Washing a Down Sleeping Bag
Your down sleeping bag will loft better and keep you warmer if you wash it occassionally. I try to wash mine annually, but I also spend many dozens of nights out in mine each year.
If you don’t have the time to wash your down sleeping bag, you can send it to a service called RainyPass that REI and many other sleeping bags manufacturers recommend. They do an excellent job and will also do repairs if needed. I’ve used them before, but you can expect to pay about $50 while washing your sleeping bag yourself will cost about half that.
Honestly, washing your own sleeping bag is a lot easier than you think.
Go to a Laundromat
If you decide to wash your own down sleeping bag, go to a laundromat and do it with a front loading washing machine and dryer. The agitator in a top loading washer, like you have a home, is too rough and can tear the baffles of your sleeping bag open.
Bring a good book or go to a laundomat that has wi-fi. The entire process will take 4-6 hours and you’ll want some entertainment.
Down Soap is a Must-Have
Before you do anything, buy yourself a bottle of Nikwax Down Wash. This is a special non-detergent soap that won’t strip the oil from the down in your sleeping bag. Regular powder or liquid detergent is way too harsh for goose and duck down and you shouldn’t use them to wash a down bag. One bottle of Nikwax is enough for two three-season sleeping bags.
Pre-rinse the Washer
When you get to the laundromat, open up each front loader and run your hand over the interior drum feeling for burrs in the metal or foreign objects like safety pins where the fabric of your bag can catch and tear. If your detect any, move to another machine and until you find one that is smooth inside.
Next, inspect the detergent dispenser, and see if it’s clean or has a residue of old detergent, fabric softener or bleach. If it does, clean these out carefully or move to another machine. To be on the safe side, you can also run an empty load to wash out and residual soap or additives. I do this myself.
Wash the Sleeping Bag
If your sleeping bag has a waterproof exterior shell, like Gore-tex, turn it inside out, so that water can reach the down. If the shell is not a waterproof membrane just leave the exterior shell on the outside. Next make sure all the zippers are closed and that all velcro fasteners are properly mated.
Set the temperature of the water to low or warm and wash on a delicates cycle.
After the first wash is complete, do another without any down soap, to make sure that the down in your sleeping bag has been rinsed fully.
Dry the Sleeping Bag
Before your bag has finished rinsing, find a front loading washing machine to dry it in. Repeat the drum inspection process you used before and eliminate any dryer that has imperfections or burrs on it where the fabric of your bag can catch and tear. It’s also important that the dryer have a low temperature setting.
Carefully lift your wet sleeping bag out of the washing machine and carry it over to dryer. It’s important that you support the whole bag in your hands or lay it on a cart. Your bag is in a very fragile state when it’s wet. The feathers are saturated with water and can tear through the baffles if they’re unsupported.
Feed in quarters for 20 minutes and set the dryer temperature to low. You’ll keep it at this temperature for the entire drying process.
After 20 minutes, check your sleeping bag. There will be clumps of down in the bag. Gently break them up with your hands and let the bag dry for another 20 minutes. Repeat this process for three or more hours or until all of the down clumps have broken up.
While dry times will vary across sleeping bags, it take me about 200 minutes (3.5 hours) of drying time for a three-season 20 degree down sleeping bag. That should help give you a baseline for what to expect.
After the Laundromat
When you leave the laundromat, don’t put your sleeping bag in a stuff sack or compress it. At home, spread it out and let it loft for a few days before you use it. It should smell noticeably fresher and feel puffier when you use it again!
And that’s all there is to washing your own down sleeping bag.
Written 2010. Updated 2014.
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