Pelican Flyer • February 10, 2021
Does your sleeping bag have a funky odor you just can’t seem to shake? Then it might be time for a wash! Hardcore campers who sleep beneath an A-frame tarp sans bivvy can abuse their sleeping bags, but so do families with kids and pets. From the sweat buildup on the interior lining to dog hair and muddy paws on the outer shell, your sleeping bag needs a cleaning every now and then.
So before you head out on your first camping trip of the season, do yourself a favor. Learn how to wash a sleeping bag. Your tent mates will thank you.
First things first: To clean a sleeping bag properly, find a local laundromat that offers commercial-sized washers and dryers. Your home washer simply will not cut it, nor will your dryer. Even if you manage to fit your sleeping bag in your home washer, there are several reasons an industrial washer is better. Plus, your down- or synthetic-filled sleeping bag needs all the space it can get to fluff and dry.
One of the top reasons to use a commercial washer is because they’re front-loading. Why does this matter? Well, the standard top-loading washer uses an agitator column, which could cause your sleeping bag to get tangled up and potentially rip.
Using a spacious commercial washer is especially important for alpine sleeping bags with large baffles and high-quality insulation. Unlike your home washer, a larger drum will ensure all the water is removed before transferring to a dryer.
Don’t use your regular household laundry detergent to wash a sleeping bag! Instead, look for something made explicitly for technical gear, such as those made by Nikwax or Gear Aid. Or check the tag on the sleeping bag or call the manufacturer directly. They’re much more knowledgeable about their own technical gear and can offer the best advice.
Also, before you head to the laundromat, look it over for any torn areas that need to be patched. Gear Aid has many technical gear patches to repair spots and even has portable-sized swatches, which are about as convenient for a camping enthusiast as a rechargeable flashlight.
Always double-check the care instruction on the tag to verify the water temperature and spin cycle. However, as a good rule of thumb, choose a cold or warm water temperature in a gentle setting and set it up for a second rinse cycle.
After the sleeping bag has been washed and put through an extra rinse cycle, it should feel damp, but not soaked or spongy. If it feels sudsy, put it through a second rinse cycle. If it’s just extra soaked, squeeze out any excess water.
When your bag is thoroughly washed, it’s time to transfer it to the dryer. As you transfer the sleeping bag from the washer to the dryer, remember that the water will add weight, so support the bag entirely to avoid strains or ripped seams.
Throw in a couple of tennis balls, especially for down-filled sleeping bags. It can’t hurt for a synthetic bag, too. Also, make sure the lint filters are clean. You’ll need all the airflow you can get! Lastly, and most importantly, set the dryer on low heat to prevent nylon fabrics from melting.
This step will take a while, so prepare to settle in and keep yourself occupied. Even bring along a rolling cooler or waterproof cooler backpack packed with lunch if necessary. A synthetic sleeping bag can take an hour at least, while a down bag might even take several hours.
If your sleeping bag has a stubborn stain (say, from coffee), spritz it with Grangers Outdoor Gear Cleaner or a dab of the same detergent, ideally before throwing it in the wash. Using a soft-bristled toothbrush, clean the shell only, pulling it away from the filling or down. Rinse any soap away with a wet sponge.
Of course, you can always hand wash your sleeping bag at home in your bathtub (or any large tub-like basin – even a kiddie pool). For this method, you will wash the bag with your hands in a solution of warm water and cleaner. Rinse the bag thoroughly and stretch it out somewhere to air dry, which will take some time. While it can hasten the process, avoid placing in direct sunlight.
Ensure your sleeping bag is completely dry before storing it away. When storing your bag, also make sure it’s loose to maintain the loft. While it comes with a compressible stuff sack for camping trips, ideally, you should lay the bag out or hang it open across a sleeping pad or a shelf. If that’s not an option, at least choose a larger sack so it’s not so compressed.
Now that you know how to wash a sleeping bag, make it a point to do so at the end of every season. Enjoy that new camp gear smell again.
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