How to store, clean, and care for your sleeping bag.

For the modern outdoor adventurer, the sleeping bag is likely to be one of the most expensive gear purchases made. Naturally, you’re going to want your investment to keep you warm on cold nights for many years to come. But just how exactly do you look after a sleeping bag? Can you even wash them? And will leaving it squished in its stuff sack damage it? Fear not, Open Air is here to provide advice on all things sleeping bag care, laundering and storage!

airing out a green sleeping bag

General Sleeping Bag Care

Regardless of the make, model, and insulation type, keeping your sleeping bag clean, protected and dry will go a long way to ensuring a long and happy service life.

  • Consider sleeping in clean clothes and use a sleeping bag liner to prevent dirt and body oils from accumulating inside in the sleeping bag.
  • Get to know your sleeping bag’s zippers. Two-way zippers can be tricky to operate. There is nothing worse than a jammed sleeping bag zip in the middle of the night. Familiarise yourself with your sleeping bag’s zips and their operation. It often pays to ‘lead’ the zip slider with a finger to prevent the fabric from snagging in the zipper. 
  • Be kind to your sleeping bag. Standing up in it and hopping around a campsite is a surefire way of damaging the foot box and its baffles. Likewise, always make sure there is something between you and the ground (a sleeping mat, clean groundsheet etc) as sharp rocks and sticks will puncture or tear the lightweight shell fabrics.
  • When stuffing your sleeping bag into its compression sack, stuff it feet first into the bottom of the stuff sack with the zip partially open. This ensures air is able to escape out the top without putting due stress on seams and stitching. On that note, stuff your sleeping bag, don’t roll your sleeping bag. You’ll be able to compress the sleeping bag further for a more compact packed size.
  • As soon as you’re home from your tripair your sleeping bag! Airing your sleeping bag after every trip is important to prevent the growth of mould and bacteria within the insulation fill. As soon as you’re home, remove your sleeping bag from the confines of its tiny compression sack, unzip, and allow it to air inside out over a clothes airer or similar. Sleeping bags that have become damp over the course of your adventure will require additional airing time.
air out green sleeping bag hanging from curtain rail
Pro Tip: if you’re limited for space where you live, consider hanging your sleeping bag behind a door or from a clothes hanger on a curtain rail. Many sleeping bags feature sewn tabs at the foot end that allow you to hang them up.  

How should I store my sleeping bag?

The insulating fill in your sleeping bag is designed to be lofty in order to trap as much body heat as possible, keeping you toasty and warm while you sleep. There is however a limit to the insulation’s ability to fluff back up in the long term, which impacts its ability to trap warmth. Down fill is more resilient to repeated compression and will hold loft longer than synthetic fill, but it too will ‘crush’ if kept in a compressed state for long periods of time. Irrespective of insulating fill, the best way to ensure your sleeping bag enjoys a long service life is to limit the amount of time it spends in a compressed state.

mesh storage bag with green sleeping bag inside
Most sleeping bags will be supplied with a cotton or mesh storage bag which contains the sleeping bag without compressing the insulation, whilst also permitting air circulation. If your sleeping bag was not supplied with a storage sack, a large cotton duvet storage bag would suffice.
sleeping bag stored away in wardrobe

Sleeping bags are best stored in an environment free of moisture and temperature extremes,, so consider relocating your sleeping bag from your garage or attic space to under your bed or a corner of your wardrobe.

How to wash a sleeping bag

Overtime your sleeping bag’s fill and fabrics will take on dirt, sweat and body oils. Not only does this lead to bad smells, it can impact the insulation fill’s ability to loft. Washing your sleeping bag does subject the sleeping bag to a degree of wear and tear, so consider regularly spot cleaning your bag rather than subjecting it to a full bath. If your sleeping bag is noticeably grimy and has lost a lot of its loft, it’s a good sign it’s time for a wash.

green sleeping bag in washing machine

Use a toothbrush and a down-specific cleaning product like Granger’s Down Cleaner or Nikwax Down Wash to gently clean the shell fabric of your sleeping bag. The hood, draft collar and foot box of your sleeping bag tend to be where body oils accumulate – by prising the face fabric of the sleeping bag away from its insulating fill, you should be able to gently clean and rinse the shell with a wet sponge without getting the insulation too wet. Unless a sleeping bag has become unusually dirty on a trip, a sleeping bag can go many years without seeing a wash.

cleaning product with sleeping bag

The complete washing of your sleeping bag will largely depend on the fill type. Laundering a down-filled sleeping bag is more labour-intensive as it requires more time and attention so consider paying a professional for this service.

Step by step washing process

  1. Consult the manufacturer’s care instructions for detailed washing guidelines for your particular sleeping bag and its fill type.
  2. Ensure your washing machine/detergent dispenser is free of any residues left by previous washes. Household washing machines tend to be too small to wash a sleeping bag thoroughly so consider a visit to your local laundromat to use a larger front-loading washing machine.
  3. Using a proper cleaning productappropriate to your sleeping bag’s fill type, wash your sleeping bag as per the manufacturer’s instructions. For most sleeping bags, this is a standard 30-degree wash cycle. Consider a second rinse cycle to remove all residual soap.
  4. Carefully remove your sleeping bag from the washing machine. Avoid grabbing the sleeping bag from one end, rather, support the sleeping bag as a whole. Sleeping bags can take on an immense amount of water which puts a strain on seams and stitching. Gently squeeze out any remaining water.
  5. Place your sleeping bag in a commercial-sized dryer and run on low heat. Dryer heat varies and you don’t want to risk melting synthetic textiles so check often. For down sleeping bags, periodically remove the sleeping bag from the dryer and shake the fill to help tease apart the wet clusters of down. We’d also highly recommend Granger’s brilliant ‘dryer balls’ which help break apart wet clusters of down, speed up the drying process and gently restore loft.
  6. Run as many cycles as required to dry the bag. Ensure the sleeping bag is completely dry before placing it in its storage bag by allowing it to air overnight.
cleaning product with down sleeping bag dryer balls
Granger’s Down Wash Kit including Dryer Balls that help break up wet clumps of down without crushing the down filling.

Additional washing tips

  • Never dry clean, use harsh detergents or fabric softeners, particularly on down sleeping bags. These chemicals and processes will strip the down of its natural oils, impacting its ability to loft.
  • Loosen drawcords to un-bunch insulation and secure velcro tabs and closures to prevent snagging whilst washing. Your sleeping bag is best washed unzipped.
  • Sleeping bags with water-resistant shells will hold onto water longer than non-water resistance shells therefore requiring extra drying time.

Of course, if that all sounds too hard, you can always consider having your sleeping bag professionally laundered. These services are offered by:

If you have any questions regarding the storage, cleaning, and care for your sleeping bag, we’d be only too happy to provide assistance. You can visit us in person at our store on Green Street, Cambridge, or contact us by calling, emailing or using LiveChat.
Thanks for reading!

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