If you’ve ever tried to wash your sleeping bag by tossing it in the washing machine, then watched the poor machine sling itself over on its side, trying to spin an off-center load, you probably figured that there has to be a better way to wash a sleeping bag than this. And you’re right, there is a better way to wash your sleeping bag:

You can always do a quick wash on the exterior if you want, with mild soap and a damp cloth. Fortunately, you only have to deep wash the thing about once a year, maybe twice, and should do so at a laundromat, or in your bathtub (if you like doing exhaustive chores).

A sleeping bag is not something that you have to wash after every outing unless you’ve sweated out half of your bodyweight inside the thing, but it does need to be kept clean and there are several ways that you can prolong the periods in which it doesn’t need to be washed.

However, if you allow it to get too filthy, all of the oils, dirt, and grime that it picks up will begin to deteriorate and fade the bag, inside and out, as well as reduce its insulation properties, which is probably the more detrimental scenario.

How to deep-clean your sleeping bag

There are a number of ways that you can do this and, as aforementioned, it’s not something that you have to do often. If you want to do things really quick, simply take it down to your local laundromat and toss it in a heavy-duty washing machine and you will be in and out in 45 minutes at the most.

You can also do it by hand. If you don’t mind working up a good sweat, throw it in the bathtub and scrub the inside and outside by hand. On the bright, most sleeping bags completely unzip or, in the case of many mummy bags, flip inside out.

Either way, you’ll be able to wash the whole sleeping bag, and it’s much easier than throwing it in your washing machine. Sleeping bags are typically pretty bulky and soak up a lot of water. If it’s not perfectly aligned inside your washing machine, it will sound like a giant is trying to kick down your door.

1. Washing your sleeping bag in the bathtub

Yes, this is the most labor-intensive process out of all of the possible choices you can make and you will probably want to throw your sleeping bag off of a cliff afterward. However, it’s also the most personal – your sleeping bag is your most intimate partner on the side of a mountain after all – and the most cost-effective way to get it done.

Here’s how to wash your sleeping bag in the bathtub:

  • Fill up the bathtub with warm water, not too hot
  • Only use a mild amount of soap
  • Work the sleeping bag into the soapy water
  • Allow the water to soak into the material
  • Knead the material with your hands, from one end to the other
  • Squeeze the material in the most heavily soiled areas, release to let it absorb again, and squeeze it back out, in a cycle
  • Allow the bag to soak for half an hour
  • Refill the tub with fresh water and work the soap out of the material by squeezing it
  • Repeat the process until the soap is gone
  • Press, squeeze, and twist the water out

Now, you can either go for the dryer, depending on how well you are able to squeeze out the excess water or, you can unzip the bag as far as it will go and hang dry it outside.

2. Tossing it in the washing machine

Photo by Jeremy Sallee / Unsplash

It’s highly recommended that you take it to the laundromat if only to save your washing machine the hassle. Laundromats have industrial washers that are bolted to the floor and can handle the kind of spin and balancing necessary to handle a sleeping bag.

If you happen to have a pretty small sleeping bag or one that is really light on the material, you will probably get away with putting it in your washing machine without breaking it or creating a lot of thumping.

  • Check the tag on your sleeping bag for washing and drying info
  • As best as you possibly can, distribute the material into the washing machine
  • Place it on a gentle cycle
  • Remove it from the washing machine and press or squeeze out the remaining water
  • Place it in the dryer on a low heat setting

How to quick-clean your sleeping bag

Photo by Matthew Tkocz / Unsplash

This is less like a wash and more like a spit bath. The idea is to simply rub down and clean your sleeping bag after it’s been used so that it doesn’t smell like a dumpster fire the next time you pull it out of the closet for another hiking trip.

For spot cleaning, you’re going to make a paste that doesn’t include any kind of detergent soap. Goat Soap is a prime example of a non-detergent soap that you can use and honestly, it’s goat soap; what’s the worst that could happen?

Another great example would be some form of biodegradable soap.

Anyway, you want to make yourself a little paste for your sleeping bag and use a toothbrush, or a similar, soft-bristle brush, to gently scrub down the shell. Pay special attention to the areas where you rest your head since everyone’s mouth falls open while they sleep, and that’s where you drool, spit, sweat, snot, and rub your sweaty head the most.

You don’t want to get into the cloth material that serves as the inner lining of the sleeping bag, as getting soap in there will take a full soak and rinse (several times over) to get it all back out again.

Tips and tricks for keeping your sleeping bag clean

A good sleeping bag is worth every penny and you really want it to last. Keeping it clean is a major part of that process and its longevity depends on it. However, it’s just as important to practice some good old preventative maintenance as well.

The outdoor lifestyle is nothing if not replete with innovative tips and tricks for improving your hike and outdoor exercise routines. There’s always something new, just around the corner, that can make all of the difference in your outdoor journeys, whether you’re scaling a cliff face or hiking a flat nature trail with your dog.

That includes sleeping bags because nothing is worse than a filthy sleeping bag unless it’s an entirely uncomfortable sleeping bag.

Here are a few tips to increasing the longevity of your sleeping bag:

  • Use sleeping bag liners
  • Never dry clean your sleeping bag
  • Air it out from time to time
  • Don’t pile into your sleeping bag while still in your dirty clothes
  • Give it a wipe down every so often

Sleeping bag liners not only protect your sleeping bag from your sweat, especially in the summer and after a long hike, they also keep you warmer in the winter. It may be a little more difficult to use them in the summer, hot as it can be, but it just depends on how much it’s worth it to you.

It’s highly advisable to never use dry cleaning services with your sleeping bag as the detergents that they use throughout the industry are not sleeping bag friendly. It’s also a good idea to air it out every now and then, especially right after you return home. All it needs is just enough time to dry out.

Do your best to only sleep in it when you have dry, clean clothes on. It’s sometimes hard to do so, depending on circumstances, the difficulty of the hike, and location, but if you can, try to change into something fresh before you crawl in.

As mentioned above, give it a good wipe down. You don’t have to go all out on the goat soap every time, but give it a good wipe down after every trip. In fact, it’s easy to just add that to the routine when you air it out after getting home.

Use a sleeping pad when you lay your bag out. Like the liner protects the inside, the outside needs some protection as well and a solid pad underneath your sleeping bag will protect it from moisture and abrasions, especially if you’re the kind of sleeper that flails around a lot.

Last but not least, treat it like you would a prized possession, because that’s really what it is. Your sleeping bag is your protection from the elements and your lounge after a long day on the trail. Show it some respect and it’ll take care of you for years to come.

Final thoughts

Quick washing your sleeping bag doesn’t require much, even if you have to reach for the goat soap. So long as you keep it wiped down really well, air it out after trips, and occasionally throw in some mild soap and water every now and then, the annual deep clean won’t seem like anything at all.

Plus, it’s always good to know that you are taking good care of a product that’s going to be with you through the thick and thin of any multi-day hike, no matter the difficulty. Dependable gear is the best kind, after all.