restoring loft in down bags

11:20 a.m. on March 5, 2006 (EST)

I have a 25-30 year old down sleeping bag that I have given to my sun. He has used it the past three years. He has been on many camping trips lately and I have noticed it has lost some loft. Is there anything to help restore the loft?

12:43 p.m. on March 5, 2006 (EST)
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Some of the loft may have been lost due to loss of the down (no cover material is completely downproof). However, most of the loss of loft is due to accumulation of dirt and body oils. Proper washing with a product made for washing down sleeping bags, parkas, comforters, other garments will restore most of the loft. The two best products I have found and used for many years (and I put typically 40-50 nights a year in my winter-weight down bags) are made by McNett and NikWax. REI's Loft is ok, but the McNett is the one I have found best.

Do NOT wash the bag in regular detergent, and do NOT get it drycleaned. Regular detergent doesn't completely rinse out and drycleaning removes the natural oils of the down.

You have to wash the bag in a front-loading industrial washer (many laundromats have them). Home machines, aside from not being large enough, usually have a center paddlewheel that will stress the bag enough to tear the internal baffles. McNett and NikWax have directions on their bottles for temperature settings. Dry the bag at low temperature in a large commercial dryer (check their temperatures BEFORE you do the washing - you may have to go to a different laundromat). Putting 3 or 4 CLEAN tennis balls in the dryer (not sneakers, as some urban legends suggest) helps to separate the clumps of down.

This has worked for me for many washings for some 30 years. Unfortunately, I had my oldest bag (bought in 1960) drycleaned a couple times, so it lost enough loft to now be a -20F bag instead of the original -40F bag.

Also, always store your bag open, not tightly stuffed. Keeping it tightly stuffed can put permanent bends or even break the plumules of down. It doesn't seem to hurt to have the bag stuffed for the few days during travel to some distant location, or during your time backpacking. I haven't noticed any significant loss of loft using compression sacks either, though some here say they have. Main loss is due to the dirt and body oils.

8:24 p.m. on March 10, 2006 (EST)

We have a large capacity frontloader (Kenmore H3)at home and I have used it to wash a couple down bags with good results. Previously I have used the frontloaders at the local laundramat for my down bags. Ditto what Bill said about using the special down soaps.

Years ago a couple baffles ripped out in a down bag I washed in a toploader at a laundramat. (What was I thinking?) Also, I put in too much soap and when the suds came over the top, the laundramat owner put in some fabric softner to "cut the sudes" (his idea). It was later dry cleaned. That bag (originally rated for -20) really has taken a dive in terms of loft.

Other bags as old (30 years)are doing fine with frontloader washing.

June 18, 2018
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