Best Methods for Washing Sleeping Bags

Ever went hiking or camping? If so, you’ve probably slept in a sleeping bag before. These insulated coverings are crucial when it comes to getting some shut-eye in the outdoors. Why? They protect you from the freezing elements. Can you imagine sleeping on the cold, dirt ground with nothing to cover your body?

As I’m sure some of you already know, all sleeping bags come with a temperature rating. These ratings indicate the minimum temperature that the product is able to handle. With that said, they should be taken with a grain of salt as there’s no standard method for deterring method—they vary from brand to brand.

Different Types of Sleeping Bags

Generally speaking, there are three main types of sleeping bags—summer, three-season, and winter. As you can probably guess, they’re designed to withstand different temperatures.

Summer: These bags are appropriate for temperatures above 30F. More often than not, they come with full-length zippers, which allow you to open them up fully for ventilation.

Three-Season: These bags are suitable for temperatures 20F and higher. In other words, they’re ideal for trips in the spring and fall.

Winter: These bags are the puffiest out of the three—and for good reason. They’re designed to keep you warm in temperature 20F and below. Beefed up with insulation, they’ll keep you toasty no matter what the weather.

What are Sleeping Bags Made Out Of?

Sleeping bags consist of two parts—the shell and the lining. More often than not, they’re made from different types of fabrics.

The outer shell is often made from man-made fabrics such as nylon, taffeta, polyester. Low-cost and breathable, these types of sleeping bags are perfect for family-oriented camping trips. Others are made from more durable fabrics such as ripstop, which is made from a special type of nylon. DryLoft is also popular, though, it comes at a premium price.

The inner lining is just as important as the shell—it has to be breathable enough for you to sleep comfortably throughout the night. As with the shell, it’s not uncommon to see taffeta, nylon, or polyester used in the sleeping bag lining. Other popular options include poly cotton, which is ideal for the summer, silk, and nylon.

The Importance of Keeping Your Sleeping Bag Clean

It’s absolutely crucial that you keep your sleeping bag clean. After all, it’ll probably be going on the ground. In other words, it’s going to pick up a bunch of debris such as mud, dirt, grass—even bugs!

Another thing to consider is sweat. As it is, it’s not uncommon for us to sweat in our sleep—yes, even when we’re outdoors. Over time, the sweat can seep into the shell or lining. Why is this a problem? It moistens the sleeping bag, which makes it a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. After all, bacteria love to multiply in moist environments.

As you can imagine, this can be quite unhygienic. For one thing, the bacteria can easily enter open wounds, which would cause infections. Not only that, but they will make your sleeping bag stinky! What’s worse than having to sleep in something that smells absolutely terrible?

Given this, it only makes sense that you’d want to wash your sleeping bag on a regular basis. Wouldn’t you want your “bed” to be clean and fresh? But wait—how do you go about cleaning a sleeping bag? Are they machine washable? Do you have to wash them by hand?

Not too sure? Don’t worry, we’ll be going over the washing instructions for different types of sleeping bags below!

Washing Instructions for Synthetic Sleeping Bags

It’s perfectly fine for you to put your synthetic sleeping bag in the washing machine. Before you begin, though, always check the care tag label for specific instructions from the manufacturer.

1. Close everything up—this includes all zippers and velcros. Why? They can easily damage other parts of the sleeping bag if left open.

2. Carefully put your sleeping bag in the washing machine. Ideally, you want to use a front-loading model; top-loading washers with a central agitator can damage the product over time.

3. Add two scoops of ACTIVE detergent and wash the bag on a gentle cycle with cold water. Avoid hot water as that can cause the sleeping bag to shrink.

4. Wait for the machine to finish washing before removing the sleeping bag. Carefully transfer it into the dryer. Select the lowest heat setting and press start. For the best results, add a few wool balls—that will help it to dry faster.

Note: As long as you have the space, you can also air-dry your synthetic sleeping bag. Lay it on a clean towel outside and allow it to dry naturally. Make sure that it’s completely dry before storing it away.

How to Hand Wash Your Synthetic Sleeping Bag

Want to be greener? If so, why not wash it by hand? It’s not as hard as you think to was a sleeping bag in the bathtub!

1. As with machine washing, you want to close everything up including the zippers and velcro attachments.

2. Fill your bathtub (or sink, if it’s large enough) with warm water and add a scoop of ACTIVE detergent. Mix the solution by swirling your hand in the liquid.

Pro-tip: Don’t use too much detergent! Sleeping bags are bulky and hard to rinse in the first place—adding more detergent than necessary will make your work a lot harder.

3. Submerge the sleeping bag once you start to see bubbles. You might have to push it up and down to completely immerse it in the liquid. Allow it to soak for a while—at least 30 minutes.

4. Drain away the dirty water. Lightly press on the sleeping bag with your hands to get rid of the water.

5. Refill the bathtub with clean water. Rinse the bag by pressing down into it with your hand; continue until the water is completely clear. Generally speaking, you’ll have to “rinse” it out several times for it to be free of detergent.

6. Squeeze out as much water as possible out of the sleeping bag.

7. Put it in the dryer and dry it with the lowest setting—the entire process can take several hours. Alternatively, you can let it air dry on a clean towel or surface.

Washing Instructions for Down Sleeping Bags

Down sleeping bags can be washed in a similar fashion. However, there are certain things that you don’t want to do as it is very fragile. For starters, you don’t want to wash it too often or it will start to break down.

1. Close all of the zippers and velcro attachments on the down sleeping bag.

2. Load the sleeping bag into your front-loading machine. Add a scoop of ACTIVE detergent and wash on a gentle cycle. Ideally, you want to use cold water—that will extend the product’s lifespan.

3. If possible use a second rinse cycle (it can be difficult to get rid of all of the detergent).

4. Wait for the wash cycle to finish before removing the bag from the washer. Remember, down gets pretty heavy when it’s wet. It’s probably a good idea to cradle it in your arms so that you won’t tear the stitching.

5. Put your down sleeping bag in the dryer and dry with the lowest heat setting. Make sure that it’s 100% dry before putting it away.

How to Hand Wash Down Sleeping Bags

It’s absolutely possible to wash your down sleeping bag by hand.

1. Close all of the zippers and velcros on the sleeping bag.

2. Fill a large bathtub with water—don’t fill it up all the way, otherwise, the liquid will spill out when you put in the bag!

3. Add a scoop of ACTIVE detergent to the water. Mix it with your hand until soap suds are visible.

4. Carefully put the sleeping bag in the tub. You’ll want to press down a few times to fully submerge it into the solution. Once the entire thing is immersed, leave it for 30 minutes.

5. Drain the dirty water out. Squeeze out as much of the “dirty” water out of the bag as possible

6. The next step is to rinse out the detergent. Fill the bathtub with clean water again and use it to “rinse” the sleeping bag. You want to do this until the product is free of soap—it can take several rinses for the water to become clear.

6. Remove the down sleeping bag from the tub when you’re done. Avoid wringing or twisting the bag—that can tear the fabric and make the fibers clump together.

7. Carefully transfer it to your dryer and dry on the lowest heat.

Tips for Keeping Your Sleeping Bag Clean

Here are some tips on how you can keep your sleeping bag clean, even with frequent use.

Change Into Clean Clothes When You’re Going to Sleep

Make an effort to change into clean clothes whenever possible; never crawl in with dirty clothes—the sweat and dirt will easily transfer onto your sleeping bag. Over time, the dirty compounds can damage the lining and shell.

Invest in a Sleeping Bag Liner

Liners are great in that they’ll act as a barrier between your skin and the sleeping bag. At the end of your camping trip, you can just put it in the wash and you’ll be good to go for next time.

Put a Pad on the Ground

Most sleeping bags have some sort of durable fabric on the bottom, but that doesn’t protect it from sharp objects such as sticks. Consider laying a pad down on the ground first before using your bag.

Air Out Your Sleeping Bag

If possible, air out your sleeping bag every day when you’re outdoors—this will prevent moisture from building up. Avoid leaving it under direct sunlight as the UV can degrade the fabric.

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