How to wash a sleeping bag

Is your sleeping bag grubby? Does it smell a bit less than fresh? It might be time to give it a wash.

Washing a sleeping bag isn’t complicated, but you’ll want to do it right to avoid tearing the lining or damaging the insulation of your bag. Here’s everything you need to know.

Spot Cleaning Your Sleeping Bag

A tent with sleeping bags inside

Image courtesy of Pixabay

First, are you sure your sleeping bag actually needs washing? Perhaps you accidentally stepped on it while wearing boots and got it muddy … but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to wash the whole thing.

You can spot clean your sleeping bag to deal with small spills and stains. The easiest way to do this is to make a paste from non-detergent soap and water, then use a toothbrush to clean grubby areas. Hold the shell or liner fabric away from the insulation inside your sleeping bag, so that the inside doesn’t get wet.

Washing Your Sleeping Bag

What if your sleeping bag fell in a muddy puddle, you spilled your beer all over it, or it’s just in dire need of a proper wash? If you only use it occasionally, you may be afraid of bugs or infestations while it was in storage.1

Here’s how to wash your sleeping bag without damaging it.

Check the Manufacturer’s Instructions

Before washing your sleeping bag, you should look for the manufacturer’s instructions. You can often find these printed on the bag, on a tag, or with any information that came with your sleeping bag. Care for down sleeping bags may be drastically different than those using synthetic fibers.2

If there aren’t any instructions, you can simply follow the guide below, which should be fine for most sleeping bags.

Before You Wash Your Sleeping Bag

Check your sleeping bag for any tears and repair these before washing.

Make sure you have a suitable detergent for cleaning your sleeping bag. It’s best to choose a specialty soap designed specifically for down or synthetic sleeping bags – but any mild soap should work fine.

Zip up your sleeping bag before washing it. This helps avoid any damage to the zippers.

Machine Washing Your Sleeping Bag

You can wash your sleeping bag in a front-loading washing machine, or in a top loader without an agitator. (Using a top-loading machine with an agitator can strain or rip your sleeping bag’s seams.)

Tip: If you have a double sleeping bag, you may need to split it into two separate bags to wash it, unless you have a large washing machine. Alternatively, you could take it to a laundromat or handwash it.

Don’t use fabric softener or bleach on your sleeping bag.

Hand Washing Your Sleeping Bag

If you want to be particularly careful so as to not minimize the insulation of your sleeping bag, you could opt for handwashing.3 You can handwash a sleeping bag in a bathtub. Fill the tub with cool or warm water and add some detergent soap. (Don’t use too much, or it’ll be hard to rinse the suds out.)

Next, turn your bag inside out and put it in the water. Work the soapy water into the bag, then let it soak for an hour or two. Rub any areas that are visibly dirty.

After that, drain out all the soapy water from your tub and refill it with clean water. Rinse the sleeping bag, then repeat again with clean water. You can press the bag to remove the soapy water, but don’t twist or ring it.

Finally, gently squeeze out the water from the bag, then dry it using your chosen method below. To take it to the dryer (or outside), you should lift it carefully in a ball or support it in a plastic clothes basket, rather than lifting it from one end without support.

Drying Your Sleeping Bag

You can dry your sleeping bag outside in the sun or you can use a dryer.

Drying Your Sleeping Bag Outside

Don’t hang your sleeping bag on a clothesline. Instead, lay it flat to dry. You could lay it across two chairs or even place it in a hammock.

If your sleeping bag shell is nylon, don’t place it in direct sunlight to dry: UV light can damage nylon.

As your sleeping bag dries, you’ll need to turn it frequently and break up any clumps of insulation.

Drying Your Sleeping Bag in a Dryer

A laundromat with rows of washers / dryers

Image courtesy of Pixabay

You can dry your sleeping bag in a large dryer on the lowest heat. You may need to take it to a laundromat. You can include clean tennis balls to break up clumps of down.

Make sure that your bag is completely dry before putting it away to store it, as if it’s even slightly damp, mold or mildew can form. Ideally, leave it to air in a dry place before storage.

Tips for Keeping Your Sleeping Bag Clean

Washing your sleeping bag can be time-consuming, plus it’s not good for your sleeping bag to be washing very frequently.

You can keep your sleeping bag clean for longer between washes by:

  • Wearing clean clothes or pajamas to bed. It might be tempting to crawl into your sleeping bag in the same clothes you’ve been wearing all day – especially if your tent is on the cold side. But changing into fresh clothes means your sleeping bag won’t pick up sweat, oils, and grime from your daytime clothing.
  • Using a sleeping bag liner inside your bag. This adds an extra layer of insulation, helping you to stay warm – and it’s much easier to wash the liner than the whole bag.
  • Keeping your sleeping bag inside your tent. Don’t take it outside where it could get muddy or wet, and don’t wear it near the fire, where it’s likely to pick up a woodsmoke smell. Take a separate blanket (or old sleeping bag) to use in the evenings outside your tent, if you want to.

Article Sources

Adventure Daily uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Pascal Delaunay, Pharm D. Human Travel and Traveling Bedbugs. Journal of Travel Medicine, Volume 19, Issue 6, 1 December 2012, Pages 373–379,
  2. Hawks, Leona K. Care of Down and Synthetic Sleeping Bags. 1990. Utah State University. Paper 210. Accessed 20 Sept 2021.
  3. Zuo, Jing. Factors affecting the insulation value of sleeping bag systemsKansas State University. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2004. 3140173.