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How to Wash a Down Sleeping Bag

Western Mountaineering

I've owned my Western Mountaineering Ultralight 20 down sleeping bag for about 4 years now and I estimate that I've slept in it over 100 nights. As you can imagine, it doesn't have that new smell anymore and could use some freshening up.

One option is for me to take it to a commercial laundromat with front loading washers and wash it myself. To do this, I'd need to get a very gentle soap like ReviveX Down Cleaner or Nikwax Down Wash that is specially made for washing down bags and won't strip the oil from down feathers.

Front loading washers are gentler than the top loading kind you probably have at home and won't rip the delicate baffle seams on a sleeping bag. To wash, turn your sleeping bag inside out, add the recommended amount of soap, and wash on a gentle cycle with cold water. Let spin, and rinse for one or two additional washing cycles to get any residual soap out. 

Next, drip dry your bag for a few hours before putting it into a commercial dryer. Set the temperature to low or air fluff and dry. This may take a few hours, so bring lots of quarters with you. Between cycles, massage your bag to break up any clumps of down that may have formed inside the bag. Once dry, take your bag home and keep it uncompressed until the next time you go hiking.

If washing your sleeping bag frightens you, or you'd rather go hiking instead of spending a full day in a laundromat, REI recommends an sleeping bag cleaning service called Rainy Pass Repair that you can send your bag to for washing or repair services. They charge $30 to wash a synthetic bag, $37 for a down bag, and $46 for a Gore-tex or Dryloft sleeping bag. I'm going to try this service with my Ultralight and will let you know how it turns out.

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20 comments

  1. Reckon I would spend the $37- I can think of 1000 things I would rather be doing than spending a day in a laundromat!

  2. I washed both my Winter Marmot bag and my 3 season Western Mountaineering bag at the Laundromat for the first time a month ago. I used Down Wash, and other than the time I spent waiting for them to dry, they both came out like new. Bring lots of quarters- and a book.

  3. I'd go crazy in a laundromat if I had to wait that long.

  4. Or you could read the instructions at Western Mountaineering:

    "The best way is to hand wash it in a bath tub or you can use a front loading washing machine. Never use a top loading or agitator machine as this can damage the baffle construction. Only use a soap especially prepared for down products. Dry cleaning is not recommended since the solvents can strip away natural oils contained in the down."

    More details here:

    http://www.westernmountaineering.com/index.cfm?se

  5. Walter, you're precious. Thanks.

  6. I had Rainy Pass wash my bag a couple of months ago. Then I had them add 4 oz of down to make it loft like new.

    They did a good job and now it's fresh as a daisy!

  7. Wow — 10% of the bag cost for a wash. No wonder you were looking at a new bag. Did you go with the Summerlite?

  8. Well, let's just say I can't wash my sleeping bag in our tub without a major time investment. A day of my free time is definitely worth $47.

  9. No – haven't bought the Summerlite yet and might not after all. I'm thinking that I really want to carry 16 oz for 40 degrees and I'm looking at some other options. Any suggestions?

  10. You might not be into this, but as low as 40 degrees I'm fine with the Adventure Medical Thermolite 2 Bivvy, plus the Sea-to-Summit Reactor thermolite bag liner. The bivvy is reusable, lined, and small. Together, they weigh 15 ounces and hardly require space in the pack.

    The reactor helps deal with any possible claminess. Use your regular down jacket if necessary. The nice thing is both items can be paired with other systems or used alone in warm weather. The bivvy is waterproof, too, but opens enough at the top to breath.

  11. Michael, you must be psychic. I've got a draft on VBL in the post pipeline. I hadn't considered it as option for warmer weather, but I'm intrigued. What do you wear inside the bag liner? Do you sweat a lot? when it's 70 degrees outside? While I want a system that can go as low as 40 degrees, it has to be fully function when it is 60 or 70 degrees at night.

  12. I checked out your sleeping bag liner idea some more and I'm liking it for summer backpacking. If I relax the constraint on my lowest temperature, this might be a very light weight alternative to a sleeping bag for hot weather.

  13. Been looking for a summer sleeping bag, but this solution sounds better, guess your thinking a combination of your MLD Superlight Bivy Bag and a WM VBL?

  14. I've owned the WM VBL and sold it because vapor barrier is just not for me. Waking up soaked in sweat is bad enough, but summer – no way.

    I did some research last night for a warm weather system, relaxing the temperature range that I had wanted to stay in and came across the Mont-Bell U.L. Spiral Down Hugger Thermal Sheet

    . It's currently at the top of my wish list. Only weighs 13.8 oz, 50 degree temp rating, hoodless, full zip, and 800 fill down. This plus the superlight bivy might just do the trick.

  15. Correction – I just bought it.

  16. Are you saying to interrupt the spin cycle at the end in your original post? I spent $1,100 last winter on a big front load washer and I intend to make it pay me back at least a little.

  17. I'm not following you…no it just means that you should wash it over and over a few times without soap to make sure you get all of the original soap out.

  18. The "drip dry" part had me confused. I read WM's instructions and I'll go with them, thanks.

  19. Some of the newer top loader machines are fine. I have one that has no vanes and works well. I have used down bags for about 30 years or so. Clean down will usualy loft a bit higher (about an inch on a 40F bag.) It has to do with electrostatic repulsion in the down. Some studies seem to indicate that old down is better than new down. No known reason, but I suspect it has to do with breakage of the down fibers from the feather, itself. Never use a detergent or dry cleaning (both remove down oils making the cluster brittle…) Down will take heat up to "steam". The shell may not. Low heat wash (warm) and low heat drying will not bother down, but is usually OK for shells and zippers (if any.) Recently, I was trying a down wash for repelling moisture, even though I have pertex bags… After 6 nights, it seems to work…

  20. RE: washing a down bag, then drying : what about drying the bag in the sun outdoors in stead of using a dryer? Anyone had any luck with this?

    I’d rather dry outside on a line if possible….less cost, better smell…but will this work? will the down clump?

    Any thoughts on this?
    Thanks!

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