5 Expert HACKS to Wash a Sleeping Bag and Post-wash Care

As your main insulation from the cold, your sleeping bag is an important part of your camping gear that needs care to keep it maintained and fully functional. After a camping trip or two, your bag will likely need freshening up, but how can you wash your sleeping bag without damaging it?

Sleeping bags should never be dry-cleaned. Unzip the sleeping bag and turn it inside out. Put in a front-loading washing machine with mild detergent using warm water. Air or tumble dry on low heat. Check for any remaining dirt or stains and hand wash, then air dry again before storing!

What’s the best way to clean your sleeping bag? Are there any specific instructions to ensure that your bag comes out of the wash as good as new? Read on to find out the specific requirements for a sleeping bag wash.

Washing Your Sleeping Bag

You’ll likely spend a decent amount of time in your sleeping bag when you camp.

Even if you’re experiencing cold conditions, you will probably get sweat and other dirt or residue on your bag in some shape or form, and it’s natural to want to wash it to enjoy a clean sleeping space for your next trip.

It’s vital to note, however, that washing your sleeping bag too much can cause damage to the insulating ability of your bag.

If you have a down bag, for example, too much washing can affect the loft of the filling, thus reducing its capacity to keep you warm.

Some experienced campers recommend only washing your sleeping bag once per season or annually to reduce the impact on your gear while maintaining cleanliness.

Instead of a full wash, you can wipe your sleeping bag and air it out after each trip. Although it may seem like an easy option, never be tempted to take your bag to the dry cleaners.

The chemicals used in the dry-cleaning process can greatly reduce the effectiveness of your bag’s thermal insulation.

With down sleeping bags, in particular, the process strips the natural oils, which help make down a fantastic insulator.

If you’re used to washing after every camping trip, an annual clean may seem a little negligent, but luckily there are several tricks you can use to limit how dirty your sleeping bag becomes between washes and to get your bag clean after trips.

If you feel that there’s no use washing your old sleeping bag or too much washing has caused more harm than good, it may be time to look for a new sleeping bag.

Check out my recommendations for the best sleeping bags for camping before your next purchase.

Washing Your Sleeping Bag

Expert Hacks for Keeping Your Sleeping Bag Clean

1. Air out your sleeping bag

Try to air out your sleeping bag at least once a day during your camping trip if the weather allows.

Turning your bag inside out and taking it out of your tent to air allows any sweat or moisture to evaporate before you sleep in it again the next night.

Do note, however, that UV rays can damage the fabric of sleeping bags, so be sure not to leave it in sunlight for too long.

2. Use a washable liner

Instead of subjecting your whole bag to the rigors of cleaning after each trip, use a sleeping bag liner that you can remove and clean whenever suits you.

Using a liner, you’ll stop all the dirt and sweat from actually reaching the inside of your sleeping bag, meaning that it will still be more or less fresh when you’re ready to use it again.

3. Wear clean clothes for sleeping

In a similar vein to the liner, make sure that you change into clean clothes before you turn in for the night.

This prevents the day’s dirt and grime from getting into your bag at all and should help prevent it from getting soiled.

4. Keep your sleeping bag inside your tent

While it may seem cozy to snuggle up around a campfire in your sleeping bag, exposing it to a lot of grime and smoke particles that you’ll bring back inside your tent when you go to sleep.

It’s better to keep your bag away from the smells and dirt around camp to keep your sleeping space clean and smelling fresh.

5. Spot-washing your bag

If you follow the steps above, you should be able to extend the length of time between full washes of your sleeping bag, and you can freshen up parts of your bag instead of the whole thing.

If you want a quick refresh of your bag after each trip, use a non-detergent soap mixed with water and a toothbrush to clean the outer shell of your sleeping bag.

Work gently since the idea is to prevent wear or tear or water damage to the bag or the filling. In addition, you can also pull the shell away from the filler to help with keeping the water away. 

Use this technique to tackle any stains on the outside shell of your bag which is most exposed to any spills or mud that gets into your tent.

When spot cleaning, it’s also a good idea to focus on the area where your head is when you sleep since oil from your skin and hair is more likely to make contact and build up in the bag.

Spot-washing your bag

Preparing Your Bag For Washing

If you’ve decided it’s time to do a complete wash of your bag, you have a couple of options available.

You can take your bag to a professional cleaner specializing in camping gear (not a dry cleaner), or you can decide to wash your bag yourself at home.

The first method we’ll look at is machine washing, and there are several important things to note before you bung in your bag with your laundry and hit the start button.

If done incorrectly, machine washing can cause problems with your sleeping bag, which might make it less effective on subsequent trips.

Before starting, always check the manufacturer’s washing instructions and ensure you use these recommendations and warnings.

If it says that your bag is incompatible with machine washing, then your best bet is to wash it by hand. Turn your bag inside out and ensure you’ve done up all the zippers and velcro before starting the wash.

It’s a great idea to give the bottom and top sections of your bag a thorough cleaning by hand first, as these sections are most likely to have accumulated dirt from your head and feet.

Preparing Your Bag For Washing

How to Wash Your Sleeping Bag in a Machine?

1. Detergent

Be mindful of what detergent you choose. Try to select one that is low-sudsing, and don’t use too much as you don’t want any leftover detergent after the wash.

Avoid bleach (and alternative bleach products) as well as a fabric softener. All of these can reduce the water-repelling nature design of the protective shell of your sleeping bag.

If possible, choose a non-detergent soap specifically made for cleaning-filled products. This is particularly important if you have a down sleeping bag, as incorrect cleaning products can heavily affect the loft.

2. Machine

Be extremely careful if you have a top-loading machine since these are often built with an agitator that can damage your bag significantly.

Front-loading machines or top-loading machines without a central agitator are your best bet.

Some campers recommend the commercial machines at laundromats since these are of a good size for sleeping bag cleaning.

Your machine at home may not be big enough for thoroughly cleaning a heavy-duty sleeping bag.


3. Method

It may be tempting to blast away the dirt of your latest camping trip on the toughest cycle, but it’s best to go gentle to protect the longevity of your bag.

You can use warm or cold water with a small amount of soap.

Consider adding some other items to your wash, like damp towels, as these can assist with balancing out the spinning function and make for an all-around better clean.

Once the wash is over, set the machine to rinse two times or more to ensure all traces of detergent are gone. Alternatively, you can set the whole cycle again, just without any soap.

How to Wash Your Sleeping Bag By Hand?

If your washing machine at home isn’t big enough, or if your sleeping bag isn’t machine-wash friendly, you can also give it its annual wash by hand.


Again, it’s important to choose the right cleaner for your bag.

Even though washing by hand seems gentler, it’s still vital that you don’t use any bleach or damaging substances as they can still penetrate your kit and affect its efficacy.

Follow the same advice as for machine washing to ensure you protect the longevity of your sleeping bag.


Most campers recommend using a bathtub to get the best wash for their sleeping bag. Run cool or warm water to fill the bath, and add a small amount of soap.

Use your hands to carefully disperse and massage the soap across the sleeping bag, focusing on the dirtiest areas. Leave the sleeping bag to soak in the bathtub for around an hour.

Let out the plug and allow the water to drain out while squeezing excess water out of your bag. Then it’s time to refill the tub with clean, cool, or warm water and gently rub the soap out.

Allow the bag to sit in the water again for around a quarter of an hour, and then let the water drain.

Keep repeating the rinsing process until you are confident that all the soap has been washed away as the residue can negatively affect the performance of your bag.


Drying Your Sleeping Bag

Even when your wash is complete, it’s essential to ensure that the bag dries correctly. Otherwise, you will end up with a piece of kit that may be unusable.

Be prepared to wait a considerable amount of time for your sleeping bag to dry, as if you pack it away too early, it may become mildewed and unpleasant.

Machine drying your bag

Before you start, make sure that your machine is big enough.

To get properly dry, your sleeping bag will need to expand and spread out, so if it’s a little tight in your machine, consider going to the laundromat, where you’ll get a little more space.

Transport the bag to the dryer by squeezing excess water and balling it up so you can carry it as one bundle without straining the seams.

It may feel like a high setting will do a better job drying out your bag, but choose a low heat setting. This is because higher settings can damage the outer fabric or even the filling itself.

To help maintain a good loft of the filling, a great trick is to add a couple of tennis balls to the dryer when the bag is almost dry.

These help evenly distribute the filling around the bag and improve the loft, which can be affected by the wash. You should also shake the bag periodically to ensure an even filling distribution.

Air drying your bag

There’s also the option to air dry your bag if you don’t have a machine big enough for the job, but be prepared to wait sometime as it can be lengthy.

As with machine drying, begin by squeezing out any excess water and transporting the bag carefully to your drying surface.

If the weather is on your side, spread the bag flat outside, ideally in partial sunlight. Remember that too much UV light will damage your bag, so don’t be tempted to leave your bag outside for days on end.

During the drying process, check for clumps of filling and either shake the bag to get a more even distribution or massage out the clumps.

Whichever way you dry your bag, please ensure it’s completely dried out before folding it into its storage bag.

Consider airing it out inside your home overnight before packing it away to ensure there’s no moisture left.

Drying Your Sleeping Bag

Washing a Down Bag

As down bags use a natural insulator rather than a synthetic one, we have to take particular care not to upset the delicate structure of the filling as, once damaged, your sleeping bag won’t function as well.

Natural oils are found in down that repels water, and these oils can be easily stripped away by incorrect cleaning methods.

Although you can follow the same methods for down sleeping bags as set out above, you must choose a soap specifically formulated to clean down bags.

Some examples of down-friendly soaps are Gear Aid Revivex Down Cleaner or Grangers down wash kit.

As long as you choose a soap that will protect the insulating integrity of your bag, you can use a machine or hand wash to get your kit as fresh as new.

Washing a Down Bag

A Messy Body and Surroundings Lead to a Dirtier Sleeping Bag

Keeping your sleeping bag clean and maintained is crucial for enjoying your camping experience.

Follow the general rule of an annual or seasonal wash, interspersed with spot cleans after each trip, and you’ll be able to keep your bag fresh and fully functional for many years.

Lastly, keep your body and your surroundings clean to prevent the bag from getting really dirty or inviting tough stains that will leave a faint mark even after several washes.

Shailen Vandeyar

A proud Indian origin Kiwi who loves to plant trees and play with his pet bunny when not out in the woods, exploring the infinite beauty of mother nature.

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