How to Wash a Sleeping Bag

Whether used for camping, sleepovers, or both, sleeping bags need to be washed from time to time.

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Like any bedding, a sleeping bag needs to be washed. Fortunately, sleeping bags can be easily laundered in a washing machine. There are, however, some specific guidelines to follow when washing a sleeping bag to ensure it's not damaged in the wash, including using the right type of detergent for the sleeping bag's fill type and leaving enough time for the job. It's important to know that the drying time can be long—anywhere from a few hours to overnight—and making sure it's completely dry before storing a sleeping bag is critical to its care.

Before Getting Started

Before washing a sleeping bag, check the label for care instructions. Sleeping bags with down filling can be washed in the same manner as synthetic-filled sleeping bags, but down filling requires a specialty detergent like Nikwax Down Wash. Down cleaners are formulated to protect the naturally occurring oils that give feathers their water-repellent qualities.

Most sleeping bags can be machine-washed at home. However, sleeping bags should not be washed in a top-loading machine with a center agitator, as the fins on the agitator can shred a sleeping bag's outer lining. However, even those with a washer and dryer might choose to bring a sleeping bag to a laundromat to be cleaned in a large capacity washer and dryer due to the bedding's size and bulk. Sleeping bags can be hand laundered, but it is only recommended when other options are not available. Simply put, hand washing a sleeping bag, like other bulky items, is a tedious slog of a chore. Avoid it if you can!

Drying a sleeping bag typically takes between two and five hours, depending on its size, fill, and the day's weather conditions. It is critical that a sleeping bag is completely dry before it is stored; storing a wet bag will lead to mildew growth. Sleeping bags should be stored in a breathable cotton or mesh bag in a cool, dry place. Avoid storing a sleeping bag in its stuff sack, as prolonged compression will damage its fill.

Prior to washing a sleeping bag, check for stains and other types of damage, like small tears. Treat stains at least 15 minutes before washing to allow the treatment time to penetrate the sleeping bag's fibers. Make any repairs prior to washing the sleeping bag.

Finally, when washing a sleeping bag, regardless of the type of fill, avoid using fabric softener, bleach, or bleach alternatives.

laundry room with blue cabinetry
Adam Albright

How to Machine-Wash a Sleeping Bag

The most efficient way to clean a sleeping bag is in a washing machine. However, if you have a top-loading washer with a center agitator, do not machine-wash a sleeping bag, as the agitator's fins can shred the fabric.

What You Need

  • Laundry detergent or down cleaner, like Nikwax Down Wash
  • Dryer or tennis balls
  • Stain treatment products (optional)
  • Laundry brush (optional)
  • Sewing kit (optional)

Step 1: Treat Stains and Make Repairs

Before washing a sleeping bag, unzip it and lay it out to check for stains or damage. If there are stains, use an appropriate stain treatment product and a laundry brush to work the solution into the fabric. Let it sit for at least 15 minutes before washing the sleeping bag to allow the pretreatment product to penetrate and break down the stain. If there are rips, tears, or other damage, make any repairs necessary before washing the sleeping bag.

Related: Fabric Stains and Your Ultimate Guide to Removing Them

Step 2: Select Water Temperature and Washer Cycle

Wash a sleeping bag in cold water, using either the gentle or permanent press cycle. These cycles have a slower final spin speed that is gentler on a sleeping bag's fill. If your washer has an extra rinse cycle, use it to ensure that detergent and soil are completely rinsed out of the bag.

Don't Overdo the Detergent

When washing a sleeping bag, it can be tempting to add extra detergent because it is a bulky and oftentimes heavily soiled item. Resist this urge! It is essential that all detergent residue is rinsed from a sleeping bag, as lingering soap can lead to the development of malodor, mold, and mildew.

Step 3: Dry the Sleeping Bag

Machine-dry the sleeping bag on low heat. Despite its bulk, a sleeping bag should not be dried on a medium or high heat setting because high heat can melt the nylon outer layer. Put two or three dryer balls in the dryer along with the sleeping bag to help redistribute the filling evenly, break up any clumps that formed during washing, and speed up drying time.

How to Hand Wash a Sleeping Bag

Sleeping bags can be laundered by hand, but it is only recommended if machine washing is truly not an option. Using a no-rinse detergent will help make hand washing a sleeping bag easier by eliminating a time-consuming rinse step. If your home washer cannot accommodate a bulky sleeping bag, or if you have a top-loader with a center agitator, consider washing a sleeping bag at a laundromat as an alternative to washing by hand.

What You Need

  • No-rinse detergent
  • Bathtub or large washing basin

Step 1: Fill Tub or Basin with Water and Detergent

Identify a place large enough to hold water, detergent, and the sleeping bag, that also allows enough space for your hands to move through the water. A bathtub or a large washing basin is the best choice for this operation (a kiddie pool also makes a good oversized washing basin). Fill the basin about halfway up with cool water, and add a small amount of no-rinse detergent, following manufacturer instructions on dosage.

Step 2: Submerge and Soak Sleeping Bag

Lay the sleeping bag in the detergent solution, using your hands to agitate it so that the water and detergent penetrate its fibers and dislodge dirt and grime. Allow it to soak for one hour.

Step 3: Drain Water

After soaking, drain the detergent solution. Then, while the sleeping bag is still in the tub or basin, press down to extrude water. Do not wring or twist the sleeping bag to remove water, which can damage the fibers and filling.

Step 4: Machine- or Air-Dry Sleeping Bag

Once you've extruded as much water as possible, slide your hands under the wet sleeping bag and gather it into a ball so that the weight of the wet bag does not cause undue stress on its seams when carrying it to the dryer, clothes line, or drying rack.

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