Can You Dry Clean a Sleeping Bag?

A lot of people are wondering whether or not dry cleaning their sleeping bag is a safe and effective means of getting it ready for the next camping trick. But is it really a good idea?

The short answer is No! Avoid dry cleaning because the chemicals are quite harsh and you will lose the original loft – especially if it’s a genuine down sleeping bag.

The Chemicals Involved

Let’s just look at the chemicals used. Many dry cleaners use hydrocarbons – a petroleum based solvent.

Yes, the dry cleaners say it is less aggressive than other chemicals used, but if you are regularly taking off into nature you should be concerned about the ecological impact of using petroleum-based products.

At least hydrocarbons are better than PERC (perchloroethylene, also called tetrachloroethylene, tetrachloroethene, PCE and perchlor) – the solvent used by the majority of dry cleaning companies in the US.

The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) made the suggestion in 2008 that PERC was a “likely human carcinogen”, besides the fact that it also causes damage to the brain and nervous system.

The National Academy of Sciences Panel supported the EPA’s suggestion, although conclusive proof from scientific studies on humans was not provided – animal studies however did indicate that PERC was linked to certain cancers, notably liver cancer.

Perchloroethylene was classified as a Group 2A carcinogen by The International Agency for Research on Cancer in 2013 meaning it’s considered likely that it is carcinogenic to humans.

All routes of exposure were considered likely as carcinogenic to humans according to the EPA’s 2012 classification of perchloroethylene. When PERC is present at just 1 part per million in the air most humans can smell it according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

It is far better for the health of your sleeping bag to hand or machine wash it, but before throwing it into any just washing machine read this (link to Can you machine wash a sleeping bag?) so you preserve the quality of your sleeping bag for many years.

sleeping bag

5 Reasons You Should Not Dry-Clean a Sleeping Bag

  1. Many sleeping bags come with a waterproof coating to protect them from night dew as you cuddle into it around a campfire or slide into it to sit outdoors on cool nights enjoying a mug of hot chocolate. Dry cleaning chemicals will destroy that coating over time leaving you feeling damp!
  2. There are claims that sleeping bags made from synthetic materials will be damaged by the dry-cleaning solvents used however we could not find specific evidence of this. What we do know is that tetrachloroethylene is considered to be a good degreaser, is non-flammable, and does not saturate fabric fibres according to a 2001 Australian Government NICNAS (National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme). However it is not worth really taking the risk of damaging hi-tech synthetic fibres.
  3. Down, from the under feathers of ducks and geese trap air and puff up giving a sleeping bag its loft. The higher quality the down used the better its insulation – the grades of down range from 300 (low grade) to 900 (top grade). The feathers are naturally coated with a microscopic layer of oil, which helps them retain their loft and insulating power. Cleaning with chemicals like PERC which is also an ingredient in degreasers means the down will be stripped of the qualities that help give it is loft and you’ll be left with a sleeping bag that does not keep you as warm as it should.  
  4. Considering the health implications of solvents used in dry cleaning it is interesting to note that a newsletter by The International Fabricare Institute, an association for launderers and dry-cleaners, mentioned that although solvent retention in articles that have been dry-cleaned is minimal, items such as sleeping bags do have a tendency to retain more solvent than the average item brought in for dry cleaning.
  5. You want to reduce your carbon footprint in the interest of creating a better planet, so leave those chemicals alone and wash with water and a non-detergent soap to keep that sleeping bag clean.

Can I dry-clean my sleeping bag? The long and short of the answer is an overwhelming negative given the risks to the product itself, as well as health and environmental concerns.

About Jeanie Beales

Jeanie Beales
Traveler, photographer, writer. I'm eternally curious, in love with the natural world. How people can survive in harmony with nature has fueled my food safety and survival gardening practices. At the age of 12, I found a newspaper advertisement for a 155-acre farm at a really good price and showed my parents one Sunday morning. They bought it and I happily started planting vegetables, peanuts, maize and keeping bees with the help of the local labor. Once I married wherever we moved it was all about planting food, keeping chickens and ducks, permaculture and creating micro-climates. I learned how to build wooden cabins and outdoor furniture from pallets, and baked and cooked home-grown produce, developing recipes as I went along. Over the years on numerous trips to wild places and cities I've learned all sorts of survival hacks, but there is always someone out there who can teach you a new trick so I remain an eternal student and forever humble.

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