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Wash your down sleeping bag

Dirt, grit and body oil ruin a sleeping bag’s ability go keep you warm, but they don’t ruin the bag. “Loft” is your bag’s giver of warmth: filth takes it away but a good cleaning and drying brings it right back. Down sleeping bags are washable and dryable, though it is a tiny bit complicated. (Don’t bother trying to get one dry-cleaned).

First of all, find a way to keep trail gunk out of your bag: use an interior liner as a barrier between your bag and your body funk, and an exterior cover as a barrier between your bag and campsite crud (backpackers who don’t want the extra weight will have to endure extra wash cycles).

Down is downright fickle: dirtiness reduces loft, but washing it too much has the same effect. Either way, your bag stops preserving body heat (if you liked shivering in your own stench you wouldn’t be here, right?)

So, don’t wash the bag a lot, but do launder it at the end of the season before long-term storage, or after your annual two-week backpacking trip.

washerWhere to wash it?

Not at home: washing machines with agitators can tear up your bag. You need a front-loading, non-agitating machine found in a laundromat. Lots of folks these days have home-sized front-loaders, which can work in a pinch (though my wife, an unsurpassed authority on household cleaning, insists the tubs in home front-loaders aren’t big enough to thoroughly rinse the soap out of a sleeping bag).

Getting it dry really requires the large tumblers available at laundromats (home dyers are too small and get hot enough to damage your bag’s liner, according to this page). Since you have to go to the laundromat to dry it anyway, you might as well do the whole deed there.

Nikwax Down WashWhat kind of soap? Regular laundry detergents like Tide are out (detergents remove oils you want to leave in the down feathers): Go with something specifically designed for washing down sleeping bags like NIKWAX Down Wash

Follow the directions on your down washing product so you’re using the right amount and proper washing cycle.

How do dry it? Do as your bag’s manufacturer and your down cleaner instruct (your bag has a care label somewhere). You can just air dry it, but it’ll take forever.

So, load it in the dryer. Then regularly remove it from the dryer every 15 minutes or so and gently shake the bag to restore the loft. Some folks recommend tossing a few tennis balls or a clean tennis shoe in with the bag to help get it lofty. It’s up to you: Bags aren’t cheap and they are delicate; if you’re zealous enough about lofting the bag by hand you can skip the rubbery assistants.

Avoid over-drying, you don’t want to bake the down. After a few cycles in the dryer, compress the down, feel for moisture and stop drying as soon as it feels dry to the touch. At this point it won’t be totally dry: take it home and air-dry it for a few more days before storing it for the season.

Also: never store your bag in its stuff sack — this ruins the loft; stow it loosely in a big cotton bag.

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Tom posted at 10:25 am August 12th, 2008

7 Responses to 'Wash your down sleeping bag'

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  1. Tom Clifton says:

    So I have had more than a little luck not following these tips. While my washer and dryer are front loading, they are not “commercial” grade. I use half the normal amount of detergent. Seems to work.

    The best advice that I have regarding sleeping bags is to buy one with a lifetime guarantee like my Northface bag. That way when it looses its loft, they will replace it.

    Permalink | Posted August 14th, 2008, at 1:11 pm
  2. Randy F says:

    Last time I washed/dried my Marmot bag, I threw a clean tennis shoe in the dryer with it. The bag lofted so well it looked brand new coming out and it’s as warm as ever.

    Permalink | Posted August 18th, 2008, at 10:02 am
  3. Jer says:

    Most sites advise not using detergent. Plain soap works fine. A pure soap brand such as Dial or similar.

    Permalink | Posted August 25th, 2008, at 1:07 am
  4. Rick McCharles says:

    A silk sleeping bag liner is light and prevents a good deal of trail dirt from getting into your bag.

    Permalink | Posted September 1st, 2008, at 9:53 pm
  5. Sleeping bags for summer Sierra backpacking says:

    […] Related link: How to wash your down sleeping bag. […]

    Permalink | Posted June 4th, 2009, at 11:50 am
  6. How to wash down sleeping bags - Scoutmastercg.com says:

    […] how to wash down sleeping bags at Tom Managan’s Hike Hacker: … don’t wash the bag a lot, but do launder it at the […]

    Permalink | Posted October 5th, 2011, at 5:16 am
  7. mark keeler says:

    Not only is this good advice about washing your down bag, it’s funny as well. By the end of a 1 week back packing trip, your bag is essentially trashed. It’s not like we are showering the entire time. I have never used a liner because it’s too hot in the summer. But maybe it’s a good idea to keep the bag clean.



    Permalink | Posted June 29th, 2012, at 7:48 am

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