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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 you 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 takes 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. I've done this in the past but will never do it again. The amount of time involved is not worth the cost savings in my opinion. What's your time worth is the question? My free time is limited and I value it too much to spend half a day worrying about laundering a sleeping bag. I'll gladly pay Rainy Pass to launder my sleeping bags.

  2. Now you can make the call between do-it-yourself or using Rainy Pass. Assuming you started in the morning, could you have slept in the bag that night?

  3. I used to think that way too when I had less flexible time commitments.

  4. I probably could have used the bag that night, but I hung it up at home and let it loft another 3 days before taking it on a long backpacking trip. The upside of all this was the fast turnaround time I got by doing it myself. Plus, I got an experiential blog post out of it! :-)

    Seriously,I'm cutting back on expenses, and this was a good way to save a few bucks.

  5. I have been washing down sleeping bags and garments at home for over forty years. Over the years I have seen people absolutely destroy quality down bags. Then they brought them to me to bring them back to life. Once its dead its dead. Sometimes the fabric structure of the bag is in fine shape but the down is reduced to just the ‘bones’ with no loft remaining. This does not happen through rough use but through criminal cleaning. I can take a bag that has not been washed once in its ten year life and revitalize it. But let some miscreant clean it improperly and a six hundred dollar winter bag becomes a thin summer bag.

    I have made down blankets for nieces and nephews over the decades. The blankets survive barf, pee and all the normal baby and kid abuse and without exception they are still in use twenty plus years later. I had one blanket returned for revitalization. When I opened it up there was no down left inside it. The down had simply disappeared from washing over the years. Since high quality down was used in its construction there were not even any feathers left inside. I was able to restuff the blanket and it will be used for a new generation of kids.

    The instructions in your post are right on target. Don’t forget to thoroughly inspect the bag prior to washing for stitching and seams needing repair.

  6. Great tips!

    I've also heard of throwing tennis balls into the dryer when drying out down products, I guess it helps break up the lumps? Do you think it's recommendable?

  7. It's not necessary, and I'd be concerned about hurting the exterior fabric when the bag is very wet. You can't really understand how fragile the bag is when it's saturated, until you hold it in your hands.

  8. Can you toss in a down jacket or vest along w/the bag or should the bag go solo?

  9. I don't see why adding extra garments would matter. I guess it just depends on your level of paranoia.

  10. Oh jeez, I need to wash my sleeping bag real soon. It's filthy.

    I used the tennis balls the last time I washed mine, and it seemed to work beautifully. I suggested to a fellow hiker recently to just put in a big sock ball since he didn't have any tennis balls handy. I'd never tried it before, but it sounded like it would work. He said it worked fine, and I'd imagine that's a lot more delicate on the bag than tennis balls. Anyone else try this?

  11. I read somewhere that you should wash your sleeping bag every 30 nights of use – I freaked when I saw this because I was probably at 3X that. But after a PCT thru-hike – I can't imagine what your bag smells like. The grizzlies could probably smell you from 50 miles away. :-)

  12. Haha, the grizzlies could probably smell me from Colorado (common misconception, no grizzlies on the west coast. I think they're just in the rockies).

    I just washed about 3000 miles of funk out of my sleeping bag today. I can't tell you how beautiful the bag looks now. It's so amazing! I used three pairs of smartwool socks tucked into balls instead of tennis balls, and they seemed to do the job quite well. The bag is now shiny, smooth, fluffy, and very, very happy.

  13. As always, you deserve a well done on the article!

    Generally, it is OK to ignore rules for timing about washing down. My winter bag had at least 60 nights of use on it. But, I wear long johns and do not sweat as bad. My summer bags get washed a lot more. I go to sleep cool, wake up hot and sweaty. Then I unzip it. And, in summer it sometimes gets outright dampish feeling. I have yet to feel rain at 0F. Anyway, Sometimes after a couple weekend hikes I need to wash it. Sometimes after two weeks out it is still OK. So, I do it when it starts loosing a bit of loft and it starts smelling a bit. I do it at home these days in a large sized top loader with no agitater. Drying is the same. Again, I do it at home with a couple dryer balls my wife got somewhere. Often, I will drop it in the dryer before I leave…just to fluff it up some. Seems to help the first couple nights.


  14. I use long johns too. All 4 seasons. Keeps things cleaner.

  15. Glad I found this. My wife and I are about to buy one of those washers without the agitators in it so I can wash my bags at home. This step by step guide will make me feel much better about throwing my expensive bag in the wash! Thanks.

  16. Good article. Back in the day I had a disastrous experience washing a synthetic bag in my bathtub. I've been gun shy about doing a down bag ever since. Your article, and your reader responses, have given me new confidence. One question, would "Woolite" work in place of Nikwax?

  17. I've read that a very gentle soap like Woolite is ok, but I cant remember exactly where. Given the possible consequences and if it were me, I'd buy a small bottle of Nikwash Down Wash just to be absolutely safe.

  18. Yeah, Down wash isn't that expensive, worth it to KNOW you got the correct stuff. Down is very forgiving of a lot of things, including heat. But detergent, not soap, detergent, will quickly reduce good down brittle plumes, then dust. The residual detergent in commercial machines can have the same effect…clean out the machine, and, run an empty wash and rinse cycle first. Phil is right on in recomending Nikwax stuff.

  19. My father gave me an old down sleeping bag (probably at least 20 yrs old). It is still in great condition and I use it often. I do not think he ever washed it though. This summer I used it for a month straight and frequently after that. I was hesitant to wash it, but it really needed it. I used your advice almost to the exact point and it worked beautifully. Thank you so much it was a big help. Instead of down soap i used Woolite and it worked just fine. My sleeping bag will be able to be used for many trips to come!

  20. My father gave me an old down sleeping bag (probably at least 20 yrs old). It is still in great condition and I use it often. I do not think he ever washed it though. This summer I used it for a month straight and frequently after that. I was hesitant to wash it, but it really needed it. I used your advice almost to the exact point and it worked beautifully. Thank you so much it was a big help. Instead of down soap I used Woolite and it worked just fine. My sleeping bag will be able to be used for many trips to come!!

  21. Fantastic – It's great when you can bring old, perfectly good stuff back to life!

  22. You caught the two main items that destroyed my $400 down bag that I missed and I am glad you shared them…#1 was the rough burrs and on the metal or plastic edges on the drum, and the paddles of the machine. It just shredded my bag and I had goosedown being blown out all over the place during the spin cycle..The other was a dirty machine…The goosedown actually had clumps of dirt & unidentifialbe gunk attached to them from inside the machine.

    So now I first run a bit of silk or use a cotton hankerchief around the inside of the drum and across the paddles to see if the material "catches" and if not I then run a full empty load with lots of bleach in the water and the rinse water…

    Long & Low drying heat is the secret and might I suggest something…I add three Soft Balls to the dryer to help gently break up those down clumps…

    Woolite used to be the soap of choice back when Eddie Bauer made excellent bags and equipment in the 70's before the kids took over and ran into the ground. LLBean recomended woolite for a while and I believe Colin Fletcher mentioned it in on of his stories to. Nikwax is the soap of choice now because it is especially formulated for the new materials and the goosedown. Back in the 70's a lot of bags used a cotton and man made fiber mix for the covers which woolite could easily penetrate..

  23. I have been using regular powder detergent (not liquid as it can leave a residue) on my down sleeping bags for years with no problems. My $400 Mtn. Hardware bag even recommends it. I am not sure if the expensive down washes are really necessary or are just a good marketing ploy. I figure that down bags have been around for generations and specialty down washes have only been on the market for about 10 years. So how did folks clean their down bags before that? Did they ruin them with regular detergent? I doubt it.

  24. Arron, actually you are the first one that I have heard of that ever used detergent and had the bag survive the washing. The down cluster is made of a protein, a material much like your finger nails. Added to this is a lanolin like oil that is loosely bonded to the down plume’s structure. Using a detergent, or even a strong soap (almost the same thing) will break the lanolin bond allowing it to mix with the water. This is bad for down. Woolite, Nikwax and some others no longer available (Ivory Snow, generic Soap Flakes listed as safe for wool) are not strong enough, or, do not break this bond. This leaves the lanolin in the down plume. Many detergents will ruin down. Maybe you got lucky and you have one that lists it “safe for wool” but it is not generally recommended.

    Washing with detergent will age a bag very roughly about 10 years for every washing. 4 times in one year will destroy it leaving the plumes quite brittle.

  25. Back in 1960 when my Dad bought my first Down bag from Eddie Bauer it came with a package sheet of instructions and a small packet of "Wool lite" to wash the bag with. The Instructions specifically said NOT TO USE regualar Household types Soaps such as Tide or Fab, Ivory, etc. etc. nor any hand soaps such as Ivory, Bon Ami, Palmolive, etc. etc. for the main reason it would remove the necessay and needed Oils from the Down Feathers causing them to disinegrate over time.

    Speciality Down washes have been around for over 30 years that I am aware of and would rather be on the safe side and wash my bags with products that are were especially created to wash the Bags with than taking a risk, that is, unless you are one of the lucky ones who can afford to buy a new bag every couple of years without a blink of the eye….

    Plus I understand some of the new detergents with man made grease eating formulas may not have been tested on man made materials…I am thinking along those microbes and such that they are using to eat up Oil spills and since the bags are gernerally made of man made materials from Oil..I wonder….

  26. So, I am about to throw my bag in the wash with some Nikwax Down Wash I bought months ago (Just haven't had time to use it til now…) But I am curious, does one zip the bag or unzip the bag? I am thinking zip the bag so that the zipper teeth does not catch the material and rip it. Also, the shell is not "waterproof" but I think I am going to turn it inside out anyway just because I feel like the inside is in worse shape because of me sweating in it…not that it's in bad shape though. I take great care of my gear and this bag only has about 60 nights use so far. So, here goes nothing…

  27. Good luck! I think you have the right idea with the zipper and turning it inside out. I always love the sight of my sleeping bag after the drying and fluffing with tennis balls. It's almost better than when it's new.

  28. Karen (from LNT!)

    I AM DELIGHTED TO HAVE FOUND THIS ARTICLE! I was doing all sorts of searches about washing down bags at home and when I stumbled onto a “section hiker” post about it I was very excited because I knew it was a source I could trust! I actually found 2 great bags at the REI garage sale yesterday and just want to clear them of any “funk” left by the last people who might have owned them… Very excited to tackle this task tomorrow. Thanks man! :)

  29. I just wanted to mention that Woolite is now a detergent, not a soap.

  30. I followed your advice exactly, and it worked perfectly. I’d never washed my 2-year old sleeping bag for fear it would ruin it, but finally the smell was so terrible I knew I had to do something. Your clear article gave me the details I needed. The loft seems even higher than before. Thanks for an excellent article!

  31. Great article, this was so helpful! I have a question – I have a vegetable-based unscented powder detergent from Trader Joe’s. Do you think that this would still be too strong and damage the down?

  32. Great article, I have washed my bags several times over the years, both synthetic and down, using detergent. I have seen no ill effects but I will switch to a more approprate product. I would also think that a clean water wash with no soaps would clean bags quite well if the proper cleaning products are not available.

    I would like to see a follow up on wahing synthetic fill bags, and also cleaning of tents, water bladders, backpacks, etc. I think that routine care and damage repair articles would be great reading.

  33. Good article. I have one criticism; the wash-dry cycle you describe does not clarify if there is a spin cycle involved or if the dryer is a tumble or spinner (I’m in Scotland, maybe this is obvious to USA/Can audience?).
    I’ve washed my bags several times over the past 20 years and a I write my 27 year old jacket is tumbling away hence why i am up at this hour.
    I’ve wrecked one bag in this time, by taking it out of the washing machine and placing it into the tumble dryer wet without adequate spinning. No matter how long I tumbled it for I couldn’t get it to unclump. Every other item has been run through several spin cycles before the tumble drying stage.
    A tip for tumble drying: many people I know put a pair of old rock shoes, tennis balls or suchlike into the dryer to help ‘beat up’ the bag and break up the clumps. I bought a few dog’s rubber balls with rubber spiky knobs all over them from pet suppliers for this purpose, they work a treat. Hope that is of help.
    Thanks for a helpful article, so may people are scared of washing their down kit.

  34. Phil,

    Your article gave me the confidence to wash my 30-year-old North Face down bag for the first time (Yikes!). The bag’s loft was fine, but it had that lived-in aroma. I washed the bag at home in our front-loader, gave it two extra rinses and a high-speed spin at the end of the cycles. I dried the bag on low in our front-loading dryer in 20-minute cycles. At the end of each dryer cycle, I broke up the clumps of down I could feel, which had gathered at the side seams. After about 6 cycles, the bag was dry, clean, and had even greater loft. I aired it out overnight, and now it’s like new.

    I used the Nikwax Down Wash. Again, thanks.

    • Fantastic. Gear maintenance is very satisfying, especially because you can save so much money by taking care of good gear.

    • I have a North Face yellow expedition bag with lifetime warranty from the 1970s … it is rated at minus 30 f and weighs around 5-6 pounds. I didn’t want to screw up a bag like this as it would cost around $700 to replace. I called North Face customer service and they told me they would add down if it needed it and do any repairs. The great thing is that they cleaned it, although there was a charge for the cleaning. They may only handle their own products but I would recommend contacting them and let the pros take care of it all. Worth a try …

  35. What if my kelty down bag’s care instructions recommend to not use a dryer? It says air/line dry and refluff by hands or by shaking when drying. Would you still use the tumble dry method or line dry? How long would it take to line dry if I follow the care instructions?

    • I’d follow your manufacturer’s instructions. How long would it take to dry? I have no idea. Why don’t you call them and ask.

    • I destroyed a brand new GoLite Z30 bag by not following instructions. It had gotten damp when we overturned a canoe while running a canyon on the Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park. I tossed it in the dryer without reading the tag. When I opened the dryer later, it looked like a powder snowstorm inside. The Pertex shell had melted, releasing a blizzard of 850 fill down. A still-not-replaced $360.00 mistake.

      • Bummer – never knew pertex could melt like that.

      • Wow, that is horrible to hear.
        I guess it goes either way. I ended up reading all sorts of guides. I had to stitch up and repair a few sections of high use/stress areas around the hood and zipper first. I have a nice, clean front loading,stacked washer-dryer. Went around both with a cloth for metal burrs, none found. Then did 2 wash cycles without anything in the washer to clean out anything left behind from regular washings.
        I ended up buying the Nikwax down wash, and followed its directions. Even though my bag says hang dry I took the chance. No tennis balls uses. Came out fine, no clumps, loft was amazing, forgot how nice down bags are. First time it’s been washed in 10 years, I think.

  36. Happy to report a good experience washing down garments for the first time. One was a four-year old Ermenegildo Zegna down jacket and the other was a North Face sleeping bag from the early 80s. (represents quite the spectrum, huh?). Neither had ever been washed. The down jacket picked up a lot of oils from my neck. I bought a bottle of ReviveX cleaner at the advice of the guys at Campmor. I followed the instructions on the bottle for hand washing. Washed both garments by hand in the tub. Used 1/2 a bottle. The water looked (and smelled) like sewage. It took three full tubs of water to rinse all the dirt away. Then ran both in the spin cycle of my front-loading washer twice. Then put them both in a commercial front-loading dryer on low with 12 tennis balls. 1.5hrs later, they came out shiny, clean and so fluffy they were hard to carry back to my apt.! No clumps, no smell, no issues. :)

  37. I have been using ivory dish soap and white vinegar when washing my down bags with good success. I don’t use much as you will only see a few bubbles in the front loading washer. I also use dryer balls after the first 15 minute of dry cycle. The new dryers reverse their direction every 6 minute or so which dramatically reduces the drying time. Used to be 2 to 3 hours as noted above now about 75 minutes. Total cost is about $10 per bag. Cold water wash only…

  38. Thanks I’m washing pillows but I believe the procedure is probably the same.

    • Can someone help me? I followed the instructions on the tag for our down bag, cold water wash in a front loading machine, followed by low heat drying. However the directions said nothing about soaps so I used regular detergent :( also I was low on time and took it home after 40 minutes of drying. It’s now hanging on a drying rack at home quite clumpy. Is everything lost? What should I do? My husband is distraught.

      • Call the manufacturer and ask for advice. They probably have more specifics about the type of down in the bag than we do and whether it needs to be reconditioned. I’d definitely take it back to the laundromat and keep drying it. The clumps will come out.

        • Thanks very much. They said the same thing. It should be ok and now we know what to do in the future. Wish the tag had said something about the soap though.

  39. Thank you for the info! Unfortunately I must not have washed my down bag properly years ago when I first got it, because it now has a moldy/mildewy stink when it gets wet. Everything I’ve read says not to bleach a down bag, but I’m extremely allergic to mold – I think I had asthma and hives lady time I slept in it, in moist weather. Any suggestions?

  40. How I was told to do it was like this:
    1)Put sleeping bag in machine on a cold soft setting.
    2)Put in two scoops of downwash.
    3)Carefully take out the bag, supporting the whole bag, and then let it drip dry.
    4)Once it is no longer dripping place in the dryer on two short burst with 3-4 tennis balls inside to move the down around.
    5)Leave it out in the air for a few hours to ensure it is dry.

  41. 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.

    • Help! In remote area. No Nikwax for miles. Just use water?

    • CAPT Gary Andres USN ret

      Philip, I know that you don’t provide this information for entertainment’s sake….but dear Lord, sometimes your columns and the many responses make me smile….sometimes outright laugh. I just cut an early winter backpacking trip short, due to a disastrous wetting out of my Tarptent and subsequently, my Oberon 0 degree mummy bag. My fault really….in where I selected to erect my tent….how I stupidly secured it close….I could go on and on. I elected to come off trail rather than risk wet gear in conditions of forecasted wind and below freezing temperatures….and today, I’m drying and cleaning things out. Just read your article on avoiding severe condensation…I could have been your “before” example…..remember Boys Life Goofus and Gallant? I was the former! So now I know what I did wrong…..and using this article to get things clean and again. As always sir, great article…..greater comments!

      • Actually, I do provide it for entertainment, at least in part. In my warped family, educational content and entertainment were pretty much the same. So was work and play, since a lot of it was cerebral instead of physical….academics.

  42. 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?

  43. 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.

  44. 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).

  45. 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” ?

  46. 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.

  47. 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¢

  48. 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?

  49. 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 .

  50. Personally, I never wash any bag/quilt in any machine. I do it by hand in a bathtub with specialty down wash product. I wait for a sunny day with above-freezing temps and place the bag carefully in the sun on plastic patio furniture to dry so air can circulate beneath it. After pressing (not wringing) as much water out as possible down the tub drain, I place it in a very large garbage bag to move it outdoors. I turn and fluff it carefully in the sun every hour or so. It takes several hours, so I do it when I have plenty of other house chores. On the other hand, I’ve never needed to do an emergency cleaning, other than spot-cleaning. I spot-clean the area around my neck with plain water routinely, since that is where body oils and grime are most likely to get onto the bag.
    When backpacking, I sometimes stuff the sleeping bag loosely in a garbage bag at the bottom of my pack, in part so I can bring the garbage bag over the toe area of the sleeping bag when sleeping if I’m worried about water condensing inside the tent.

  51. Can a person use vinegar on a down bag to get years of skin oils and (presumed) ultra dry ultra fine mountain dust off the and out of the inside of a down sleeping bag?

    Is a sleeping bag liner( inner and outter ) an effective way to keep it cleaner longer or is the weight added not worth it?

  52. If the washer is a high efficiency (H.E.)top loader but does NOT have the traditional spindle aggitator, is it ok to use a top loading washer thats an H.E., 2 years old, stainless steel tub, with no spindle?

  53. My down bag gets fairly dirty around my head and mouth area so I pretreat that area with K2R Spot Remover. It works great. I washed it once without using the K2R and the stains did not come out. What a waste of my time washing it without the K2R. I just found some K2R at Ace Hardware and I am ready to do my bag again.

  54. I’ve always washed my bags and puffies in the bathtub, but it is an all-day chore. We have a front-loading washer and dryer at home, but they don’t have the super-large capacity of a laundry mat machine. How important is the size of the machine? Great suggestion in the comments above about using balled-up socks instead of tennis balls.

  55. Wonderful post! Very helpful and the results for my husband’s 40+ year old bag are amazing. I ended up washing twice since first wash didn’t remover the musty smell. Bought Atsko Sport Wash by Sno-Seal at local outdoor store and it did the job.

  56. Great article as usual for your site. I am going to wash my feathered friends flicker down bag with Nikwax Down Wash Direct. I see they also have a Downproof wash-in to restore DWR to the bag or for that matter even down jackets. Do you recommend using that as well.
    Thank you in advance.

    • I wouldn’t use the Downproof wash-in. There’s no reason why the DWR on the down inside your sleeping bag should degrade and there’s no telling what it will do to the DWR that was added in the factory or if they’re even compatible. My 2 cents.

  57. The laundromat, something that nowadays is rare in the UK, I wouldn’t even know the nearest one in my city or even if there is one near me. I’ve had a down quilt for a few years now and I wash it once a year normally. I used to put it in our bath, but we now have a large walk-in shower in its place, so I now use two large plastic buckets. One to wash, one to rinse. They are my go-to’s for all of my hiking gear washes. I then just spread them out across our garden bench, give them a daily pat to free up the down, and let nature do the rest. It’s not a job I enjoy.

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