Pitch Your Tent: Sleeping Bags

Sleeping Bag Care & Cleaning

Now you’ve learned all about the different styles of sleeping bags, you need to know how to care for and maintain your sleeping bag.

In Camp

Be gentle when you remove your sleeping bag from the stuff sack. Don’t yank it or it could tear.

Carefully remove the sleeping bag from the stuff sack.

Before you crawl into your bag on the first night of your camping trip, be sure to give the bag a few shakes. You want to fluff the insulation — but of course not damage the seams or zipper!

I recommend using a sleeping bag liner whenever you’re in your bag. Some types of liners will actually keep you warmer by giving you another layer of insulation.

The real reason I recommend a sleeping bag liner is to keep the inside of the bag cleaner. Come on, how many times have you just barely pulled off your boots before tumbling into your sleeping bag? Well all the sweat and dirt (and campfire smoke!) you’ve accumulated during the day has now transferred to the inside of your bag.

Gross!

A liner is a lot easier to wash since they’re usually like a small blanket, unlike washing a sleeping bag which can be like washing an enormous comforter off your bed at home!

Don’t put your sleeping bag directly on the ground. Always have a sleeping pad or ground cloth down first.

If you spill something on your sleeping bag, let it it dry completely, but out of the sun. If you have a towel, you can use it to sop up any excess moisture.

Storage

For years, I always stored my sleeping bag all wadded up in a stuff sack. And then, I could never figure out why it wasn’t as fluffy as it used to be. And it didn’t seem as warm.

It turns out that sleeping bags should NOT be stored in a stuff sack or rolled!

If you can, sleeping bags should be stored flat. I’ve seen under the bed as a recommended spot but I’m not really excited about that idea. Lily (my dog) likes to scoot under my bed and it always seems that under the bed gathers dust bunnies.

Good storage is hanging over a large hanger or rod in a closet.

Or, you can put the sleeping bag in a LARGE mesh laundry bag so it is only loosely stuffed. Then, the whole thing can be stored on a shelf in a closet.

Don’t use a plastic bag or garbage sack! If the bag is damp at all, the plastic will keep it from drying out completely. The plastic will, however, encourage the growth of mildew, mold, and icky smells.

Storage Tip: Put the sleeping bag’s stuff sack into the sleeping bag before you store it. That way the stuff sack can’t get lost!

Cleaning

Sleeping bags do NOT need to be laundered after every trip! An exception would be if you spilled something on the bag, if a child had an accident, or if you went to bed extremely dirty.

Washing Your Bag

Do not wash your sleeping bag in your home washing machine. Instead, grab a good book, lots of quarters and head to your local laundry mat. You’ll want to launder your bag in warm or cool water on a front loading machine. Use the gentle cycle so zippers, seams, and straps are less likely to become damaged.

I also recommend using less soap than you think it needs. Because there is so much mass to your sleeping bag, it will take several rinse cycles to fully remove the soap.

Avoid fabric softener and dry cleaning since both will damage the bag.

If you have a down bag, you can purchase special soap formulated to wash down. If you’re not comfortable laundering your down bag yourself, call around to local laundry mats or dry cleaners to see if any body specializes in WASHING down items. You want to make sure they wash it not dry clean.

If you decide to try hand washing, the bath tub is your best bet. Give yourself plenty of time because it’s going to be a BIG job.

Drying your bag

Again, don’t try to use your home clothes dryer for this job! It will be too small to do the job properly and you could damage your sleeping bag, dryer or both!

Sleeping bags take anywhere from 2 to 5 hours to dry completely. I want to impress upon you that laundering your sleeping bag could very well be an all day job so give yourself plenty of time.

Tumble dry the sleeping bag in the largest commercial dryer you can find. You’ll want to use a low heat setting since a high heat setting can scorch the synthetic shell, fibers, or liner. If in doubt, air-dry your bag, or use a no-heat setting in the dryer.

Check the bag periodically to make sure the fabric isn’t scorching hot and the insulation isn’t bunching or clumping. To combat clumping you can throw in a tennis ball or two. They help maintain the loft of the insulation.

Just be sure they’re NEW tennis balls not the ones Fido buries in the back yard. Yuck!

Moving A Wet Sleeping Bag

A sleeping bag full of water will be very heavy and very delicate. If you’re not careful, you could tear a seam in the bag. When moving your wet sleeping bag, always move the ENTIRE thing — never pick it up from the end. I recommend putting it carefully in a large plastic clothes basket to move it from the washer to the dryer.

If you are going to let the bag “drip dry” you’ll want to find a place to lay it flat, out of the sun. Layer several clean towels below and above the bag to absorb excess moisture. Change the towels as they become sodden. And keep an eye that the bag is drying out — you don’t want to grow mildew in a bag you just laundered.

I don’t recommend hanging a sleeping bag to dry for a couple of reasons. It can damage the seams from the weight of the wet bag AND the insulation can shift and clump. If you’ve ever slept on a lumpy pillow that somebody threw in the washer and dryer you know what I mean.

A Quick Definition

There’s nothing I hate worse than reading an article and getting to the end and saying: What was XYZ term they used? What did it mean?

So, in case you don’t know what a stuff sack is a tubular bag that you can stuff gear into. You don’t roll your sleeping bag first — you just stuff in (gently!) into the bag. Most bags then have a flap that covers the opening and a draw string to cinch it tight.

You can also get a compression stuff sack which also has straps around the bag. Once the bag has been stuffed, you draw the straps tight to further compress the bag’s contents.

Reader’s Experience:

  • Have you ever laundered your sleeping bag? How did you do it?
  • Would you rather wash your bag yourself or pay somebody to wash it for you?

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