Mont sleeping bag

Washing a down-filled sleeping bag is easier than you’d think. There are just a couple of important things you should know before washing your sleeping bag.

Washing a down-filled sleeping bag seems like a big chore, because drying it takes a long time. But, time is something most of us have a lot of right now. So, instead of sitting down to watch a movie, wash your sleeping bag so that it’s ready for your next trip, once life resembles normality.


Why Even Wash My Sleeping Bag?

Washing your sleeping bag is about more than getting rid of funky smells. Dirt and body oils build up in your sleeping bag and eventually start to compromise your sleeping bag’s performance – that is, how warm and dry it keeps you.

How? Down keeps you warm by trapping air. Your body heat warms this air, which keeps you warm. When down gets wet, it clumps together; which means it loses its loft, and doesn’t trap as much air. Dirt attracts water and body oils stick to the down plumels and gradually reduce thee loft.


Wash Your Sleeping Bag with Specialised Soap

It’s really important to wash your sleeping bag with specialised soap that is made for washing down products. If you wash a down product like a down jacket or sleeping bag with conventional laundry detergent, these soaps leave water-attracting residue, which leads to your sleeping bag ‘wetting out’ in wet or damp conditions. A good specialised soap for down is hydrophobic.


Where to Wash Your Sleeping Bag

Sleeping bags and large down jackets are best hand-washed in a bath. It is our experience that the bath is the way to go. Turn the bag inside out as it is the inside that has the most body oils and the outer fabric may have a water-repellent finish. If the hood area is particularly grubby (often is!), wet the area and rub some of the down wash directly into the area. We have heard of people successfully washing their bag in a washing machine. This means a front loader. NEVER use a top-loader, because the agitator will rip the delicate internal baffles once the bag is wet. Front-loading washing machines are fine for standard-type down jackets. Read the instructions on the packaging of your specialised down soap, but be aware that these may be written under the assumption that no-one in the world does anything by hand. Here are the instructions step by step:

  1. Zip up the bag and turn it inside-out.
  2. Fill your bath or large tub with enough water to immerse your sleeping bag. Add down clearner in proportion to the manufacturer's instructions.
  3. Squeeze the air out of your bag and immerse it in the water.
  4. Apply some cleaner directly to heavily soiled parts, such as the hood, and rub with your hand.
  5. Gently knead the bag for 10 minutes or so. Let it soak for 20 minutes and then knead some more.
  6. Drain the bath, squeeze out excess water from your sleeping bag. Fill the bath again with fresh water. Knead the sleeping bag again to remove the soap. Repeat this rinsing process until all soap residue is gone. (About three times, in our experience.)
  7. Squeeze the excess water out. You now have a wet, sodden mess. Support it well and proceed to reading our drying section, below.

Dry Your Sleeping Bag with Great Care

Drying your sleeping bag is the part in this whole exercise that is the most critical to get right. You need to handle your wet sleeping bag with great care until the weight dries out of it. If you’re rough with your sleeping bag while it’s still wet and heavy, you risk ripping the internal baffles.

DO NOT take your sleeping bag out of the bath and put it straight in the dryer. First, take it carefully out of the bath and then drape it over the top of a clothes horse or clothes line so that its weight is well supported while you let the water drain out. Do not hang it at this stage. Depending on how much down is in your sleeping bag, this might take 4–5 hours. Note: The sleeping bag will seem dry well before it actually is. This is because the outer fabric will dry fast.

Once the worst of the weight is out of the sleeping bag, you can either hang it on a line for a few days or put it in a dryer (read on).


Can I Put My Sleeping Bag in a Dryer?

Yes, but only after you have let some of the water (and therefore weight) to drain out. Also, you need a dryer that is big enough to dry your sleeping bag. A snow camping sleeping bag with over 800g of down in it will fill up most domestic dryers. This means the sleeping bag won’t tumble and will instead get stuck in one position. If the wall of the dryer gets too hot, it can end up melting the nylon fabric of your sleeping bag. Don't worry, this is not as scary as it sounds. Just observe whether the bag is actually tumbling. So if you have a big sleeping bag, you’ll need to either air-dry it or take it to a laundromat.

If you have a smaller sleeping bag (something like a Mont Helium sleeping bag) that will tumble, you can use your home dryer. Put your dryer on a low or medium setting and put your sleeping bag in it with some clean tennis balls. These help to break up the clumps of wet down.

Before you put your sleeping bag away, check for clumps. Massage them out and allow your sleeping bag to keep drying. The trick with making sure a sleeping bag is dry, is to continue to letting it dry, even after you think it’s dry.


How Often Do I Need to Wash My Sleeping Bag?

This depends on many things. We assume that you are using a sleeping bag liner to try to keep things clean. If so, let’s take a stab at a figure and say every 3–4 years. Obviously it depends on not only how much you use it, but also how long your trips are. It is hard to stay clean on bushwalks that are longer than seven days. If your bag is only used occasionally, and you give it a good airing in the breeze after each trip, you could stretch the time between washes to 6–8 years. If you went on an extended walk in hot, sweaty conditions, somewhere with limited access to water for washing yourself, you might need to wash it after one trip. One thing to note: if your sleeping bag is not lofting like it used to, even if it looks clean, it is almost certainly time for a rejuvenating wash. You might be pleasantly surprised by your new, fresh, lofty bag afterwards.



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