Washing your sleeping bag: this is how you do it

So your sleeping bag got dirty on your last trip, well done! After all, a dirty sleeping bag is the sign of a genuine adventurer. But you’ll want to make sure it is clean again and ready for your next trip, so in this article we'll tell you how to wash your sleeping bag properly.

Only wash your sleeping bag when absolutely necessary. If, for example, it smells of smoke or any other undesirable odour, the best remedy is to hang the sleeping bag out in the fresh air. If there are stains on your sleeping bag, it should be possible to remove most of these with a damp cloth.


If your sleeping bag needs more thorough cleaning, there are several ways in which you can wash it. First and foremost, it is essential that you use the correct detergent to wash your sleeping bag. There are several liquid detergents that have been developed specially for the cleaning of down and/or synthetic sleeping bags, such as the Down Wash Direct or Tech Wash detergent from Nikwax.

Here are a few rule of thumbs to remember when washing your sleeping bag:

  • Always use a liquid detergent. If you use a washing powder, there is a risk that the filling of your sleeping bag will clump together. In fact, just avoid ever using a washing powder or a softener for the purpose of washing your sleeping bag.
  • Do not use an enzyme-based detergent; this is bound to damage the down and will therefore affect the quality of your sleeping bag. The down filling has a natural layer that retains warmth. Using softeners or the incorrect detergent may damage and remove this layer, reducing the insulation and thus the warmth provided by your sleeping bag.
  • If you have a bath, this is a perfect surface to wash your sleeping bag by hand
  • If you opt for a washing machine, make sure it is large enough to allow the sleeping bag sufficient room to move around.
  • And although this may seem obvious, always remember to check the washing instructions of your sleeping bag before you start.

Washing by hand

Fill a bath or other large surface with warm water, add some liquid detergent and make sure it is thoroughly mixed with the water. Zip up the sleeping bag, turn it inside out and put it into the water. Let the sleeping bag absorb the mixture of water and detergent before allowing it to soak for an hour or two, turning it and moving it about occasionally.

Please note: never take your sleeping bag out of the tub when it is still filled with water. The weight of the water might tear the inner walls, causing the filling to be displaced. Always drain the soapy water from your sleeping bag slowly and carefully.

Take the sleeping bag out of the soapy water and refill the bath with clean water. Rinse the sleeping bag carefully, and repeat this process at least twice to remove all soap. Once you have done this, empty the bath and roll up your sleeping bag slowly into a cylinder shape so that any remaining water is pushed out. Do not wring the sleeping bag!

Washing in the machine

If you opt to use a washing machine, make sure that all the zippers are closed before putting your sleeping bag into the machine. Use a washing programme for delicates (for example wool or hand wash) with a maximum temperature of 30°C. If possible, select a programme with a long spin time. It is essential that as much water as possible is removed from your sleeping bag before you take it out of the washing machine.


Option 1: dry your sleeping bag outside in the sun. If you do this, please note: intense UV light may damage or discolour the outside of your sleeping bag. To counter this, turn the sleeping bag repeatedly and gently redistribute the filling along its length if you can still feel any lumps. Although drying in the sun is an easy and natural way to dry your sleeping bag, it may take days to completely dry it with this method.

Option 2: use a dryer. Again, select the lowest temperature or a delicates programme. Once the programme is done, remove the sleeping bag from the dryer, turn it inside out and run the same programme again. Repeat this drying programme until you are sure that the filling is completely dry through and through. Don't make the mistake of storing your sleeping bag while the down is still even slightly damp. This will increase the the chance of forming mould. If you can still feel lumps of down in your sleeping bag after drying, this means that the filling is not dry yet.

Caution: be aware that dryers can emit a lot of heat, even on the lowest temperature setting. To avoid the drum causing damage, open the door once in a while to release some of the heat. When the drying programme is finished, take the sleeping bag out of the dryer immediately; do not allow it to rest against the hot drum of the dryer.

Expert tip: when you are drying a down sleeping bag in a dryer, put a few tennis balls in with it. This will prevent the down from clumping together in one big lump and will help to ensure that the down filling remains evenly spread throughout the sleeping bag.

Dry cleaning

Although the idea of not having to clean your sleeping bag yourself may be tempting, we advise you not to have your bag dry-cleaned. The protective layer and insulating function of your sleeping bag will be affected by the cleaning fluids used by most dry cleaners. Synthetic fillings may even melt if you have your synthetic sleeping bag dry-cleaned, so although your sleeping bag will undoubtedly be clean afterwards it will also provide less warmth. In short, do not have your sleeping bag dry-cleaned!

If you really don’t want to wash your sleeping bag yourself, there are several outdoor shops that provide a washing service especially for sleeping bags.