Are Sleeping Bags Machine Washable?

Sleeping bags, just like your clothes, need to be washed every once in a while. You may be tempted to save some time and effort and not wash them by hand.

But is that a good idea? Can you really wash sleeping bags in the washing machine?

Technically yes they are, BUT the more you wash your sleeping bag the more likely it is that the filling may shift and compress and then you lose the loft of the sleeping bag that makes it so comfy. If however it has got so grimy, and the loft isn’t what it used to be then its time to go right ahead and give it a complete wash.

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions

First off before tossing the bag into the machine look for the manufacturer’s wash/care instructions that should detail whether to use warm or cold water. Use a front-loading machine, as they are gentler than the top loaders with their agitators, and wash on a gentle cycle.

Using the large commercial washers and dryers at a Laundromat can be the easier option. Down filled bags need a non-detergent soap for cleaning and drying will take a few hours.

A tip is to add a couple of tennis balls to the dryer, as they will assist in breaking down any clumps of down that may form. Sleeping bags with a synthetic filling will dry more quickly.

Spot cleaning rather than tossing in the machine

Spot cleaning may be best rather than immersing the whole sleeping bag in a washing machine.

To spot clean, use an old toothbrush or a nail brush together with a bit of water and non-detergent soap to get rid of marks that usually occur around the hood where hair and oils/sunscreen from your face accumulate.

Do this no matter how tired after a day’s hike don’t collapse into your sleeping bag but change into clean clothes and make sure sunscreen and oils have been washed off the face.

When spot cleaning do your best to try pull the liner or the shell – whichever side needs cleaning – a little away from the insulating layer so that it does not get wet, otherwise it will take a long time to dry the filling. After spot cleaned leave to dry in the sun to avoid mildew forming.

10 tips for keeping that sleeping bag out of the washing machine

  1. Make sure you to change into sleepwear when you jump into your sleeping bag at night so that any oils or lotions on your body, (or sweat, should it be that warm), are absorbed by the clothes and not the lining of the sleeping bag.
  2. Always change out of hiking clothes that will have accumulated dirt and dust and smells of wood smoke from the campfire before turning in, as the odors will tend to permeate the sleeping bag.
  3. Sleeping bags usually seem to get dirtier around the foot area so if it’s cold wear socks to protect your toes and the sleeping bag!
  4. A sleeping bag liner will help keep it clean – you simply take out the liner and toss that in the wash. It’s a fraction of the cost of the bag and you can afford to have a couple of them. Take your choice of silky feel, comfortable cotton, or if its really cold, a fleecy liner.
  5. To help keep your sleeping bag fresh air it each morning after you wake. Turn the sleeping bag inside out or unzip it and open it out to air.
  6. Most often we wash sleeping bags to get rid the musty smell after they have been stored. The ultraviolet rays of the sun however work as a natural mold killer and disinfectant, so make sure you get that sleeping bag out to air on a warm sunny day rather than sending it through the washing machine.
  7. The sleeping bag must completely dry out in the sun – it is far too common to think an item is cupboard dry and then weeks later find mildew on it – particularly in humid climates.
  8. Open out the bag and turn it on the wash line, as the sun’s rays must reach both the inner and outer layers to do their natural work of damaging the DNA of the bacteria and giving the bag that sunshine smell.
  9. Washing by hand allows you to identify spots where extra attention is needed. Dead skin cells accumulate on the inside of a sleeping bag and dust and dirt on the outside, so treat the bag gently to retain the cuddle soft feel that was so appealing when you bought it.
  10. When travelling always use the waterproof cover for the sleeping bag, or if it has got lost use a plastic bag to cover it. Often spots of oil, charcoal, and liquids from food that has spilled on the journey ruin a sleeping bag and necessitate more washing than originally anticipated.

A good sleeping bag is an investment and needs to be looked after to give years of high loft and water resistant service rather than being worn out fast by countless cycles in the washing machine.

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