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How to Wash Your Down Sleeping Bag

You've invested in a down sleeping bag you'll use for years to come. Now, treat it well on the trail and at home. Proper care and cleaning will help your bag last for many seasons. And a clean bag will have improved loft to keep you warmer.

Note: Always follow the bag and cleanser manufacturers' recommendations for care and cleaning of your bag. Different fabrics have different cleaning methods. Disregarding the manufacturer's instructions could damage your bag and void any warranty.

Cleaning your Sleeping Bag

You don't need to wash your sleeping bag after each backpacking or climbing trip, only when it accumulates too many oils (from you, sweat, lotions, and cosmetics), gets significantly dirty or smelly, or loses its loft.

Keep it Clean

The best way to clean your sleeping bag is to keep it clean in the first place.

  • Keep yourself clean(ish). The inevitable body oils, sweat, and dirt of hiking, backpacking, and climbing can migrate into your bag's down, causing loss of loft and loss of warmth. Sleeping in a clean(er) set of clothes than what you wore all day, will help keep your bag clean. (In bear country do NOT sleep in the same clothes you ate or cooked in.)
  • Try a silk, polyester, or fleece sleeping bag liner. Using a liner adds some warmth to your bag (anywhere from 5 to 15 degrees), and a liner can be washed far more often and easily than a down bag. 


Spot Clean your Down Bag

Avoid washing your whole bag if possible, unless your bag is very dirty or the loft (and warmth) is compromised. Your bag may just need some spot cleaning on occasion.

  • Do NOT dry clean a down sleeping bag. The chemicals will strip away the natural down oils and your bag will not loft properly again. One dry cleaning can permanently ruin a down bag. The toxic fumes also will remain in the bag. We repeat: Do NOT dry clean a down sleeping bag.
  • If your bag has minor funk, but is otherwise still warm and well-lofted, air it inside out in direct sun and/or near a breeze for a few hours. Keep in mind, UV exposure can break down your bag's fabric, so don't leave it out in direct sunlight longer than necessary.
  • In cases of serious funk, fill a sock with baking soda and place it inside the bag. Stuff the bag into a large, breathable storage sack and leave it in a warm area for a week to absorb the smells.
  • Spot clean surface stains using a down cleanser or mild soap.
  • Remove tar or sap with a solvent, like Goo Gone.
  • Consider cleaning your bag or having it professionally cleaned only if it has accumulated oils or lost loft. Some manufacturers, like Feathered Friends, and companies, like Rainy Pass Repair, will professionally launder your bag for a fee. Be sure the cleaner is experienced in cleaning down products.

Wash a Down Sleeping Bag by Hand

Read your bag's label or check the manufacturer's website for specific cleaning instructions and recommendations. Follow their recommendations.

  1. Wash your bag by hand in a bathtub or large tub.
  2. Zip up the bag.
  3. If your bag has a waterproof exterior shell, like eVent or Windstopper, turn it inside out before washing.
  4. Western Mountaineering recommends washing your down bag in its stuff sack, so you don't have to wrestle with air-filled baffles floating in the tub.
  5. Use water the temperature recommended by your down wash or cleanser, like Nikwax Down Wash or ReviveX Down Cleaner, or mild soap, like Woolite. Do not use bleach or fabric softener.
  6. If you or your bag has come in contact with poison ivy, oak, or sumac, use a cleanser specifically for removing urushiol oil, like Tecnu.
  7. Knead the bag gently in the bathtub working from one end.
  8. Soak.
  9. Change the water and rinse again in cold water.
  10. Rinse till all the soap is gone.
  11. Press out excess water by rolling up the bag from its end.

Wash a Down Sleeping Bag in a Machine

Read your bag's label or check the manufacturer's website for specific cleaning instructions and recommendations. Follow their recommendations.

  1. Wash your bag in a large, front-loading washer, such as an industrial-sized one at a laundry mat. Do not use an agitator or top-loading machine, which can damage the bag's construction.
  2. Zip up the bag.
  3. If your bag has a waterproof exterior shell, like eVent or Windstopper, turn it inside out before washing.
  4. Use water the temperature recommended by your down wash or cleanser, like Nikwax Down Wash or ReviveX Down Cleaner, or mild soap, like Woolite. Do not use bleach or fabric softener.
  5. If you or your bag has come in contact with poison ivy, oak, or sumac, use a cleanser specifically for removing urushiol oil, like Tecnu.
  6. Soak.
  7. Wash on gentle cycle in cold water.
  8. Rinse in cold water.
  9. Rinse again in cold water.
  10. Spin dry to remove excess water.

Dry a Sleeping Bag

Read your bag's label or check the manufacturer's website for specific drying instructions and recommendations. Follow their recommendations.

  1. You can air dry a sleeping bag, but it could take days. Or you can use a dryer.
  2. Drip-dry your bag or tumble dry on the lowest or no-heat setting in the largest front-load dryer you can find. The bag needs to drop in a free fall.
  3. Check for burs or other sharp edges in the dryer drum that could rip your bag.
  4. Use both hands and take care when transporting your bag from the bathtub or washer to the dryer. The bag will be heavy and its weight could rip or damage the baffles.
  5. Toss in some clean tennis balls to help remove down clumps, if you like, but the tumbling action should do the trick and some say the balls are unnecessary.
  6. Feel for wetness and pull apart clumps periodically. Clumps, no matter how small, mean your bag is still wet.
  7. Dry some more.
  8. Air dry completely before storing your bag in a large, breathable storage sack (not a compression sack). You should do this after every use, not just when cleaning.
  9. Your bag should be dry and fluffy with restored loft.

 

Video: How to Wash a Down Bag by McNett

In this video from McNett, George Farkas describes how to properly wash, dry, and apply a new DWR finish to a down sleeping bag.

 

Down Product Care Tips:

Feathered Friends

Western Mountaineering

 

Trailspace Product Reviews and Info:

Down cleansers and treatments

Sleeping bags

 

Have tips, tricks, or stories about cleaning your down sleeping bags? Please, share them below with the Trailspace community.

Filed under: Outdoor Skills

Comments

apeman
0 reviewer rep
1,236 forum posts
August 16, 2011 at 4:55 p.m. (EDT)

This is a great article.  Seems to cover every aspect of washing a down bag completely.  I did my Holurbar bag a few months back using both Nikiwax down wash and down proof.  I use both my frontload washer and I agitated it in the bathtub by hand as well, for it was boaderline nasty.  Instead of using tennis balls in the dry I took some "short top" sneakers (no metal parts) and put the sneakers in long thick cotton socks, then tying off a knot at the top of the sock and used them in commercial dryer at the laundry mat.  Some times laundry mats have differt size Wshers and dryer's.  I fownd it is best to use the largest dryer avaliable and I suspect this would be the same with the washing of a bag in a front load washer.   I found it is worked like a charm and the bag does not stink any more as well as gaining 2 twice the loft it had before cleaning.  It's not lookin to bad for a 30+ year old bag.  I have yet to try my "new" bag out do to the current season of warmth.

whomeworry
87 reviewer rep
2,221 forum posts
August 16, 2011 at 5:09 p.m. (EDT)

Some additional considerations:

  • If hand washing, do not wring your bag.  The internal baffles can be damage if subjected to vigorous tugging and twisting.
  • I would not recommend air drying your bag.  The length of time it take to dry a bag using this method give mildew the opportunity to grow, and cause you bag to smell like soiled damp towels left in the hamper.
  • Don’t attempt to dry in a small (typical home) dryer.  They are too small for this task.

Ed

 

Alicia MacLeay (Alicia)
TRAILSPACE STAFF
471 reviewer rep
2,910 forum posts
August 16, 2011 at 10:11 p.m. (EDT)

Thanks, apeman, and for sharing your experience.

Good points, Ed. We'll be updating the article, so keep those tips and suggestions coming to help out others.

camperPete
4 reviewer rep
20 forum posts
August 22, 2011 at 8:59 p.m. (EDT)

I just sold a Marmot Gopher on E-Bay to a guy who camps in the wintertime.I never washed that bag.I just kept it loose in a cotton storage sack.The down was as loftly as the day i bought it.

nirotem
65 reviewer rep
170 forum posts
August 27, 2011 at 5:18 p.m. (EDT)

I used to worked in an outdoor shop, and we got few customers that complained about change of color of their down bags...and why is that? they washed them and then used brand new tennis balls for drying - it's not a problem but you may want to wash the balls few times to make sure they won't remove any color that can dye your sleeping bag.

camperPete
4 reviewer rep
20 forum posts
August 30, 2011 at 8:23 a.m. (EDT)

I got my Gopher kind of cheap (30% off) as i think the price of a good down bag kind of makes people stay away but if you want quality it wont be cheap.Also i have seen some people use ordinary household detergent for a down bag to wash it.You might want to stay away from stuff like Tide.Also don't if you take it to a laundromat use the extractor to squeeze out the water as it will rip the bag almost in 2.I accidentally did that with a synthetic bag.The extractor will heat up and burn material.

Tipi Walter
195 reviewer rep
1,158 forum posts
August 30, 2011 at 9:00 a.m. (EDT)

I must be from the old school were it was verboten to wash your down bag---and so I never do.  It's crazy.  In 1980 I bought a top of the line North Face down bag called the Ibex and I lived in that thing for over twenty years.  Well, it wasn't keeping me warm at 0F like it used to so I washed it, but the loft never seemed to come back.

I have a Marmot Couloir that is truly soiled (mold around the collar) and so it needs to be washed.  My winter bag, a WM Puma, still is in fantastic shape and fully lofted after several years of hard use, but eventually these two bags must be washed.  By someone.  I'm thinking of sending all my down gear to Rainy Pass and let them do the deed without me having to watch.  They have a special "Down Product Cleaning Facility" which may or may not be the best thing since portable tents.  Anybody know??

camperPete
4 reviewer rep
20 forum posts
August 30, 2011 at 12:36 p.m. (EDT)

If they mess up your bag Tipi i wonder what they would do? If you do- make sure that it is understood.

Tipi Walter
195 reviewer rep
1,158 forum posts
August 30, 2011 at 2:26 p.m. (EDT)

camperPete said:

If they mess up your bag Tipi i wonder what they would do? If you do- make sure that it is understood.

 I would gnash and weep, and then they would be roundly and harshly rebuked and trounced on every forum from Whiteblaze to Trailspace---or I'll just go into hiding.  But hey, I haven't sent anything off yet so there's no way to know.  But I understand your sentiment:  Figure out beforehand their warranty.

OttoStover
0 reviewer rep
239 forum posts
August 30, 2011 at 6:59 p.m. (EDT)

In Norway we have several companies that cleans down by use of steam. The process is described here (sorry only in Norwegian), but it seems they open the bags and take out the down. The down and the fabric are then cleaned separately. The down is cleaned using steam, and only the good feathers are put back. If needed they refill the bags with new down. The process costs 750NOK, including the refilling. I consider this to my old sleeping bag that has been my friend for many years. Sure there must be companies that does this also in the US?

Peter1955
1,347 reviewer rep
1,339 forum posts
April 4, 2012 at 6:12 p.m. (EDT)
  1. Has anybody tried the 'sock with baking soda' method of removing smells?
  2. Is the method similar with synthetic bags? I'm like Tipi - never wash your bags!
jad
0 reviewer rep
105 forum posts
April 18, 2012 at 4:55 p.m. (EDT)

I just drop mine off with feathered friends and let them wash it.

Callahan
245 reviewer rep
1,469 forum posts
April 18, 2012 at 5:01 p.m. (EDT)

nice article

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