Washing your bag

10:19 a.m. on March 24, 2016 (EDT)
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We've owned our REI Sub-Kilo sleeping bags for about six years now, and that means that we've used them on about 750 miles of backpacking trips.  Since we usually hike about 7-8 miles a day, that's about 100 nights in the bag, not counting some of our car camping trips. Ewww. 

So as you can imagine, the bags had started to look a little grimy in places.  We've meant to wash them for a couple of years, but it's such a major process that we never got around to it. IMG_2015.JPGUntil now.

A visit to REI got us the NikWax soap for down bags, and Ifilled up the tub and away I went, first washing the bag, then soaking it for a while, washing again, and then seemingly endless cycles of rinse and rinse and rinse and repeat.  Then the delicate process of slowing squeezing most of the water out of the bag, and about 3 hours in the dryer on the delicate cycle. But it worked.  

What was a grimy old sleeping bag now looks more or less fresh and new.   And we were surprised to see how well they filled out their big "pillow case" storage bags once we had washed them.  Before washing, they were not nearly so fluffy--although it's possible we could have fluffed them up a bit in the dryer even without washing them.  At any rate, they are now clean! I can hardly wait to get mine packed away in its stuff sack and on the trail again. 

12:26 p.m. on March 24, 2016 (EDT)
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I've been thinking I am about due to take the plunge and try washing my Ventra.  I've protected it well and it doesn't look or smell like it needs a wash, but the down really could use a reconditioning. Thanks for the reminder!

2:58 p.m. on March 24, 2016 (EDT)
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I just washed my Marmot bag today with Nikwax Down Wash.  I am hopeful that it will be considerably better than the old Woolite treatment, dry cleaning, and other crummy ways of cleaning down.  People seem to like it.

7:31 p.m. on March 24, 2016 (EDT)
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You all are inspiring me to attempt the same on my Marmot...10 yrs of trail grime have given it a unique odor. Not totally unpleasant but worth a wash.

9:09 p.m. on March 24, 2016 (EDT)
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Having had and used down and various synthetic bags, parkas, etc for many decades, Barb and I periodically wash them. The method we use is first to find a laundromat which has industrial size front-loader professional machines at a laundromat that is knowledgable about washing sleeping bags, quilts, etc. Here in Palo alto where we have lived for a bit over 30 years, we have such a laundromat about a mile away.

The two companies whose care products we have found work well are McNett (Revivex) and Nikwax. Both have similar products designed for variations of sleeping bags, puffy parkas (down and synthetic), waterproof, water repellant, etc. We have tried copies of these products sold with "store names" with much less success.

We learned early on to NOT go to the local dry cleaners. The solvents (1) remove the oils in the down, and (2) take forever to evaporate out of the bags and parkas, (3) stink to high heaven, and (4) most important, can be lethal, literally. DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES USE DRY CLEANING CHEMICALS ON YOUR GEAR!!!!! Luckily, we had some experienced mentors, so did not encounter health problems.

We also learned to NOT use powdered detergents, or even liquid detergents designed for "normal" clothes (wool, cotton, polyester suits and dresses, etc).

Follow the directions on the product (read the label and select the version that matches the garment, sleeping bag, etc that you are cleaning.

There is a debate that has gone on for decades over whether you should zip the zipper, close the velcro,  and/or turn the bag or jacket inside out. We zip the bags and turn them inside out - works for us, YMMV. And of course, remove everything from the pockets, especially sharp objects.

Set the water temperature to "Warm". With large bags and expedition parkas, wash one at a time. Use a delicate setting.

After the cycle has completed and spun dry (squeezes most of the water out), transfer the bag or parka to the dryer, and set to "Warm", along with 3 or 4 clean tennis balls (preferably fairly new). This works better than doing the "pull-apart" operation you have to do when washing in a tub. AND it helps fluff the bag. DO NOT substitute tennis shoes for the tennis balls - I have seen bags shredded when someone used this method.

Big problem, though -  drying at "warm" setting until it is dry takes more quarters than a Las Vegas Casino's slot machines (and you never hit a payback, much less a jackpot unless the person before you forgot about the change in the pocket of their jeans)

Washing wpb parkas is similar, but with a different "magic potion".


I strongly advise going to a laundromat that has a staff familiar with cleaning sleeping bags. Also, Nikwax and McNett have brochures that go into detail about cleaning your bags and parkas. If you do handwash, use gloves (the nitrile or latex kind, depending on your allergies)

11:39 a.m. on March 25, 2016 (EDT)
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I am happy with the end result of washing by hand with Down Wash. The bag looks somewhat different and has more loft.

1:20 p.m. on March 25, 2016 (EDT)
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Washing by hand takes a lot longer and a lot more effort. Using the machine wash (which is the first recommendation listed on both the Nikwax and McNett bottles) is a lot faster and easier. When we have hand washed, the loft has always come out somewhat less than the machine washes.

Hand wash is a lot cheaper, especially feeding all the quarters into the drier.

11:08 a.m. on March 26, 2016 (EDT)
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I live a long way from town.  I ordered the soap through the mail and wash by hand, because it takes less time than driving somewhere.

2:01 p.m. on May 27, 2016 (EDT)
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You should be able to machine-wash your sleeping bag if you have a front-loading machine that doesn't have an agitator in the center. Use only down cleaner detergents. Other detergents are stronger and you'll risk damaging the feathers that keep you warm. I would recommend Gear Aid's Down Cleaner. After it comes out of the wash, you can either let it air dry over night then fluff it back up by throwing it in the drier on delicate for around an hour; or you can toss it directly from the wash into the drier and dry it on delicate for around 4 or 5 hours. 

If you take your bag out of the drier and you feel clumps of down on the inside, your bag isn't dry yet. If the down still feels grimy, I would recommend washing it again. Chances are the first wash didn't get all the dirt and oils out. 

You can toss some tennis balls if you have them lying around in with the bag in the drier to break up the clumps more easily, but these are not required. 

Gore-Tex/Dri-Down bags require more time to dry, and synthetic bags take less time to dry. 

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