Pro Tips: How (and When) to Clean Your Sleeping Bag

We’re all about getting funky. But sometimes we like to leave the actual funk at home. Have you ever washed your sleeping bag? What about cleaning it out in the backcountry? It’s a new year, a new season, and it’s time for a fresh feel (and smell). Check out our pro tips on how to properly clean your sleeping bag.

What’s the best way to clean a sleeping bag in the backcountry? For example, if food gets on your bag in bear country.

  • To start, remove any food debris ASAP.
  • Then, gently separate the fabric from the insulation and just spot wash the fabric. Try to avoid getting the insulation wet.  
  • Drape the bag over your tent and allow it to air dry in mild sun. Even a few minutes in the sun can make a difference, so keep an eye on the weather. Just be sure to mind the wind so your bag doesn’t blow away!  (Seriously, this can happen.) 
  • While we love all things planet-friendly, don’t use biodegradable backpackers’ soap to wash your equipment. Many of these soaps can be harmful to your gear, especially elastic materials.   
  • How clean is clean enough? Use your personal judgement. Be bear aware– they’re not as cuddly as they look.

What’s the best way to clean a sleeping bag at home?

Without a Washing Machine:
  • To spot wash: get out some water and a gentle non-detergent soap. This means soap specific to down or synthetic insulation (can purchase from your local gear shop). Then, grab a (preferably clean) toothbrush or soft brush to gently scrub.
  • To wash the entire bag:
    • First thing’s first, take your time. This is not a race.   
    • Fill your tub with warm (not hot!) water. 
    • Use a very small amount of insulation-specific cleaner, as down and synthetic insulations have different requirements. Visit your local outdoor retailer to pick up the right cleaner.  
    • Then, gently lay the bag in the water and slowly work the water and cleaner into the bag.
    • Allow the bag to sit for 30 min or so. Then, drain the water from the tub and gently press the excess water out of the bag. Do not pick up the bag when wet.
    • Refill the tub with warm water (again, not hot!) and gently work in the fresh water to rinse the bag.
    • Repeat this process until all the cleaner is removed.
    • When you’ve removed as much water as you can, it’s time to pick up the bag.  CAREFUL – DO NOT pick the bag up by the fabric or from above. Instead, to avoid damage to the seams and construction, gather up the bag and lift from below. Yes, be warned, you’ll get a little wet. 
    • Carry the bag to a full-size dryer and tumble dry on low heat. Check the bag frequently to avoid overheating.   
      • If your dryer is too small you can carefully transport it to a laundromat.  
      • If you choose to air dry your bag, lay the bag out on a cool dry surface and allow it to dry.  You can lay it on a large towel or in the backyard, as well.  Partial sun is best, but avoid placing the sleeping bag in extreme heat. 
      • If your bag is down, you may have to gently massage the down clumps apart. Everyone loves a good massage, right?  
With a Washing Machine (or at a Laundromat):
  • Never use a top-loading washing machine with an agitator.  And louder for the folks in the back…NEVER use a top-loading washing machine with an agitator to wash your sleeping bag.  Doing so can cause severe damage to your bag.
  • If you have an HE (high efficiency) washing machine that is smaller than a standard washer, it may not have enough room for your bag.  Full size or commercial washing machines (without an agitator!) are recommended. 
  • Wash the sleeping bag on gentle cycle with a cleaner designed specifically for down or synthetic insulation. Most cleaners can be found at your local outdoor shop.
  • Avoid using too much soap and follow the instructions on the cleaner. When in doubt, less is more.  
  • Then, make sure the bag is fully rinsed and free of cleaner by running the rinse cycle twice or simply washing the bag again.
  • CAREFUL – DO NOT pick the bag up by the fabric or from above. Instead, to avoid damage to the seams and construction, gather up the bag and lift from below. Yes, we know, you’ll get a little wet. 
  • Now, it’s dry time. Carry the bag to a full-size dryer and tumble dry on low heat.  Check the bag frequently to avoid overheating.
  • When the bag is nearly dry, check it for clumps and gently rub them to break up the big down ones.  At this point, you can add dryer balls or a few clean tennis balls to help fluff up the bag (no shoes or anything bulky).
  • Make sure the bag is fully dry before placing the sleeping bag back in storage. Lay it out flat for a day or so someplace cool and dry.      

Anything special to keep in mind based on the material?Down? Synthetic Fleece?

  • Yes! Make sure to buy the right cleaner for the right material. Visit your local retailer and pick up a cleaning agent specifically formulated for your sleeping bag.  
man alarmed in sleeping bag

How often should you clean a sleeping bag?

  • If properly cared for, a sleeping bag can be used for many seasons without needing to be washed. 
  • That said, be sure to wash it if/when it does get soiled.
  • We’re all about getting smelly, but try to wear clean base layers at night to reduce introducing oils into the bag.  We promise, it’s way easier to wash your base layers!   

Are there any big “no no’s” in washing a sleeping bag?

  • DO NOT USE a top-loading washing machine with an agitator. 
  • Seriously…. A top-loading machine with a center agitator will damage your bag.   
  • Did we mention that you shouldn’t use a top-loading washing machine with an agitator?
  • Try not to pick up the bag when soaking wet. When you do pick up the back, don’t grab it by the fabric or from above. Instead, to avoid damage to the seams and construction, gather up the bag and lift from below.

Any tips to get persistent “funk” out of a bag after a long backpacking trip?

  • After every backpacking or camping adventure, we recommend laying out your sleeping bag and allowing it to air out.  
  • Turn it inside out and lay it in partial sun, just for 10 minutes or so. The sun can help mitigate funk. Seriously, it helps. Just avoid prolonged exposure to high intensity sun or heat.  
  • If that doesn’t do the trick, wash it and allow it to dry properly. See washing comments above.  

New to backpacking? Check out our 9 Tips for First-Time Backpackers, or watch our Backpacking In Real Life Series below.

In the market for a new bag? From down to synthetic, warm weather to cold weather , single-person to two-person, check out our award-winning sleeping bags here.

If you have additional questions, shoot us a message on Instagram, email us at warranty@kelty.com, or give us a call at 800-535-3589.