5 Things You Should Know About Cleaning Your Sleeping Bag

Bedtime funk is gross. Camping is better with a clean bag.


Oh, sleeping bag. We love you. You’re warm, comfortable, and a down-filled tube of camping comfort and warmth. And you’re…(sniff, sniff)…wait…(sniff, sniff)…what is that, sleeping bag?!

Mungy stank, that’s what that is. Greasy sludge from multiple adventure days without a shower and the ponged bouquet of dirtbaggery will cling to the interior and exterior of your sleeping bag. At that point, your bag will transform from your favorite piece of nighttime gear into a fart sack with an irreversible yuck factor. And nobody’s getting a good night’s rest in a padded cylinder of stink that smells worse than the bottom of a compost bucket. But you can turn the tide against sleeping bag funk.

HANG AROUND

Before you fire up the percolator when you rise in the morn, turn your bag inside out and hang it on a branch, your tent, a rock, or anything else that’ll loft it into the breeze. Seems like a no-brainer, right? Well, most campers pack up quickly and depart for the day’s objective without airing out their bag. Or, they leap from their tent and get eggs and coffee on the stove, leaving their bedding unkempt. Seriously, when’s the last time you did this simple step? Do it. It helps.

MR. & MRS. SELF CLEAN

Conventional detergents and cleaners can clog the breathable pores of your bag and strip the DWR treatment. But you need not shy away from do-it-yourself wash upkeep. Rivivex makes a down cleaner and a synthetic cleaner that truly work well and are very affordable. At the top of the outdoor gear wash-n-repair game is Nikwax, who sell a boatload of cleaning products that will save your sleeping bag from malodorous oblivion. A check-in with your bag’s customer service department is recommended as well. They might cue you in on special instructions. Just like any other piece of your outdoor adventure gear, regular sleeping bag maintenance is key to a long life.

RUB-A-DUB

You’ve got the cleaner. Now what? Light some vanilla-scented candles, put a Maxwell album on, and draw a bath. Okay, not really. Grab a clean Rubbermaid bin, and mix your cleaner into lukewarm water. Drop your bag into the suds and hand wash/massage it. Let it sit for 10 minutes, maybe a little longer if severely foul. Lay it on a clean, flat surface and rotate it every 20 minutes until it is almost completely dry. Then hang it and gently shake it out every few minutes. Make sure it is bone dry before storing it. Again, it never hurts to call the manufacturer for special instructions.

DRY CLEAN

No, no, no, no! It will crush the loft and ruin your bag. Don’t do it. Period. Dry cleaning soaps and detergents are great for your dad’s hand-me-down suit or your mother’s 1970s-era bell-bottoms but will ruin any type of tech finish and insulation. It’s a serious no-no. Sleeping bags, like a lot of outdoor gear, cost a lot of mullah. Protect your investment with upkeep research and proper care.

SERVICE IT

Okay, just because you should never dry clean your bag doesn’t mean you can’t trust a service. Rainy Pass Repair is the same company REI uses to clean, treat, and prep gear. Mail your bag to Seattle, Washington, and RPR will work their magic. As a Gore-Tex authorized repair facility, everything RPR does to your bag (or any other gear you send them) will be waterproof and won’t affect the warranty. They also work on eVent, HyVent, PolarTec, and Schoeller materials. If you’re on Colorado’s Front Range, head over to Boulder Mountain Repair for cleaning and repair services. Or, chances are your local gear store has a service they use. Check it out, ask around, and rid your camp life of gross funk.

Photo by Nathalie Martin

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Showing 6 comments
  • Stephen
    Reply

    Sew a sheet envelope. Insert. Wash after every trip.

    Still need to air the bag but the sheet makes keeping it clean easy. There are silk liners sold at REI if you want to up the comfort level.

    • doug moore
      Reply

      +1 for silk liner. Mine has lasted for about 15 years. Inside of my bag isn’t ‘like new’ but pretty close !

  • gringo
    Reply

    +2 for a silk liner.
    Packs smaller and weighs less than one wool socks and you will
    NEVER have to wash your sleeping bag. It’s also a must have on hut trips in the Alps where you get a scratchy wool military blanket to sleep under which was last washed during the Reagan administration.

  • Elkshedz
    Reply

    No rinsing after hand washing with soap?

  • Joey
    Reply

    I use Nikwax downwash and am a big fan. Once it’s washed you can then treat it with a down proof to revitalise the DWR. It’s a bit scary washing it for the first time- but sooo worth it!

  • Michelle Henry
    Reply

    Awesome tips! Summer sleeping can be tough but having a clean sleeping bag can definitely help. Thanks for sharing!

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