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How to Wash a Down Sleeping Bag

Laundromat Dryers
The safest and most efficient way to wash and dry a down sleeping bag is at a commercial laundromat with front loading washers and driers.

Washing a Down Sleeping Bag

Your down sleeping bag will loft better and keep you warmer if you wash it occasionally. I try to wash mine annually, but I also spend many dozens of nights out using it 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 bag 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

Go to a laundromat and with a large capacity or commercial-sized front loading washing machine and dryer. The agitator in a top loading washer is too rough and can tear the baffles of your sleeping bag.

Bring a good book or go to a laundromat 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 product made especially for washing down such as Nikwax Down Wash. These are special non-detergent soaps 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.

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 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 any 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 gentler or 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 dryer 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 the 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. Store it uncompressed and only squish it down again in a stuff sack when you go backpacking.

And that’s all there is to washing your own down sleeping bag.

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  1. James, I would add that you need a machine without an agitator. Some just use water jets, some (like front loaders) just roll stuff around. An agitator can catch on a bag and rip the baffle material (usually much lighter material and/or mesh) very easily. Supporting the bag as you lift it is always a good idea, too. Never just fold it up and grab it, rather, slip your hands under it to support the weight of the wet down.

    Good drying is very important to avoid mold/mildew. Usually, I spend about 2 hours drying my summer bag, about 3 or more for my winter one. Then I hang them out in my gear room to finish any residual drying. Especially with tightly woven shells (Pertex, Epic or the like) it is important to give them plenty of time to disipate any moisture.

  2. Hello, I am in the middle of the process now and my bag has started to smell pretty badly – similar to a wet dog, or the smell you expect to smell under a bridge.

    My sleeping bag is a goose down REI sleeping bag. I hand washed it with Nikwax in the bathtub last night. I spread it out on the tub edge and let the water drip out overnight. This morning I started drying it in our front-load dryer alternating between the Low and Airdry settings. First I started on the Delicates setting but then switched to Normal because I suspected the smell may be because of the bag staying wet for too long.

    Is the smell normal at this stage? How can I get rid of it without having to rewash?

  3. I had a down bag and coat cleaned in the early 80’s by a down specialty cleaner place in CA and they both came back with less loft. Now I have a 35 year old 10 degree Marmot Gortex bag I’ve never cleaned because of that experience. Any advise? I have a front loading machine at home, is that big enough if I bite the bullet?

    • m haffler, A large down bag, like the 10F bag you have, is about the most you can get in a large capacity home washer. If it does not have a center vane, it will be fine. The front loader you mention will work. 1) Use a down wash like Nikwax or Graingers. 2) Use a delicate cycle. 3) Use, at least, three rinses. Some machines allow a double rinse, so run these twice. It is a good idea to run one cycle before washing a bag to clean it to insure little to no detergent remains in the washer.

      Drying in a home dryer is a different story. The 10F bags are bulky and will fill a large capacity dryer. They can become difficult to dry after they start fluffing out, so plan on a few days of air dry time. Hang it. (You can fold it in half but hanging full length is best.) Every day, for 3-4 days, simply fluff/roll things around so it all gets well air dried. When you use it, insure that it well shaken out (30-60 sec of shaking.)

      Commercial dryers are easy, they are BIG. But, while they are easy to use, you should be real careful with heat. Down is fairly heat resistant and can stand up to a commercial dryer, but the newer synthetic shells and plastic zippers can be damaged. Use them on a low setting.

      • I just washed mine a few months ago and would recommend this: 1) wash the bag in a bathtub by hand, gently with down detergent, 2) put it on the side of the tub, or prop it on something (eg a chair) in the tub and let some water drip out for a few hours, 3) put it in your drier (but make sure it is clean and doesn’t have sharp rusty faults inside) and dry on Low for hours and hours; add 2-3 tennis balls inside the drier to help it stay puffy; also, open the direr once every 15-20 mins or so and fluff up the little balls of dawn by hand. In a day, or so, you will have your bag sparkling clean and as fluffy as new.

  4. Caution- I didn’t have much to lose, so I tried something with my down bag that all the web sites say NOT to do: use fabric softener as part of the cleaning process. I WOULDN’T TRY THIS UNLESS YOU HAVE NOT MUCH TO LOSE AND ARE UP FOR EXPERIMENTING (and maybe adding your results here).

    I bought a 10 yr old, lightly used, 15 degree, 650 fill goose down bag made by one of the well known quality brands, too good a deal to pass up. Since it was used, I wanted to sanitize it as well as clean it before I climbed in. I couldn’t find anything about sanitizing down on the web after extensive searching, but ran across the fact that many liquid fabric softeners consist primarily of chemicals in the family of quaternary ammonium chlorides, such as benzalkonium chloride, which I recalled are used as antibacterials in many household products. I did some digging and found that several of the varieties of “Snuggle” brand (Sun Products) liquid fabric softener contain roughly 10% quaternary ammonium chlorides and a little ethyl alcohol, the remainder is probably water. (I didn’t check other brands since I already had some Snuggle).

    I had an old down-filled hood that I never used so I tested that first by washing it in warm water with about the recommended amount of Snuggle for a typical load (i.e., followed the directions on the bottle). After rinsing and drying on low heat, the hat was as full and lofted as before washing. I could compress it completely and it would spring back to shape quickly after a gentle shake.

    So I put my down bag in a front-loading washer and added the recommended amount of softener TO THE DETERGENT reservoir (I did not put any detergent in at this point). I Ran the washer on a gentle cycle with warm water and double rinse. When the rinse and spin were done I started a new cycle to do an actual wash of the bag, this time just using regular Woolite detergent (no more softener). After this warm water wash with extra rinse and extra spin- into the dryer on lowest heat setting. After just 45 min the bag was fluffed and mostly dry. I ran it for another hour or two, but just with air, no heat.

    The bag came out at least as puffy as before the process, it quickly lofts fully by just a gentle shake after being compressed. It looks clean, smells clean. Only time will tell if stays that way but I’m optimistic. I dripped a little water on the bag and it beaded up nicely and took quite a bit of rubbing to get it to penetrate the fabric at all.

    I have no idea if the final concentration of Snuggle during the wash was enough to sanitize anything (too lazy to do the calculations), or even if the particular ‘quats’ in Snuggle have significant antibacterial activity (any chemists out there?), but I feel better climbing into this bag with an unknown history.

    • Ordinary soap/detergent kills most bacteria and pathogens. It is absurd ignorance/paranoia to further “sanitize” anything washed in soap or detergent to “kill germs.”

      • Soap does not kill bacteria and pathogens, it merely binds to them allowing them to be washed away. Deadly bacteria can even take up residence upon a bar o soap (science fact).

  5. Philip, would this same approach work for a down jacket? And Nikwax now has a ton of different options – should I buy the “Down Wash Direct” or the “Direct Wash In Waterproofing” ?

  6. I have two ancient North Face sleeping bags (one summer, one heavier) labeled Prime gray Northern goose down. These bags are 35 or 40 years old. I believe the quality of goose down in that era was very good. Used them often back in the day, cleaned and stored them carefully – never used any cleaner other weak Woolite solution in the days before Nikwax. In recent years they have been stored unstuffed in their own storage tub.

    My question is regarding the age of that goose down. Does time alone degrade the efficiency of the down or could they still be as efficient all these years later?

    • Time shouldn’t matter, as much as compression. The feathers break down when you stuff and unstuff down. This happens slowly. But if you’ve stored them uncompressed and they haven’t developed mildew, they should work like before. One caveat to that. Check the exterior fabric. That does degrade with time, particularly when exposed to light.

  7. Instead of hand-washing, or machine-washing at home or laundromat…worrying about what type soap, amount to use and when, what type of machine to use, rinsing, drying strategy, etc., possibly tearing up/ ruining a good down bag…
    Go to/ call the best gear store in your area (REI, Mammoth Mountaineering) and ask them who they use to clean their (rental) down.
    Take it there…they know what they are doing, have done it many times, (plus they are insured!). I would rather spend $25 and have someone who knows how to do it right the first time do the cleaning than destroy a $500+ bag doing it wrong myself.
    my 2¢

  8. So my bag has been wet for three days, in my rucksack. I took it out to air dry yesterday but it’s packed in my bag again as I am backpacking and moving to a different couch today. Any chance I have damaged it because of this?

  9. Tennis balls people Tennis balls in the dryer breaks up clumps will not damage the feathers spreads out the bag in the dryer and saves a lot of time .

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