Sleeping Bag Care, Maintenance, Washing Instructions, and Repair

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You just backpacked through the Grand Canyon for 4 days. The sites were wonderful. Every night you gazed up at the stars and watched the Colorado river roll past you. Each day was magical and full of new experiences. To handle all that, you put your sleeping bag through the ringer. Now though, it is time for some sleeping bag care, maintenance, washing instructions, and repair.

Proper Use, Prevention Matters as much as Maintenance

When out on the trail, preventive skills are critical to ensuring the longevity of your sleeping bag. As the saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth an ounce of cure,” so it is important to deal with your bag with care.

  1. Keep your bag clean and free from abrasion. On one camping trip, my friends and I had a marshmallow fight inside the tent. It was a terrible idea. There is still old, sticky, and disgusting marshmallow residue on my sleeping bag. Besides avoiding marshmallow fights though, keep shoes off your bag and prevent dirt from coming inside.
  2. If your bag gets wet in any fashion, dry it out and do not compress it. When a sleeping bag gets wet, you need to get the water out of your bag. The longer it is in your bag, the more damage it does to the structure and integrity of your bag.
  3. Keep your bag out of the sun. While the sun will be sure to dry out your tent when it gets wet (especially if it is the only option available like during Winter camping), it can also damage your sleeping bag, weakening the fabric and the structure. Consequently, keep it shaded.

Correct Storage, Essential to Lengthy Longevity

There are two primary sack types where you can keep your sleeping bag, a stuff sack or a storage sack. When it comes to backpacking through the Grand Canyon and other similar trips, the former will be your best friend, reducing its size and freeing up room to store other essentials.

However, you do not want to store your bag in a stuff sack for your bag’s entire rest period. Once home, give your bag a good shake to fluff up the material as soon as you bring it home. Afterwards, air dry your bag for at least 24 hours. This will give it the initial rest your sleeping bag needs to work serve you again in the future.

Once your bag is out of the stuff sack, it is not going back in there until the next adventure. If you just put it back in the stuff sack, the sleeping bag will lose all its puffiness, damaging the insulation designed to keep you warm. Instead, you are going to want to keep it in a storage sack. They are much larger than stuff sacks, allowing the insulation to relax and expand.

When it comes to storage, always keep your bag in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight. Some good places are underneath your bed, hanging in your closet, and, of course, a storage sack. All these options uncompress the insulation, ensuring a long life for your bag.

Washing, Drying, and Careful Care

During this phase of maintenance, you have to be quite conscientious. If you put in too much detergent, your bag can become quite sticky and soapy. If you put it in the dryer for too long, the insulation can be ruined. Take extra precautions to keep your bag safe.


The Frequency of Washing and Drying

You do not want to wash and dry after every trip. It will too much for your bag. Most people will do this about once a year. If you only go camping on a 6 month or annual basis, then it may even be longer. It depends on how often you use your sleeping bag.

Washing

Down and synthetic bags are both different sleeping bags. In fact, I wrote about their differences in a previous article. Consequently, both need to be washed with different kinds of detergent designed specifically based on the bag’s design.

For down, nikwax down wash is going to be your best option. The brand has a distinct wash just for down. Because down is more natural than synthetic, it has organic oils. An improper detergent would remove those oils and damage the sleeping bag. With nikwax downwash though, your bag will be sure to clean your down bag effectively. For synthetic bags though, use a 1/4 cup of mild powdered detergent.

With regard to the washing machine settings, use warm water and the gentle cycle. Do not use hot water or else it will really damage the fabric. In my experience, warm water is the best balance between hot and cold worlds. It helps to kill any germs (like hot water) and is careful with the fabric (like cold water).

Ideally, you want to use a big, jumbo washer at your local laundry mat. Home laundry machines will damage the fabric of your sleeping bag. The agitators will twist and damage the structure and insulation fibers. They are much smaller and meant for clothing, not bigger items like sleeping bags.

Before placing your bag in the washing machine, unzip the bag and place the slider half-way up the zipper. You do not want the slider to come off during washing.

As an important side note, do not just send your bag to the dry cleaner. They use harsh chemicals that will be sure to wreak havoc on your sleeping bag.

Drying, Taking out the Water

After washing it, your sleeping bag needs to be dried out. When removing it from the dryer, take it out and move it gently. Because it was just in the washing machine, the bag is going to be full of water and quite heavy, making is prone to tearing. If the dryer is far away, use a rolling cart or something similar so you are not carrying a heavy bag the entire way.

Once you have your sleeping bag in the dryer, toss in 6 to 12 tennis balls. These will help the bag maintain its fluff and insulation integrity. If you just run the sleeping bag in the dryer without tennis balls, then you risk irreparable damage to the bag, so be sure to put in the tennis balls.

Next, you want to set the dryer to the lowest setting possible. If your bag gets too hot, then the fabric will be damaged. You can expect the dryer to dry out the bag in 2 to 5 hours.

Once in the dryer, check the bag periodically. You need to this to make sure the fabric is fine and not blistering hot. It also ensures the fabric is not clumping. If the insulation is bunching, then it is time to air dry your sleeping bag.


Extra Considerations to Keep your Bag Safe

Not all bags are equal. Many are unique, old, or even special. As such, your washing and drying needs to be tailored to the needs of your sleeping bag.

If you are especially concerned about the water temperature in the washing machine, use cold water instead. While cold water will not kill any bugs, fungi, or other unacceptable living features of a sleeping bag, it will also not compromise the structure and integrity of the fabric.

Patching the Hole

Use Duct Tape when on the Trail

Sometimes you are fighting a bear during the night and they poke a hole in your sleeping bag. More often than not though, someone’s long nails or a stick will poke a hole in your precious sleeping bag. In response, duct tape is going to be your best bet. It will do the quick and dirty work to patch the problem.

Unfortunately though, it is a short term solution. Duct tape will get your through your trip, but not through next month’s adventure as you will have to keep applying more of it.

Alternative Options

If you want something specifically for sleeping bags, tenacious tape is worth consideration. It is quite flexible and lasts a long time. By far, it is much better than duct tape, holding up quite well for a long time. Unlike duct tape, it will not come off.

If you are skilled with a thread and needle, sewing up the hole with a good patch is an excellent route to take. Lastly, you can send it back to the manufacturer. It is the most expensive route to take, but they will do the job right. They have repair facilities, fixing your gear for a modest fee.

Final Thoughts

Your sleeping bag should be well rested for the next adventure. You have washed it and dried it out, along with giving it plenty of rest to puff up again and storing it in a proper manner. With your renewed sleeping bag, you are all set to hit the trail again. Grab your bag and set out on your adventure.

If you have thoughts, questions, or think I missed anything, do not hesitate to comment below and please do share this article. Thank you so much and I hope you make it a great day!

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18 Comments on “Sleeping Bag Care, Maintenance, Washing Instructions, and Repair”

  1. Thanks, I think this is valuable information. Heck, it sounds good eve for my winter blankets around the house. It is funny you would mention the duct tape. We all laugh about how universal duct tape is. I have even seen it on cars.

    The cost of camping equipment is not cheap so it is wise to follow good maintenance techniques so that it will last you a while and hold up when you are out there using it. Thanks for the information.

    1. It is good to know you found this information helpful Ronnie. You are quite right about the duct tape. It is a universal tool.

      Camping equipment can get very expensive, so it is important to make the gear you have last as long as possible.

      Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  2. Hi, Alex,

    My family and I love to travel. I can honestly say there is always a need for tents on our Travels. Tents always need sleeping bags and you can guarantee all the kids fight over the best sleeping bag.

    Now As we travel probably six weeks at a time. You can imagine tons of kids all fighting to get in the tents. Yes even the big Teens Love the tents too. So that means tons of sleeping bags too.

    Its right in what you are saying the mess can be quite horrendous when the kids have all had their fun. Marshmallows, Chocolates, fizzy drinks.

    Its the cleaning thing I hate. The washing detergents and how to use them are a brill Idea.
    I have frazzled a few a few in the dryers. And ruined more than enough in washing Machines.

    As for Duck tape I use it all the time and it has many uses. I never thought for one second using it on the Sleeping Bags. I never thought about buying repair tape. That is so much better,

    This blog is awesome and I thoroughly enjoyed the read. I shall be bookmarking your Blog and I am looking for ward to reading more from you.

    Thank you Alex once again.

    Regards Deborah.

    1. Hello Deborah,

      I appreciate your warm hearted comment. Thank you for the compliment on the quality of the blog. It is always good to hear when a reader decides to bookmark a post.

      Sleeping bags are always a great option for young kids. You just hand it to them and they can sleep perfectly well.

      You must have quite the adventures on your travels with tons of kids. You and them must have wonderful stories to tell.

      Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

      Alex

  3. Super thorough post. A sleeping bag is an investment, and these are great tips on how to protect it. Do you have any advise as to what kind of sleeping bag to invest in? I only camp about 4 times a year. Does that matter as to which one to get?

    1. Hey Jeff,

      I appreciate the compliment on the post. With every article, I always strive for completeness.

      When considering sleeping bags, please check out this post on buying sleeping bags. From what you have told me about your situation, it would be helpful to have more information about your circumstances, but, if you are only camping 4 times a year, I am going to assume you are more of a casual camper. Consequently, you do not need a super expensive bag, just one to take care of you on your semi regular trips. I hope this helps you.

      Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  4. I’ve trashed so many sleeping bags over the years when I’ve been camping, from torn or worn out material to broken zippers and poor maintenance.

    I think this had made things more clear to me on how to manage and dry them out better in order to avoid things like this happening.

    Atleast it will stop me from purchasing another bag repeatedly!

    Thanks for this Alex:)

    1. In my younger days, I treated my sleeping bags like trash. Now though, I am much more careful and attentive to the needs of my bag.

      It is good to know you found this article helpful. Hopefully you won’t have to keep buying new bags.

      Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  5. I have ruined some great sleeping bags in my day before I realized I needed to take care of them. I especially like your recommendations on what to do when you get back from the trip and not leaving it in your stuff sack.

    We keep ours hung up in the garage but I’m re-thinking that now because the summers get hot and muggy. We do have large netting sacks where we could keep them in the house. Do you have any suggestions as to options of hanging the bags if you don’t want to hang them in the garage?

    1. Yes Rick, many of us have unknowingly ruined sleeping bags. You definitely do not want to leave it in a stuff sack or else it will ruin the insulation.

      It is good that you are rethinking where to hang your sleeping bag. You do not want to hang it in your hot and muggy garage. If the large netting sack is cool and dry, then that sounds like a good option. If not, then a cool, dry closet where you have room to hang a sleeping bag will be your best bet. I hope this helps you.

      Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  6. Thanks Alex to be honest as I started to read I’m thinking I’ll just send it off to the laundromat, seems easier, so thanks for the heads up about not doing that. Heaps of info, good one mate 🙂

  7. What a comprehensive guide! I’m a big camping fan so I need to know these things for when I upgrade my gear. I have some average sleeping bags right now, but these tips will help tremendously when I start purchasing DOWN bags, especially when I start paying a few hundred dollars at a time. I can’t afford to keep replacing them. Thanks a lot 😀

    1. It is good to you found this article helpful. Down bags are quite expensive. You definitely do not want to keep replacing them.

      Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  8. Great Post! I learned a lot about the care and maintenance of sleeping bags. I didn’t know there was so much to it.

    One thing I would add to the post is maybe a before and after picture of a sleeping bag using some of the products that you mentioned. This could give us readers the visual transformation of what you described in great written detail.

    Cheers,
    Camille

    1. It is good to know you found this article helpful. There is quite a lot to sleeping bags.

      I could not agree with you more about the before and after picture of a sleeping bag that used the products I described. It would help make the case for those products.

      Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  9. Hi Alex and thanks for the great information. I didn’t realize that you should keep your sleeping bag out of the stuff sack between trips. Good to know.
    One question…I have friends who just fold and roll their bags into their sacks. I was told you should just stuff it in without rolling. Does it matter?
    Thanks again,
    Suzanne

    1. I appreciate you for sharing Suzanne.

      In regards to your question, it is more efficient to roll your sleeping bag and then put it into your stuff sack. It uses room more efficiently. You can put your sleeping bag without rolling it up, but it will not make good use of your limited room. I hope this helps you.

      Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

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