Washing or cleaning a Goose Down sleeping bag

10:25 a.m. on May 29, 2009 (EDT)
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My Golite Featherlight down bag has become quite dirty since I have been sleeping in it for almost two months. I am moving back indoors and want to clean it and get the down refluffed. What is the best way to wash and dry it?

7:43 p.m. on May 30, 2009 (EDT)
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So no one here has any exterience with cleaning a down sleeping bag?

9:44 p.m. on May 30, 2009 (EDT)
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Sometimes, I don't look at the computer for several days, Gary. But yes, I have washed many down bags many times in the 6 decades I have been using them. That has taught me lots of things not to do when washing down bags. And there are plenty of places on the web that you can find correct instructions for washing down bags.

First of all, do not dry-clean a down bag, or any sleeping bag for that matter. Dry cleaning a down bag will remove the natural oils from the plumules and feathers (all down gear with anything less than 900-fill rating has at least a few feathers). Plus, unless you let the bag air out fully for several days (yes, that is "days") in a well-ventilated area, the rather poisonous fumes from the dry cleaning chemicals can make you pretty sick. The modern dry cleaning chemicals are not supposed to be toxic to the point of death, but some of the ones used until the 1970-1980 time frame could and did kill people.

Find a commercial laundromat with the large, industrial sized washing machines. These are front-loaders with a 3-foot diameter drum or larger (they eat lots of quarters!). Do not under any circumstances use a spindle washer - it will wrap your bag around the spindle and tear the inner baffles loose. Next make sure the laundromat's dryers can be set to a very low temperature, just barely warm. The ones in many laundromats can get hot enough to melt the synthetic materials used in the shells of modern down bags, and can delaminate Goretex, Driloft, and other waterproof/breathable fabrics used for the outer shells and face hole (they also do a number on your Gtx and eVent jackets).

Bring along a half-dozen clean (preferably new) tennis balls for use later in the process (this is controversial).

Use a liquid washing compound specifically formulated for down bags and garments. The best ones I have found are by NikWax and McNett, though I have had success with the REI-branded one as well. Be sure to unzip and disconnect the zipper and loosen the drawcords in the hood area. Set the washer temperature for "synthetic" and "warm wash, cold rinse". Read the directions on the bottle carefully at least 3 times before you pump the jar full of quarters into the machine. Oh, be sure you remove any gear and clothing you left in the bag - I once found about a buck's worth of loose change in the washer afterward. Arrange the bag so it is spread out fairly well in the drum. If when you get to the spin-dry part of the cycle, the load is off balance (the machine will start jumping around), stop the machine and rearrange the bag more evenly.

When the wash cycle is over and the final spindry cycle has squeezed most of the water out, carefully lift the bag out of the washer into one of those carts the laundromats mostly have. Do not just lift the heavy wet bag by one end - again, you can damage the internal baffles if you aren't careful. Wheel it over to the dryer and carefully put the wet bag into the dryer, spreading it fairly evenly. Toss in the aforementioned half dozen tennis balls.

The tennis balls (some people recommend clean sneakers!) will bounce around and help to break up the clumps of down that form in the process. Some people feel that this will put extra stress on the bag and the inner baffles, causing significant damage. If tennis balls might do damage, the sneakers almost certainly will. I have never tried sneakers, but I have found that tennis balls work very well and have never had a problem with damage with any of my down bags or down garments.

Set the dryer on the lowest temperature available and spend the next hour or two feeding quarters into the dryer, until the bag is fairly fluffy. Yeah, it will cost a lot of quarters, but you will have a bag that is as warm and fluffy as when it was new. This is what I have done with my 1960 Eddie Bauer Karakoram and every bag, down parka, down vest, and down pants since, both summer weight and expedition bags. Before the down wash products came out in the mid-1970s, we used Ivory Soap Flakes. But the down wash products work much better.

If you have no industrial-sized washing machine available, you can wash the bag by hand in a bath tub. But be very gentle in handling it, especially getting it out of the tub. If you have no dryer, you can lay the bag out on a cot (do not hang it on the clothes line!) and (gently!) pull the clumps of down apart from time to time by hand through the shell fabric. Unfortunately, doing it this way takes literally days to get the bag dry.

11:35 p.m. on May 30, 2009 (EDT)
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Thanks Bill!

Just curious, where are you in that picture under your name? You sound like you have done a lot of winter or snow climate expeditions....

Can you tell me and all of us about those last, Wow, 6 decades? What are you now about 75?

2:12 p.m. on May 31, 2009 (EDT)
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The photo is in Antarctica in 2006. There is a write-up of that trip in the News Forum here on Trailspace (many screens down).

NO! I am much younger that 75! I am 25. It's just that all that 6 decades of living crammed into my 25 years has caused a lot of hair loss and and a grey beard ;) The hard part has been cramming a dozen or so month-long expeditions into each year {8=>D

Well, according to RealAge.com, my Real Age is 56.2. I guess I will accept that.

2:27 p.m. on May 31, 2009 (EDT)
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6 decades of living?

I guess you mean like my having spent 22 out of the last 28 years living in the great outdoors when I have not been working? I have only worked an average of 3 months a year since I was 24 working in tourist areas like Jackson Hole to support the 9 months a year I did not work.

Sometimes like now its hard looking for work and having explain why I have not worked since like last summer and if a employer wants to hire me, am I going to be leaving at the end of this one? I try to say anything to get the job, knowing in my mind that Yes, I may be not working there beyond this September because I want to take another Fall, Winter and Spring off to go play in the wild places of America and beyond.

Although now at 53, I would like to make enough to keep my cheap $150 place here in Flagstaff AZ and still have enough to buy supplies for 9 months worth of enjoyment of freedom and cycling,hiking,camping and photography in the places I want to go and see.

I think I will go to RealAge.com and see what my age evaluation is?

3:01 p.m. on May 31, 2009 (EDT)
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Say's my real age is 46.6

12:11 a.m. on June 2, 2009 (EDT)
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9:06 a.m. on August 13, 2009 (EDT)
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McNett has a very good video on how to wash a goose down bag on their web site. Here's a link to it on Youtube.


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