How to Clean (and Care for) Your Sleeping Bag

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At their best, sleeping bags provide you with a protective bubble and allow you to sleep in comfort almost anywhere.

With high-end sleeping bags costing potentially hundreds of dollars, it’s important that you know how to care for your sleeping bag, so that you can keep it in top condition and use it for many years to come.

Cleaning & Storage

After a long trip away, the first thing you should do upon arriving home is to air out your bag. You can do this by hanging it on the washing line outside (if the weather is nice) or over a clothes horse.

From here you can examine whether it needs cleaning or not, and what the extent of any damage/wear is.

Cleaning by Hand
Before throwing your dirty sleeping bag in the washing machine, it’s advisable to first try and get any apparent stains out by hand. Why? When you wash a sleeping bag in the washing machine you subject it to all kinds of wear and tear and you decrease the effectiveness of the insulation.

Put some laundry detergent into a bowl of water and use a toothbrush to scrub out any stains.

If a toothbrush just isn’t doing the job or your sleeping bag has picked up a rather terrible stench (usually a combination of mud and sweat) it’s probably time to wash the entire thing.

How to go about it:

  • Fill up the bathtub.
  • Make sure to wash it with a soft, non-detergent soap that won’t do too much damage.
  • Put your sleeping bag into the water and work in the soap.
  • Leave it there for around 15-20 minutes.
  • Drain the bathtub.
  • Rinse your sleeping bag out (to remove the soap). You may need to do this several times.

Synthetic sleeping bags are a bit more durable to washing than down-filled ones, so you can put them in the washing machine (front-loading washing machines ONLY). If you do, make sure to give them a good rinse (to get all of the soap out) and a spin dry to limit water damage.

Drying Your Sleeping Bag
Sleeping bagOnce your sleeping bag has been cleaned it’s time to dry it out.

The best way to do this is to stick it in the airing cupboard (if you have one) or some area where it can dry naturally.

You can put your bag in a tumble dryer, but make sure to set it to the lowest heat setting and stop it every few minutes to make sure your bag isn’t overheating

The way you store your sleeping bag is something most people never consider, yet it can drastically affect its lifespan and how well it retains its padding/insulation.

Most sleeping bags come in small sacks. Keeping them tightly compacted in these small sacks will slowly squash the insulation.

Instead, store your sleeping bag in a larger cotton sack if possible. Why cotton? It’ll allow your sleeping bag to breathe as it’s stored away.

Some sleeping bags come in waterproof/watertight sacks. These are great for keeping out water, but keeping them inside these sacks long-term is a bad idea as condensation will build up inside them over time and eventually allow mould to grow.

How to Care for Your Sleeping Bag While On the Road

After a day of hiking out in the wilderness you’ll naturally be a bit sweaty and dirty, so when you retreat to your sleeping bag at night all of the dirt, sweat and bodily fluids you’ve accumulated throughout the day will seep into the sleeping bag and eventually rob it of its insulating ability (as well as making it smelly and dirty).

One way to prevent (or at least delay the effects of) this is to sleep in clothing that covers your whole body (i.e. legs and arms).

Also, make sure to sleep in clean clothes (i.e. not the ones you’ve been wearing all day). Wearing clean clothes will also help to keep you warmer, as the perspiration you’ve accumulated throughout the day will cool down at night.

Dealing with Tears
Occasionally the shell of your sleeping bag can tear. At home these can easily be sewn back together, but when you’re on the road (and you don’t have a sewing kit, sticking a piece of duct tape over the tear will keep it together and temporarily prevent further damage from occurring.

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