How to Wash a Sleeping Bag

After a few weeks of camping your sleeping bag probably looks a touch worse for wear. It’s caked in mud splatters, you’ve dropped the odd crumb in the bag, and it’s started to get a bit pongy! So, what your faithful companion needs is a little TLC.

All you need to do is wash your sleeping bag to restore it back to its former glory. How do you do this? Follow the steps below to clean your sleeping bag.


Tips to Think About When Washing a Sleeping Bag

top tips when washing a sleeping bag

  • Always read the care label on your sleeping bag and adhere to what it says. 
  • Test out any cleaning solutions before you use them. 
  • Dry cleaning may not be a suitable cleaning option. The solvents used during this cleaning process could damage the sleeping bag. 
  • You don’t need to use fabric softener.
  • Find out what type of sleeping bag you have: synthetic or down. This information will come in handy when you’re cleaning your bag. 
  • Use a very low spin speed to remove excess water from your sleeping bag when it’s in the washing machine. A high spin speed may damage the bag. 
  • If you’re doing any spot treatments, pop a towel on the back of the patch you’re trying to clean, so the liquid doesn’t penetrate into the back of the sleeping bag. 
  • Don’t bleach a sleeping bag.
  • Cleaning a sleeping bag isn’t too difficult, but sleeping bags can take a while to dry. So, make sure you have plenty of time to carry out this cleaning task. If possible, pick a dry and slightly breezy day to wash your sleeping bag on, especially if you plan on air drying your bag outside. The wind will help to speed up the drying process.
  • If you’re going to tumble dry your sleeping bag, make sure you choose a very low heat. If you run a cycle that is too hot you risk damaging your sleeping bag.
  • Down sleeping bags often take longer to dry and you should be more careful when washing them.
  • Make sure your sleeping bag is completely dry before you pop it back in its sack or store it in a cupboard!
  • When drying a down sleeping bag, it is worth adding a tennis ball or two to the tumble dryer’s drum, so they can help de-clump the sleeping bag.
  • Choose a detergent that is suitable for the material you’re cleaning. If you’re cleaning a down sleeping bag, it would be worth looking into Nikwax Down Wash Direct, as it has been designed to care for down wear. When cleaning synthetic sleeping bags, it’s best to stick to a gentle, non-biological detergent.
  • After washing a sleeping bag many times, you might need to re-waterproof your bag.
  • You should not wring the water out of your sleeping bag as this can make the filling go all clumpy inside. Gently press down on the sleeping bag to extract water from it instead.


How to Wash a Sleeping Bag in a Washing Machine

How to Wash a Sleeping Bag in a Washing Machine

Machine-washing a sleeping bag is usually the most straightforward option. Just make sure that your bag is washing machine safe before you carry out this method.

Steps to follow:

  1. Read the care label on your sleeping bag to see how it should be washed.
  2. Shake the bag out, so you get rid of loose debris like hair and crumbs, for example.
  3. Lay your sleeping bag flat out and check it over for ‘dirty spots’ that could be pre-treated.
  4. Clean these spots with a damp cloth and some gentle and suitable detergent. Only use a small dose because you don’t want too many bubbles.
  5. Once you’ve pre-treated the sleeping bag you can proceed with washing it in the washer.
  6. Pop the bag in the washing machine, so long as the care label says it is safe to do so.
  7. Choose the correct setting (normally the gentlest cycle or ‘delicate’ cycle), and a cold/30°C water temperature.
  8. Add a measure of suitable detergent to the machine.
  9. Start the wash.
  10. When the cycle ends, run an extra rinse cycle to remove excess detergent from the sleeping bag.
  11. Remove the sleeping bag from the washing machine and gently press down on it. If you see suds appearing, you will need to run the sleeping bag through another rinse cycle.
  12. When there’s no more soapy residue on your sleeping bag, you can roll it up and press down gently on it to extract even more moisture from it. Pop some paper down on the floor to soak up the liquid.
  13. Air dry your sleeping bag or use a tumble dryer to dry it.

If you are concerned about your sleeping bag not fitting inside your washing machine, you could take it to a launderette and use one of their bigger washing machines to clean it.

While you’re there, you could also use one of their tumble dryers. Check the label on the bag to make sure it can be machine dried first.

Do not try to stuff your sleeping bag into your washer. If it won’t fit, don’t force it. And if you do manage to squeeze the bag into the drum, you risk damaging the sleeping bag and putting needles strain on your washing machine during the washing process.


How to Hand-Wash a Sleeping Bag

hand-washing a sleeping bag

Hand-washing a sleeping bag does take a little more time, but this type of cleaning method yields great results, if it’s carried out correctly.

Steps to follow:

  1. Fill a bathtub or large bucket with cold/lukewarm water.
  2. Add half a regular measure of suitable detergent to the water. Make sure you don’t have loads of bubbles though.
  3. Pop the sleeping bag into the water and make sure it is submerged.
  4. Gently knead the sleeping bag all over and spend time massaging extra dirty spots like near where your head goes, for example.
  5. Continue to agitate and clean the sleeping bag until you’ve covered the whole area. Remember that you need to clean both sides.
  6. Once you’ve cleaned the entire sleeping bag, allow it to rest in the water for at least an hour.
  7. After an hour has passed, empty the dirty water out of the bathtub/large bucket.
  8. Refill the bathtub/large bucket with fresh water.
  9. Make sure the sleeping bag is submerged in the clean water and leave it in the water for at least 20 minutes.
  10. Gently knead the sleeping bag again, so you start to remove the soapy residue from it.
  11. Drain the dirty water away and refill the tub with fresh water. Repeat Steps 8 to 11 until all the soapy residue has gone.
  12. Once all the suds have been cleaned away, gently press down on the sleeping bag to remove excess water from it. You will need to do this multiple times.
  13. Roll the sleeping bag up, so you squeeze out all the water.
  14. Gather up your sleeping bag when you’ve extracted all the liquid that you can out of it and move onto the drying phase.
  15. Dry the sleeping bag in a tumble dryer, if you’re allowed to do so. Or shake your sleeping bag and lay it flat out on a surface outside to air dry (you could drape the bag over a clothes horse while it is outside, for example).

Tip: Some people like to walk barefoot back and forth over their sleeping bag when it is being treated in a bathtub. This different type of kneading/massaging action also works well, but you’ve got to be careful as the material will be very slippery. So, make sure you have someone with you if you’re going to try this out. (You try this at your own risk).

If you don’t have a dryer at home, or you don’t have much outdoor space, it might be worth taking your sleeping bag to a launderette and using one of their large dryers to dry the bag. This would also save you a lot of time!


How Often Should You Wash a Sleeping Bag?

hanging sleeping bags to dry

A sleeping bag should be washed at least once a year at a minimum. However, you can wash your sleeping bag more often if you use it more frequently.

In addition to washing the sleeping bag, you should give it a wipe down after every ten uses or so, clean up obvious dirt as soon as you can, use a liner and wash it frequently, and air out the bag after every use.

Practicing these few tips should help to keep the sleeping bag in good condition.


What Temperature Do You Wash a Sleeping Bag On?

The care label on your sleeping bag will tell you exactly what temperature you should clean your sleeping bag on. But as a general rule you should use a temperature that is below 30°C or cold water.


How to Keep a Sleeping Bag Clean While Camping

sleeping bag and mat

Below you’ll find some ideas on how to keep your sleeping bag cleaner for longer while you’re camping:

    • Change out of your dirty clothes before hopping into your sleeping bag at the end of a day. It would be better for you and your bag if you removed any hiking gear, muddy clothes, and sweaty garments before you got into your sleeping bag. This is to prevent the transfer of germs and general grime.
    • Clean your face and hands before getting into your sleeping bag. This will remove any oils, general dirt, and suncream from your person before you wipe it over your sleeping bag.
    • It’s worth turning your sleeping bag inside when you get up. This will allow natural air to circulate around the inside of the bag, and will freshen the sleeping bag up for you. 
    • If you’re doing a spot of outdoor camping, pop a mat down on the floor and then lay your sleeping bag on top of it. This will stop the sleeping bag from making direct contact with the floor, and will prevent it from soaking up any mud/water in the process.
    • It may be worth investing in a sleeping bag liner, particularly if you’re not going to be able to wash your sleeping bag for a while. This’ll protect the inside of the bag from oils and general grime. Just keep in mind that you’ll have to wash the liner, that’s usually made from cotton or silk, on a regular basis. And this can normally be done by hand or by machine. Just pick a suitable delicate detergent for silk liners.
    • Try not to eat when you’re in your sleeping bag. Or at the very least pop a blanket over the bag. So, if you do spill a drink or drop some food down your front the blanket will catch the dirt and not the sleeping bag.
    • Don’t put your sleeping bag in a place where it’s likely to get dirty. Don’t leave it near a puddle or a mud pit, for example. And always store your sleeping bag in the right way.
    • If you’re going to lend your sleeping bag to someone, make sure you clean the bag when they return it to you.


Should Sleeping Bags Be Washed?

hang washed sleeping bag to dry

Yes, sleeping bags, like any other type of bedding, needs to be kept clean. Washing your sleeping bag will ensure that it is free from general dirt and bacteria. So, when you use the bag, it’s safe and hygienic for you.

It’s also important to wash your sleeping bag if you’ve been out camping in the wild. Your bag will have picked up all different kinds of dirt, especially if you slept on the ground!

Similarly, you should clean your sleeping bag if you lent it to a friend. You don’t want to go sleeping in someone else’s germs.