Ever washed your sleeping bag? Most people haven’t, but keeping it clean is the first step to caring for it. With the price of some sleeping bags you’ll want yours to go the distance!


First, an admission. Before I wrote this article I’d never washed my sleeping bag. That’s right, my Mont Helium 450 down sleeping bag had gone years and countless nights in the wild without seeing any more moisture than mountain dew (I won’t admit what kind) and spilt noodle soup.

But I put my sleeping bag on the line and found out that it’s honestly not as hard as I thought. I was under the impression that I needed heaps of time and a big commercial dryer at my disposal, not the case!

Why You Should Wash Your Sleeping Bag

Sweat, dirt and moisture can all affect the durability of a sleeping bag. What’s worse is that if these contaminants get into the insulation (down or synthetic) they can start to affect the loft, and therefore the warmth, of the bag. Unacceptable!

You don’t have to go crazy with washing your sleeping bag, once a year is enough. It’s a great idea to wash your winter bag at the end of winter, so it spends summer stored nice and clean, and is ready to go when it gets chilly again.

What You’ll Need

  • Sleeping bag
  • Cleaning product (down wash or tech wash)
  • Plastic tub or bathtub
  • 1-3 clean tennis balls
  • Clothes dryer (highly recommended)
  • Gloves (if hand washing)

How To Wash Your Sleeping Bag

You’ve got a few questions to answer before you wash your sleeping bag. Is it down or synthetic? Are you hand washing or using a machine? The basic principles are the same but there are a few hot tips.

Hot Tip Number One: Don’t send it off to the dry cleaner, the industrial solvents can strip the down of its oils. Actually, just don’t send any of your outdoor gear to the dry cleaner. Kapeesh?


Hand Washing Your Sleeping Bag

  1. Fill a big bucket or bathtub with enough warm water to cover the bag.
  2. Add the cleaning product according to instructions, this will change depending on whether your bag uses down or synthetic insulation. I used Nikwax Down Wash Direct.
  1. Put on gloves and slowly push the bag through the warm water to ensure even coverage.
  2. Leave it for 15 minutes to soak (or however long your cleaning product recommends).
  3. Give it another decent mix with your hands.
  4. Drain the dirty water and squish the bag to remove excess dirty water.
  5. Fill the tub with clean water, rinse and squeeze the bag again.

You’ve got a clean, wet sleeping bag. Time to get it dry!

Note: Roll the bag in a ball before lifting – it’ll be very heavy and could tear!


How To Wash Your Sleeping Bag, tim ashelford, shots by aidan howes, mont helium 450, nikwax, how to article, at home for covid.

Machine Washing Your Sleeping Bag

You can only use a front loader washing machine for this job. Top loaders have agitators in them that could tear your bag apart.

Hot Tip Number Two: When machine washing, best to zip up your bag and turn it inside out. Do up any fastners and loosen any drawcords while you’re at it.

  1. Check that your sleeping bag is allowed in a wachine machine at all.
  2. Check there’s no leftover detergent in the dispenser, then add the cleaning product according to instructions. This will change depending on whether your bag uses down or synthetic insulation.
  3. Run on a gentle cycle with warm water.
  4. Run the rinse and spin cycle again to make sure there’s no detergent left.
  5. Roll the bag into a ball and remove (if you just pull it you might tear your bag!).
  6. You’re ready for drying!

Drying Your Sleeping Bag

If you’re an environmentally-conscious Explorer you probably hate using the dryer. Well consider this your hall pass, they’re way better for the task at hand.

  1. Lift your bag (it should still be in a ball!) with two hands and place it in the dryer.
  2. Chuck in some tennis balls to break up the clumps of down and assist drying.
  3. Run the dryer on a low setting.
  4. Keep checking the dryer frequently (every 20 minutes) to turn the bag inside out, make sure it’s not overheating and free any balls that have become stuck.
  5. Periodically feel for bigger clumps of down and break them up by hand.
  6. If you’ve got a synthetic bag it should be done in under an hour. Down bags can take much longer, especially big, cold-weather bags.
  7. When your bag’s feeling pretty dry, pull it out and leave it out to dry for a few days before packing it away.

Don’t have a dryer? Can you go to a laundromat? Can you post it to a friend with a dryer? If you’ve got a synthetic bag you’ll probably get away with hanging it on the line (across a few lines to spread the weight) but we can’t recommend that you wash down without a dryer. At the least it’ll be a very arduous process. These things hold SO much water, it’s amazing that ducks can even float.


How To Wash Your Sleeping Bag, tim ashelford, shots by aidan howes, mont helium 450, nikwax, how to article, at home for covid.

Sleeping Bag Care Tips

  • Use an inner sheet to protect the bag
  • Always put a sleeping mat or tarp under your sleeping bag
  • Store your sleeping bag loose and air it out after each trip


On a roll? Read How to Wash Your Rain Jacket


Photos by @aidanmh

At We Are Explorers we take great pride in presenting content that is fact checked, well-researched, and based on both real world experience and reliable sources. As a B-Corp we uphold high ethical standards and strive to create content that is inclusive, with an an increased focus on underserved communities, Indigenous Australians, and threats to our environment. You can read all about it in our Editorial Standards.