Washing my Down Sleeping Bag
I decided to clean my down sleeping bag this week instead of sending it to a company called RainyPass that REI recommends. Although it took 5 hours, it only cost me $28 to do it myself vs. the $37 + $15 return postage that it would have cost to outsource the job. Honestly, it was a lot easier than I’d imagined.
Go to a Laundromat
If you decide to wash your own down 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.
If you live on the north shore of Boston, I recommend you visit the Melrose Laundromat in downtown Melrose which has a friendly owner, free tea, coffee, cocoa or cappuccino, a clean customer bathroom, and free WIFI!
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 down and you shouldn’t use them to wash a down bag. One bottle of Nikwax is enough for two three-season sleeping bags.
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 did this myself and saw residual suds in the washing water.
Wash the 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 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 and let the bag go 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 took my Western Mountaineering Ultralite 200 minutes (3.5 hours) of drying before it was done. That should help give you a baseline for what to expect for a 3 season, 32 oz down bag.
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.
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