
In my opinion, properly drying a sleeping bag is just as important, if not more important, than washing it correctly.
- Low Heat – Select the lowest heat. It’s much safer to dry for a long time rather than turn up the heat for a quick dry. Higher heats can easily damage the nylon fabrics on the outside of your bag.
- Commercial Size – Once again, a commercial size drying machine is best. This allows the bag more room to tumble around (which promotes more loft). In a pinch, a home drying machine does work.
- Use Tennis Balls – Sure, adding two or three tennis balls to a drying machine is noisy, but it will help break down clumps and promote loft. This is especially important with a down sleeping bag, although we also recommend using tennis balls to dry synthetic models.
- Run Until Dry – Don’t skimp on the drying process. Let the dryer run until your bag is completely dry. This usually takes well over an hour, in my experience.
- Leave Out Overnight – I always leave my bag out for at least 24 hours to air dry before putting it away into its storage sack.
It’s absolutely essential your sleeping bag is completely dry before storing (whether you’ve just washed it or are returning from a rainy camping trip).
An alternative to using a machine dryer is to air dry your sleeping bag. Of course, this takes much longer (especially if you’ve just washed your bag), but it’s a great option in a pinch.
Although some people prefer to only air dry their sleeping bags, I much prefer to machine dry mine. The reason? The tumbling motion will help fluff up and create more loft in your bag.
How to Keep Your Sleep Bag Cleaner While Camping
These tips will help you keep your sleeping bag cleaner while camping:
- Sleep Clothes – Packing a separate pair of clothes to sleep in keeps your sleeping bag much cleaner (and also helps you stay warmer at night).
- Sleeping Bag Liner – A sleeping bag liner helps protect your sleeping bag from your dirty and grimy body while camping. Plus, they’re much quicker and easier to clean than a sleeping bag.
- Use a Sleeping Pad – This is very important if you’re cowboy camping directly on the ground outside. But, even in a tent, a sleeping pad adds an extra layer between the ground and your sleeping bag which keeps it cleaner and prevents damages. Of course, the extra comfort and additional insulation are nice too!
- Shake Out – Take a minute to shake out your sleeping bag each morning to remove any debris that managed to make its way inside.
- Air Out – If possible, air your sleeping bag out, for at least a few minutes, each morning before packing it down into a stuff sack.
Following these tips while in the field goes a long way towards reducing the frequency in which you must clean your sleeping bag. They also help improve your bag’s lifespan.
How to Care for Your Sleeping Bag at Home
In addition to spot cleaning and regular deep cleaning, take a few minutes to inspect your sleeping bag at each trip to catch any wear and tear before it develops into more serious damage.
- Patch Tears – Sew up small tears by hand or use adhesive gear-repair tape to patch holes as soon as you notice them.
- Inspect Zipper – Look for any damages to your bag’s zipper and make repairs if necessary.
- Restore DWR – A DWR gear wash can help restore your bag’s water repellency if you notice the shell fabric starts letting through too much moisture.
Most small sleeping bag repairs can be done yourself. For more major repairs, skip DIYing it and invest in a professional repair job, like those offered by REI Repair Services.
How to Store Your Sleeping Bag at Home
Properly storing your sleeping bag is quite possibly the most important thing you can do to extend its lifespan.
Although a stuff sack is great for camping and backpacking trips, you should never store your sleeping bag in a stuff sack at home.
Sure, the compression is nice when you’re in the field, but this same compression will actually ruin your sleeping bag over time.
Compression over several months or weeks (especially without nightly use) will cause the bag to permanently lose its loft. And it’s this loft that gives the bag its insulating properties.
Whenever storing your sleeping bag for longer than a few days, I always recommend taking it out of your stuff sack.
Personally, I prefer to lay my bag flat on a spare shelf in my basement. Not only does this allow it to dry completely, but it also enables air to circulate for the duration of storage.
Another option is to store your sleeping bag in a storage sack. Many bags now come with these storage sacks. A storage sack is a loose, breathable bag that allows air to circulate without compressing the bag.
Just remember to always let your sleeping bag dry out completely before storage. You should always store the bag in a cool, dry location. Avoid moisture.
This means that your car trunk isn’t the place to store your bag long term. It’s simply too susceptible to temperature fluctuations here.
Need Help Buying a New Sleeping Bag?
With proper care, cleaning, and storage your sleeping bag should last years upon years.
But, every sleeping bag does wear out eventually. If you’re in the market for a new bag, our sleeping bag buyer’s guide will help point you in the right direction.
Have more questions about caring for your sleeping bag? Don’t hesitate to ask us in the comments below!
And, don’t forget to check out our other camp gear care tips, such as our guide to washing your tent.