Dirty or Musty Sleeping Bag? Learn How to Clean Your Sleeping Bag

camping sleeping bag cleaning guide

Your A-Z Guide On Washing Your Dirty Sleeping Bag

Whether you’re camping in your backyard or the boonies, a cozy sleeping bag with a hoodie is a sure way to guarantee a restful night’s sleep.

Unfortunately, sleeping bags tend to start getting stinky, musty, or grimy over time given the amount of abuse they take. Prolonged exposure to the unforgiving elements, sweat, and body oils, etc. may easily leave your sleeping bag looking dirty and gross.

There’s also the increased risk of losing or damaging your sleeping bag’s loftiness, breathability, and insulative qualities. All is not lost, though. Washing a down or synthetic sleeping bag is easy and doesn’t have to be overly complicated.

When Should You Clean Your Sleeping Bag?

Before grabbing your detergents and bleaches, it’s important to note that your sleeping bag is made to withstand grime and considerable abuse, unlike your home blankets and duvets. So, you’ll want to clean it only when necessary.

Cleaning your sleeping bag after every use is not advisable as that would lessen its lifespan. If you don’t go camping too often, washing once or twice per year is passable. Otherwise, if you use it repeatedly then you can wash the bag a couple more times than once.

The best time to wash your sleeping bags is usually just before you store it away for the next camping season.

If your sleeping bag is not too dirty, smelly, or greasy, then spot cleaning and light hand washing should suffice.

A sponge and a basin of lukewarm water with a few drops of laundry detergent are all you need. Wipe or dab gently on the affected areas until satisfied then air dry as needed.

However, if your sleeping bag needs a full deep clean, you will need extra supplies. Also, keep in mind that down sleeping bags differ from synthetic bags in the way they should be washed and taken care of.

What You'll Need

laundry detergents

You’ll want to check the manufacturer-listed materials and cleaning instructions on the sleeping bag’s packaging or care tag. Such information tends to be the most reliable when it comes to taking care of your sleeping bag.

Firstly, your detergent of choice should be designed for synthetic or down sleeping bags (or both) for the best results. If you have none at hand, some mild soap should suffice to some extent.

Keep off regular laundry detergents and soaps as they may damage your precious sleeping bag. They tend to leave behind residues, which may affect the bag’s loftiness or clog up pores on the fabric meant for its breathability.

Regular laundry detergents may also inhibit the effectiveness of the bag’s durable water repellent (DWR) coating.

Using the wrong cleaner on a down sleeping bag would also most likely result in clumped-up down feathers and you don’t want that!

Further, fabric softener, household detergents and cleansers, and bleaches should NEVER be used to clean your sleeping bag. Such options will most likely reduce the water-resistant qualities of your bag and squelch its overall performance.

Instead, stick to the specialty cleaning solutions available for down or synthetic bags.

Brands such as Nikwax, ReviveX, Granger’s, and Gear Aid should be a good place to start for your -cleaner shopping. In some cases, these fiber-specific cleaners can restore or add water repellency to your bag without affecting its insulation or fill power.

Secondly, any washing machine with an agitator should be avoided at all costs as the motion could twist and tear the sleeping bag. A top-loading washer just won’t cut it; however, your home front-loading machine may be sufficient for some bags.

Still, it’s more than likely that your home washer and dryer won’t be strong or spacious enough for cleaning some types of sleeping bags.

Feel free to visit your local laundromat, if needed – their industrial-sized front-loading washers are perfect for the exercise. Such large washers usually have plenty of room to clean and expel water out of any sleeping bag regardless of thickness.

You’ll also need a dryer for quicker drying else air drying will suffice. Cotton towels or a few clean tennis balls, clean sneakers, or wool dryer balls should also be at hand.

For the heavily stained sections that need hand washing or spot cleaning, you will need a sponge, a soft-bristle brush or a toothbrush, a small piece of cloth, a large bucket or basin, and plenty of water.

How to Wash a Down Sleeping Bag

When washing down sleeping bags, the main goal is to avoid breaking down the individual feathers without fail. Else, the down feathers will clump together when wet and further degrade the bag’s performance.

Follow the steps below in conjunction with the manufacturer’s care/cleaning guidelines for a fresh and clean down sleeping bag.

Washing by Hand

hand-washing down sleeping bag
  1. Start by unzipping your sleeping bag and unfastening any drawcords. Then, ensure your basin or bucket is clean and well-rinsed to get rid of any previous detergents or cleaning solutions.
  2. Fill the basin with just enough water to submerge the bag then pour in your down-safe detergent. Not too much that the water becomes too sudsy and not too little either. Instructions on the packaging of the cleaning solution should come in handy for specifics.
  3. Next, dip your sleeping bag into the water, wet evenly and thoroughly by rubbing it gently. Scrub gently on the inner lining, foot, and head sections to get rid of any stains. Then, let it sit for an hour or two while periodically working in the suds and turning the bag.
  4. When satisfied that all the dirt is off, remove the bag and drain the soapy water. Then, refill the tub or basin with clean water and rinse the sleeping bag repeatedly until all the soap gets out.
  5. Transfer the bag into a dryer or air dry it in a suitable area.

Avoid wringing or twisting the sleeping bag; instead, roll it gently into a cylindrical shape and squeeze lightly to expel the water out. Take note that washing by hand should be done most preferably when it’s hot and sunny outside for quicker drying.

Using a Washing Machine

machine-washing down sleeping bag

If you don’t have the patience or energy to endure the strenuous handwashing, then a front loader might do the trick for most down sleeping bags. That’s if your home washing machine cleans by spinning vertically and is of relatively high capacity. Else, to the laundromat you go...

Further, you’ll need tennis balls and a specialty cleaner. Always follow the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions whenever provided.

  1. Start by unzipping the bag and loosening all the drawcords to avoid water collecting in the footbox or hoodie sections. Clean out the detergent dispenser off any detergent build-up using a cloth or old towel.
  2. Add the down cleaning solution as per the measurements on the bottle or packaging. Then, place your sleeping bag in the washing machine. Wash the bag without any other clothes for the best results.
  3. Next, start with a gentle or mild wash setting using warm or cold water but be sure to consult the care label first.
  4. Put it through two or multiple rinse cycles to remove all the soapy water then transfer it to the dryer. To prevent ripping or tearing your bag at the seams, ensure that you support the whole bag when getting it out of the washer.
  5. Toss in the clean tennis balls, clean sneakers, or wool dryer balls in with the bag to help fluff the down. You may also tease apart the clumped-up sections, if any, to recover the bag’s loft. Dry your bag at low heat until there are no clumps in sight.

Throwing in heavy cotton towels with the bag may also help speed up the drying process as they’re very effective in absorbing moisture.

How to Wash a Synthetic Sleeping Bag

Synthetic bags are not as delicate to wash or take care of as are down sleeping bags. They will require a similar washing process as that of down bags with a few substitutions here and there.

Washing by Hand

hand washing down sleeping bag
  1. Fill a clean basin or bucket with warm or cold water and mix in the applicable cleaning product. Avoid pouring in too much of the cleaning solution as it will be hard to rinse out later.
  2. Put your sleeping bag into the basin and agitate it gently by hand. Use your soft-bristle brush to scrub any heavily stained sections like the footbox or hoodie.
  3. Let the synthetic bag rest in the basin for a few minutes while rubbing in the suds and rotating it from time to time. Drain the soapy water and rinse the bag with clean water as needed.
  4. Roll the bag into a cylindrical shape and squeeze lightly to remove as much water as you can. You may also use a washing machine on a spin-only cycle to remove excess water before placing it in a dryer.
  5. Dry the bag at low heat for an hour or so.

Unlike with down bags, tennis balls won’t be necessary when drying your synthetic sleeping bags as they don’t clump up too much when wet. Additionally, synthetic bags take less time to dry completely as compared to down sleeping bags.

Using a Washing Machine

You’ll still want to avoid using top-loading machines as their agitators can be rough on any type of sleeping bag.

Make sure to wash one sleeping bag at a time to prevent them from bunching up into a huge unmanageable lump. Else, some parts won’t get cleaned effectively and you may have to wait longer for the bag to dry.

  1. Begin by loading your front-loading machine with a suitable cleaner and toss in your fully unzipped synthetic bag. Unzipping and loosening the drawcords on the bag reduces the risks of the slider or toggles breaking or snagging during washing.
  2. Wash your bag on a gentle cycle using warm or cool water. Refer to the care instructions, if provided by the bag manufacturer.
  3. Put the bag through two or three rinse cycles until the bag’s material doesn’t feel drenched. A wet and damp bag is acceptable to move on to the drying process.
  4. When the bag has been fully washed and thoroughly rinsed, transfer it to the dryer while supporting it from below. A low heat setting over as many cycles as possible should leave your bag dry and snug.

Drying Your Sleeping Bag

drying a sleeping bag

As aforementioned, a capable home dryer will be just fine to dry your down or synthetic sleeping bags. Else, you can ball-up your bag and carry it in a suitable bag to your local laundromat and dry it as guided above.

It’s never advisable to dry-clean your sleeping bag as most of the cleaning solutions used in the process damage your bag’s loftiness or insulative properties. Again, using high heat when drying the bag can easily melt the synthetic fill, which can be extremely dangerous to your health.

Even after using a dryer, it is always a good idea to hang up or lay out your sleeping bag for the night to ensure it dries completely.

If a dryer is not available, air drying is a good option for drying your sleeping bag but may take longer. Simply lay your bag flat on a clean surface wherever there is low humidity and no direct sunlight. You may also hang it on a clothesline but always ensure the bag’s weight is equally distributed.


Being out in nature is not always about enjoying spectacular views or taking on exciting trails. Sometimes it is filled with mundane and laborious activities such as pitching a tent, washing up the camping gear and scouting for new campsites.

Washing a sleeping bag is just one of the many things you’ll have to deal with as you go about your outdoor recreational activities. Inaction on that front will most likely lead to a less insulative, funky-smelling sleeping system, and eventually a restless night’s sleep.


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