Laundering down sleeping bags from time to time isn’t just hygienic — it also improves the performance and lifespan of the bag. And if you’re wondering how to wash a down sleeping bag in particular, you’re in the right place!
While it’s not something you need to do often, your down sleeping bag is probably one of your most expensive bits of gear, so it’s worth making sure you do it right.
- The easiest way to wash down sleeping bags is in a front loading washing machine, using a special down wash.
- You can also hand wash it in a bathtub.
- Drying the bag is the most time-consuming part of the process. It’s most easily done in a large commercial dryer at the laundromat, with some dryer balls or clean tennis balls to break up the clumps of down feathers.
- As an alternative to sleeping bag washing, you can also send your down sleeping bag to a professional down cleaning service. These are expensive, but they do a great job and save you a lot of time.
When to Wash Your Down Sleeping Bag
Some folk say you should wash down sleeping bags once a year, but really it all depends how much you use the bag and what conditions you’re camping in.
We’d say there are two main signs that you need to wash your down sleeping bag:
- It smells. Sometimes airing it out will do the trick, but otherwise a wash is probably on the cards.
- It’s not keeping you as warm as it used to. Over time, oils, dirt, and grease will all stop the down lofting up, affecting the insulating qualities of the bag.
What Not to Do
Down feathers are tougher than they look, but they can be damaged by heat and harsh chemicals. With that in mind, there are certain actions that won’t do your down sleeping bag any favors.
- Don’t dry-clean it
- Don’t bleach it
- Don’t iron it
- Don’t use regular detergent or fabric softener.
How to Wash a Down Sleeping Bag — Machine Method
The easiest way to wash your down sleeping bag is to use a washing machine then transfer the bag to a dryer. Done right, this shouldn’t damage the bag — and it’s much faster than hand washing.
Pick the Right Washing Machine
This is the important bit. You want to use a large, front loading washing machine. Those big commercial ones at the laundromat are usually suitable, though your home washer may work too.
The front loading thing is becoming less important these days. The problem with top-loaders is the agitator column (also called an impeller), which is too aggressive and can tear the baffles or the shell fabric. However, many modern machines no longer feature the agitator column, and these should be fine for washing down sleeping bags.
Your washer needs to have a wash cycle that’s suitable for delicates. If you can use it for wool, you can probably use it for a down sleeping bag.
Assuming you can find a suitable washing machine, there are a few basic checks you need to do.
- Run your hand round the inside of the drum feeling for burrs, pins, or anything else that might catch the fragile shell fabric and rip it.
- Check the detergent dispenser for soap build-up, and clean the dispenser if necessary.
- Some forums recommend running a quick rinse cycle, just to make sure that the washer is completely clean before you start.
Use a Specialist Down Wash
Regular detergent may damage down feathers and strip them of their natural oils. Instead, you want to use a proprietary down soap. There are a few different brands — and while your sleeping bag manufacturer may recommend a particular one, they should all do the job.
Follow the Manufacturer’s Instructions
Your down sleeping bag should have a care label, and it’s best to follow this. In most cases, the instructions will be broadly similar, but it’ll give you an idea of the best temperatures and processes for your particular bag.
You should also check the instructions on the bottle of down soap you’ve chosen, as there may be specific instructions for that brand.
Wash it on a Delicate Cycle
Generally, you want to wash a sleeping bag as gently as possible, so select a delicate cycle. Before you press go, make sure the sleeping bag is properly prepped:
- Do up all zippers and Velcro
- Tidy away cinch cords, toggles, and anything else that might catch
- Turn the bag inside out
Double-Rinse & Re-Proof
It’s important to make sure all the soap is completely washed out, otherwise it may affect the insulating qualities of the down fill. For this reason, it’s worth programming in an extra rinse cycle.
An extra spin program can also be a good idea to get as much water as possible out of the sleeping bag before you begin drying it — and some manufacturers recommend this.
Depending on your sleeping bag, there may be a final step. If your bag features water-resistant down or a waterproof shell with a durable water-repellent (DWR) treatment, you may want to renew this with a specialist wash-in treatment.
How to Wash a Down Sleeping Bag — Bathtub Method
Some people argue that using washing machines is risky when you’ve shelled out big bucks for premium goose down sleeping bags — though it’s worth pointing out that most manufacturers don’t seem to agree.
However, if you are worried about machine washing — or simply don’t have access to a suitable washer — you can hand wash a down sleeping bag in your home bathtub. It’s more time-consuming, but it’s the safest way to ensure you don’t damage the bag.
There’s a great video guide to the bathtub method here.
First, clean and rinse your bath to make sure there are no soap traces or other chemicals that might affect the delicate down fibers. Then fill it with enough lukewarm water to cover the bag and add your specialist down detergent (the bottle should tell you how much to add.)
How long to soak it for is a subject of much debate. We’ve seen articles that recommend 15 minutes, while some forum posts say you should leave it to steep for a whole day. General consensus is that an hour should be fine.
You want to really work the detergent through the down fill, while being as gentle as possible with the bag. Shell fabrics aren’t designed to take the weight of water and wet down, and if you pick the bag up while it’s wet, you may tear the baffles.
You can massage the soap suds through the sleeping bag using either your hands or your feet. We really like this pro-tip from Sea to Summit, who say that…
“Rolling up your pants and pretending you are treading grapes is both effective and therapeutic.”
Drain the tub, then carefully roll the bag up to squeeze the water out. Remember that a soaking wet sleeping bag is at its most fragile, and you mustn’t pick it up.
Fill the tub with clean water, massage it through the bag to rinse the soap suds out, then drain, roll, refill, and repeat until you’re sure you’ve got rid of all the soap and any remaining water.
Drying the Sleeping Bag
Whether you hang-dry or use a dryer, don’t forget that a wet sleeping bag is extremely prone to tearing. You need to get as much water as possible out of it before you pick it up and begin the drying process — either by spinning it in the washer or gently squeezing it out in the tub.
Using a Tumble Dryer
Tumble-drying your down sleeping bag is the easiest way to get it dried out, but it needs to be a slow and careful process. Done right, it can take up to five hours.
You’re best off using a larger tumble dryer — like the ones you get at the laundromat — because as the down dries it will begin to loft up and fill the space. You can use a smaller home dryer, but you’ll want to check on the bag more often.
Before you start, run your hand around the drum to make sure there are no burrs or sharp objects that might snag the outer fabric. If you have a lightweight bag with an especially delicate shell, it’s a good idea to put the sleeping bag inside a large cotton laundry sack for protection.
The dryer needs to be on a low setting (“warm” or similar), and you should check regularly to make sure there are no hot spots or tears. When the bag is nearly dry, throw in a few clean tennis balls to help break up any clumps of down. Some bottles of down wash come with special dryer balls that do the same job — but we’d be tempted to ignore the various online articles that suggest using a pair of sneakers.
Bring a good book and a roll of quarters, because you’re in this for the long-haul.
Using the Sun
Some manufacturers recommend an even slower method — the experts at Therm-a-Rest, for example, say that hang-drying in the sun is the “by far the best way to get the longest life from your down.”
Which is all well and good, but it takes a loooooooooooooooong time. Like, at least 24–48 hours. Of course, the risk with this is that if it takes too long, mildew may begin to set in — which kinda defeats the point of washing the bag in the first place.
If you do air dry the bag, remember that you’ll need to break up the clumps of down manually as it dries out.
Most folk we know tend to give their sleeping bag a spell in the dryer first, then finish off by airing it out in the sun.
Professional Down Cleaning Services
If all this sounds like a lot of work, that’s because it is. Washing a down sleeping bag is a lengthy process — and depending on how much you value your time, you may decide to pay someone else to do it.
There are a number of specialist down cleaning services out there, and which one you use will probably come down to where you live — since you’ll need to ship the bag to them.
They’re much more expensive than washing the bag yourself, but the clean will be a lot more thorough — and in some cases they may remove the down fill from the shell and wash it separately. They can also often carry out repairs, and upgrade or renew the insulation if you ask them to.
In essence, the bag you get back will usually be as good as a new one — and when you think about it that way, it begins to seem much better value.
There’s no point in knowing how to wash a down sleeping bag if you then store your sleeping bag compressed in a stuff sack, shoved in a damp corner of the garage.
When you’ve finished washing your sleeping bag, you should air it out, then store the sleeping bag loosely in a breathable storage sack or hang it up in a dry closet until your next adventure.
Can You Wash a Down Sleeping Bag in the Washing Machine?
Yes, so long as the machine is suitable for washing delicates. A large front loading washer is best, such as the big commercial ones you find in laundromats.
Can You Spin Dry a Down Sleeping Bag?
You can, and this is the easiest way to get them dry. Make sure you keep the temperature down and check on the sleeping bag regularly — it could take up to five hours.
What Temperature to Wash a Down Sleeping Bag?
You should always check the manufacturer’s instructions, but if in doubt, pick the “delicates” cycle in your washer.
Are There Down Sleeping Bag Cleaning Services?
Down sleeping bag cleaning services can be expensive, but they will save you a lot of time and do a much better job than you can manage yourself.