Gear Care 101: How to Wash a Sleeping Bag Properly

Sleeping Bag Care: A wet and mucky sleeping bag in a tent

In this post, we'll take a look at:

In this post, we’ll walk you through the essential steps to wash your sleeping bag. From expert tips to easy-to-follow instructions, we’ve got you covered.

Whether you’re a camping pro or just starting out, this post will help you maintain your sleeping bag for countless cozy nights in the wild.

Interested? Let’s get started.

Key Takeaways

  • Assess when your sleeping bag needs washing based on visible soiling, odor, or loss of insulation loft. Excessive washing can shorten the bag’s lifespan.
  • Use a gentle, non-detergent soap or specialized sleeping bag detergent. Regular detergents can damage the insulation and water-repellent coating. For machine washing, use a front-loading washer on a gentle, cold water cycle.
  • Proper drying is key. Dry down bags on low heat with tennis balls. Ensure bags are completely dry before storing.

Step-by-Step Guide to Washing Your Sleeping Bag

Sleeping Bag Care: A hiker holding his sleeping bag to air it out

Cleaning your sleeping bag is crucial for freshness, hygiene, and optimal performance. Over time, oils from your skin, dirt, and moisture buildup can harm insulation and overall comfort.

1. Assessing the Need for Washing

Before starting the wash, assess if your sleeping bag genuinely requires it. Excessive washing can shorten its lifespan, so consider these factors:

  1. Visible Soiling: If your sleeping bag is visibly soiled with stains or dirt, it’s time for a wash.
  2. Odor: If your sleeping bag emits unpleasant odors even after airing it out, it may require cleaning.
  3. Loss of Loft: If your bag has lost its fluffiness (loft), it’s a sign that it’s retaining moisture and needs cleaning.

2. Choosing the Right Detergent

How to Was a Sleeping Bag: Care products for Nikwax

Choosing the correct detergent is vital to prevent any harm to the delicate materials of your sleeping bag. Opt for a gentle, non-detergent soap or consider using a specialized sleeping bag detergent, available at REI.

Avoid regular detergents, as they can strip the natural oils from down insulation or affect the water repellency of synthetic insulation.

3. Preparing for Washing

Before you start, close all zippers and fasten any Velcro tabs to prevent snagging. It’s also a good idea to check the manufacturer’s care label for specific instructions, as some sleeping bags may have unique cleaning requirements.

4. Machine Washing (Front-Loading Machine)

  1. Select the Right Machine: If your sleeping bag is suitable for machine washing, choose a front-loading machine. Top-loading machines with an agitator can be too harsh. If you don’t have a front-loading machine at home, consider using a laundromat.
  2. Use Cold Water: Select a gentle cycle with cold water on your machine, if possible, and never exceed 100°F / 40°C under any circumstances. High temperatures can harm the materials of the sleeping bag.
  3. Add Detergent: Follow the instructions on the detergent label to determine the right amount to use, typically based on your sleeping bag’s weight. For Nikwax products, this ranges from 3.4 ounces (100ml) for ultralight bags to 6.8 ounces (200ml) for heavier sleeping bags.
  4. Wash Carefully: Place the sleeping bag in the machine, ensuring it has enough room to move freely. You may need to wash it alone or with a few other lightweight items to balance the load.
  5. Rinse Thoroughly: After the washing cycle is complete, run an additional rinse cycle to ensure all detergent is thoroughly removed.

5. Hand Washing (For Delicate Bags)

For particularly delicate or high-quality sleeping bags, consider hand washing:

  1. Fill a Tub or Basin: Use a large tub or basin filled with cold water and add the appropriate amount of detergent.
  2. Submerge and Gently Agitate: Place the sleeping bag in the water and gently agitate it with your hands, paying attention to soiled areas.
  3. Rinse Thoroughly: Drain the soapy water, refill the tub with clean water, and rinse the bag until all detergent is removed.

This approach demands a bit more effort, but it’s our preferred method for washing sleeping bags because it grants us full control over the procedure.

Drying Your Sleeping Bag

Properly drying your sleeping bag is essential to maintain its performance and longevity. Follow these steps to ensure your sleeping bag dries effectively:

For Down Sleeping Bags:

  1. Remove Excess Water: Gently press down on your down sleeping bag to eliminate excess water after washing. Avoid twisting or wringing.
  2. Low-Heat Drying: Use a large dryer on a low-heat setting. Add clean tennis balls or dryer balls to assist in fluffing up the down. Alternatively, air dry it by laying it flat and turning it regularly.
  3. Check for Dryness: Ensure your down sleeping bag is completely dry before storing to prevent moisture buildup.

For Synthetic Sleeping Bags:

  1. Remove Excess Water: Squeeze out excess water gently, as with down bags.
  2. Low Heat in Dryer: Place the synthetic bag in a large dryer on a low-heat setting, with tennis balls or dryer balls if possible.
  3. Verify Dryness: Synthetic bags usually dry faster, so check after 30-60 minutes. Make sure it’s fully dry before storing.

Maintaining Your Sleeping Bag: Essential Tips

How to Was a Sleeping Bag: Person sleeping in a freshly washed clean sleeping bag

After washing your sleeping bag, it’s vital to maintain its top condition. Follow these care tips to keep it clean, comfortable, and functional:

  1. Use a Sleeping Bag Liner: A removable and washable fabric lining shields your sleeping bag’s inside, lessening the need for frequent washing. These liners are also effective at keeping you warmer during the night. Check out our TOP 5 guide for the lightest sleeping bag liners available.
  2. Spot Cleaning: Regularly check your sleeping bag for stains or spills. Treat them promptly by gently blotting with a damp cloth and mild soap.
  3. Refreshing Waterproof Coating: Products are available to restore the DWR (durable water repellent) finish on the bag’s shell. You can once again check out REI. You have options: some can be sprayed on, while others require washing with the waterproofing solution alone.
  4. Addressing Small Holes or Tears: For small holes or tears in the sleeping bag shell, you can use a needle and thread for repairs.
  5. Avoid Dry Cleaning: Dry cleaning chemicals can damage the insulation and shell fabric of your sleeping bag, so it’s best to avoid this method.


Maintaining a clean and properly cared-for sleeping bag is the key to enjoying countless cozy nights in the great outdoors.

By following the easy-to-follow instructions provided in this article, you can ensure your sleeping bag remains fresh, hygienic, and at peak performance.

Remember, a well-maintained sleeping bag is your trusted companion for all your camping escapades, so treat it with care, and it will keep you snug and warm for years to come.

Looking for a new ultralight sleeping bag? Explore our TOP 5 guides for the planet’s lightest options.


Can you wash a down sleeping bag at home?

Yes, you can wash a down sleeping bag at home, but it’s important to follow specific care instructions to maintain its quality. Use a front-loading washing machine with a mild detergent designed for down products. Ensure the sleeping bag has enough space to move freely, and use cold water to prevent damage. After washing, rinse thoroughly and dry on a low-heat setting with clean tennis balls to fluff up the down. Always check the manufacturer’s care label for any unique instructions.

Do sleeping bags go bad?

Sleeping bags can indeed have a lifespan, and their longevity depends on several factors. On average, a well-maintained sleeping bag can last for 5 to 15 years or more. The specific duration varies based on usage frequency, quality of materials, and how well it’s cared for. High-quality down sleeping bags tend to have a longer lifespan compared to synthetic ones. Regular cleaning, proper storage, and addressing any damage promptly can significantly extend the life of your sleeping bag.

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