How to Clean and Wash A Sleeping Bag, the CORRECT Way

Your sleeping bag is one of your most essential pieces of gear. In fact, it’s one of the few items that you’d never leave home without when you go on a camping trip.

But unlike other pieces of camping gear, there is a lot of misinformation about how to care for a sleeping bag properly when it comes to washing it.

Indeed, many people forego washing their sleeping bag completely, even though cleaning your bag regularly is essential for its overall longevity.

We want you to be prepared to take care of your gear so that it lasts as long as possible. So, here’s everything you need to know about how to wash a sleeping bag so you can enjoy your bag for years to come.

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Machine wash a sleeping bag

Machine wash a sleeping bag​

Contrary to popular belief, sleeping bags can be washed in a washing machine, so long as you have the proper equipment. As we’ll discuss in a bit, it’s best to use a front-loading washing machine and dryer with large capacities, which are better suited for bulky sleeping bags.

Here’s what you need to know to machine wash your sleeping bag.

Things you’ll need

To machine wash a sleeping bag, you’ll need a handful of different items, including :

  • Laundry detergent (unscented, non-bleach)
  • Front-loading washing machine with a gentle setting
  • Front-loading dryer or commercial dryer
  • Tennis balls (for down sleeping bags)

Step by step instructions

  1. Read the label. Before you wash your sleeping bag, read the label and the manufacturer’s instructions. Sometimes, you’ll need to use specific wash cycles, water temperatures, or types of detergents for your particular model, so it’s important to know this information before you start.
  2. Load your sleeping bag. Place your zipped-up sleeping bag into a front-loading washing machine with a gentle setting. It’s best to avoid top-loading washing machines because they are more likely to damage your sleeping bag. If you don’t have a front-loading machine, hand washing is the better option.
  3. Wash your sleeping bag. Run your sleeping bag through a single wash cycle with cool water and two rinse cycles in your washing machine with your unscented, non-bleach laundry detergent. Ideally, you’ll use a laundry detergent that’s suitable for down or synthetic bags, such as the Nikwax Down Wash Direct or the Nikwax Tech Wash, but any gentle detergent will do in a pinch. Keep in mind that it’s important to choose a delicate setting for your sleeping bag when machine washing it to avoid any rips and tears.
  4. Dry your sleeping bag. For the drying stage of this process, you have two options. Your first option is to use a large commercial-size dryer on the tumble dry/low heat setting. For down sleeping bags, place two or three tennis balls in the dryer during this process to reduce down clumping and improve the quality of your bag. Alternatively, you can air-dry your sleeping bag on a warm, sunny day.

Hand wash a sleeping bag

Hand wash a sleeping bag

Whether you don’t have a front-loading washing machine or you’d just like to be extra cautious with your precious sleeping bag, you can hand wash it in your bathtub. 

In this section, we’ll explain how to hand wash your sleeping bag to get it looking squeaky clean.

Things you’ll need

If you decide that machine washing your sleeping bag isn’t the right option, you’ll need these items to hand wash it.

  • Laundry detergent (unscented, non-bleach)
  • Bathtub
  • Front-loading dryer or commercial dryer
  • Tennis balls (for down sleeping bags)

Step-by-step instructions

  1. Fill your tub. Turn on the tap and fill your bathtub with lukewarm or cool water. Be careful not to fill it too much, as you don’t want your tub to overflow when you place your sleeping bag inside.
  2. Add the detergent. Just like when machine washing a sleeping bag, it’s best to use a detergent made for your bag’s specific type of insulation. Otherwise, use unscented, non-bleach laundry detergent. Add a small amount—use whatever’s appropriate for a single load of laundry—of your chosen detergent to the tub.
  3. Put your sleeping bag in the tub. Once your tub is full of detergent and water, you can add it to the mix.
  4. Knead your sleeping bag. Knead the sleeping bag using your hands to ensure it’s sufficiently soapy. Then, rub the most visibly soiled parts of the fabric together to work out the dirt and grime.
  5. Leave the sleeping bag to soak. When you feel like your sleeping bag is clean, leave it to soak for up to one hour to help encourage the cleaning process.
  6. Drain the tub. After an hour, you can drain your bathtub to remove all the water.
  7. Squeeze out any excess water. To speed up the drying process, squeeze out excess water inside your sleeping bag.
  8. Dry your sleeping bag. The final step of this process is to dry your sleeping bag. As you remove your sleeping bag from the bathtub, be sure to carry it carefully by bunching the bag up into a ball shape. Since the sleeping bag is wet, it will be upwards of 5 times heavier than normal, so carrying the bag in a ball shape helps to avoid any ripped seams. You can dry your sleeping bag in a dryer on a tumble dry/low setting with tennis balls (for down bags) or air dry it outside.

Spot cleaning a sleeping bag

Spot cleaning a sleeping bag

If your sleeping bag isn’t quite dirty enough to warrant a full run through a washing machine or a complete soak in your bathtub, you can always spot-clean it to remove areas of dirt and grime.

Dirt and grime generally build up around the hood and collar of sleeping bags, but they can occur anywhere, particularly if you don’t use a sleeping bag liner. Regardless of whether you use a sleeping bag liner or not, though, regularly spot-cleaning your sleeping bag after each camping trip can be a great way to make it last for years on end.

This is what you need to do to spot-clean your sleeping bag in between camping trips.

Things you’ll need

Spot cleaning a sleeping bag is all about having the right tools to remove grit from small areas of your camping companion. 

Here are the tools you’ll need to give your sleeping bag a bit of TLC.

  • Large Sink
  • Soft-bristle toothbrush
  • Sponge
  • Laundry detergent (unscented, non-bleach)

Step by step instructions

  1. Wet the soiled area. Start by adding a bit of water to the dirty part of your sleeping bag with the sponge. You don’t necessarily need to soak the entirety of the sleeping bag in water to get this done and, in fact, the less water you use the better. If possible, try to separate the shell fabric or the liner fabric from the insulation inside your sleeping bag to prevent the down or synthetic from getting wet.
  2. Apply detergent to the sleeping bag. Take a very small amount of the same detergent you would use for a full clean of your sleeping bag and apply it to the soiled area. Usually, just a small drop of soap is more than sufficient.
  3. Scrub the dirt away. Using your soft-bristle toothbrush, try to scrub out the dirt and grime from the soiled part of your sleeping bag. Depending on the nature of the grime, you may not be able to scrub out any discoloration, but you should be able to clean it nevertheless.
  4. Rinse the soap off. Take your wet sponge and rinse the soapy part of your sleeping bag until the soap residue is gone. It’s important to rinse the soapy section of your bag as thoroughly as possible as soap can affect the loft and hydrophobic properties of your sleeping bag’s insulation. This is one of the reasons why it’s best to separate the dirty shell or liner fabric of your sleeping bag from the insulation during the cleaning process.
  5. Dry your sleeping bag. Finally, before storing your sleeping bag, you’ll want to ensure that it’s completely dry. Although you could toss your sleeping bag into a dryer on a tumble dry or low setting, it’s generally pretty quick to air dry a sleeping bag that’s been spot cleaned. Since you only washed a small amount of your sleeping bag, it should take less than an hour or so to dry it completely before storage. Try to hang the bag up in a warm area to encourage it to dry as quickly as possible.

Gaby Pilson

Gaby is a professional mountain guide with a master’s degree in outdoor education. She works primarily in the polar regions as an expedition guide, though she can be found hiking, climbing, skiing, sailing, or paddling in some of the world’s most amazing places when not at work.