CAMPING 101: HOW TO WASH A SLEEPING BAG

Keeping you cosy and protected through a night in the wild, a durable sleeping bag is near the top of any essentials list for campers, trekkers, festival-goers, and more. Investing in a quality sleeping bag is certainly worth it for anyone who loves sleeping under the stars, and with the right care, these bags can last for years and years.

So, to help you make the most out of your sleeping bag purchase (or even revive an old sleeping bag that has seen better days), below we’ve assembled a handy guide on washing sleeping bags. You’ll find tips for feather, down-filled and synthetic bags, plus some preventative measures you can take to ensure your bag stands the test of time.

First things first: can you wash sleeping bags?

Before we dive into how to wash a sleeping bag, we thought it would be useful to address the commonly asked question of ‘can you wash sleeping bags?’. The good news is yes, you certainly can wash your sleeping bag if required. However, if you want your bag to last, there are some specific considerations and steps you need to follow.

Washing and drying a synthetic-filled sleeping bag

Before you go ahead and throw your bag in the washing machine, always check the manufacturer's instructions on the tag. Each bag may have its own specific requirements, so it’s always best to stay safe.

Having said that, here are some general tips for washing and drying a synthetic bag that, in the absence of manufacturers’ guidance, will give you the best chance of keeping your bag in tip top condition:

Tip 1: Opt for front loading washing machines with larger drums

If your sleeping bag is soiled enough to require a full wash, you’re going to want to make sure that the bag has room to get a good wash in your machine. Wash them on their own in a front loading machine so the bag has the freedom to tumble and get a good rinse – this type of machine is also far less likely to damage the bag.

Tip 2: Avoid standard detergents – use a suitable wash alternative

Normal detergents and pods are usually designed for standard everyday clothing rather than performance gear like water-resistant sleeping bags. Products such as Grangers 2 in 1 performance cleaner are designed specifically for outdoor gear. By using a bit of this concentrated wash (with a couple of tennis balls to really get out the grime), you can expect odours to be neutralised and the waterproof finish to be restored. All the while avoiding soap residue that can compromise the bag’s effectiveness.

Tip 3: Spot clean where possible

While your bag should be washed thoroughly before storing away for long periods of time, unless it’s especially dirty, you can skip the full wash and spot clean instead. First, arm yourself with some gentle natural cleaners (including things like baking soda). Then use a small amount of warm water and a gentle brush to clean any smaller stains, taking care to keep the internal filling dry and free from potential soap residue and damp.

Tip 4: Keep drying temperatures low, and ensure your bag is bone dry

Generally, synthetic sleeping bags can be tumble dried or air dried. If you’re opting for a tumble dry, it’s again important that the drum is large enough for the bag to really aerate within the machine (you may want to use an industrial sized dryer, such as those in a laundromat). On a lower setting, it’s possible you may have to dry your bag more than once.

If you’re choosing to air dry your bag, ensure it’s in a place with plenty of fresh air flowing through. Naturally, this method will take longer, so before storing away, make sure your bag and its filling is absolutely bone dry.

Washing and drying a feather or down-filled sleeping bag

While many of the tips above also apply to down and feather-filled bags, they do need some special care and attention to ensure their loft (fluffiness) is maintained and that they are not damaged in the process of washing and drying.

Tip 1: Use a gentle wash and handle with care when wet

This tip goes for all sleeping bags, but particularly for down and feather filled bags. When wet, down filling can become extremely heavy and strain the seams of your bag – a gentle wash will ensure that this is kept to a minimum.

This may mean that for very heavily soiled bags, you may need to wash it more than once. When taking wet feather-filled bags from the wash, take care not to pull too hard on the material as some of the filling may have settled in a particular area of the bag which can strain the seams.

Tip 2: Opt for down / feather specific gear wash

Again, it’s best to avoid standard detergents when washing a sleeping bag. Feather and down bags require a specific type of cleaner, such as Grangers Down Wash Concentrate. It’s designed to neutralise odours, revitalise the water-repellency, and most-importantly, restore the loft of your down sleeping bag. By using the right wash you can keep your bag looking and feeling in optimum condition.

Tip 3: Always use tennis balls (for washing or drying)

Down and feather blends have a tendency to clump when wet. When using a front-loading washer with a relatively large drum, it's best to throw in a couple of tennis balls while washing and drying to ensure the feather and down gets the best chance of being thoroughly washed and dried with the specialised detergent. This also helps remove soap in the rinse cycle.

General tips on how to wash a sleeping bag

As well as the above, some general tips to consider when washing or drying a sleeping bag include:

  • Always fully open the sleeping bag for a thorough wash and dry
  • The gentler the better – delicate cycles and low heat are always best
  • Use a sleeping bag liner to prevent the need for frequent washing
  • Keep your bag clean by properly storing it out of season and only sleeping in clean clothes / after a shower or wash

No matter where your outdoor adventures take you, the right sleeping bag can make or break your experience. By following the above tips, you can ensure your bag can be used time and time again for years to come. Happy camping!

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