Sleeping bags are a key element of your camping gear because they make sure you get a good night’s rest. Not being able to sleep well at night is one of the fastest ways to ruin a camping trip.
A sleeping bag can also be what ensures your survival when nighttime temperatures get low because they help you retain body heat. So it’s in your best interest to take good care of your bag so it can continue to serve you well into the future.
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Care Before Using a Sleeping Bag
If you’ve got a big camping trip planned, you’re probably so excited that you don’t think about taking care of your sleeping bag before it’s ever been used. But taking a moment before packing for your trip can go a long way toward the care of your bag.
Be gentle when unpacking a sleeping bag that has been in storage for a long time. Feel the insulation to make sure it’s evenly distributed.
Then do an inspection, making sure to check the seams, zippers, drawcords, and any other elements of the sleeping bag. If you’ve had it stored in the attic or basement, unzip it and make sure there are no bugs or other debris inside.
If the bag smells musty or not as fresh as it once did, then hang it up outdoors to dry for a few hours. Don’t let it spend too much time in the sun though, as that can damage the materials. Once you’ve done all that, you’re ready to pack it up for your outing. Gently put it inside your stuff sack and you’ll be ready to use it again.
In this guide, we answer the most common questions that we are asked when it comes to sleeping bag care. Read the whole thing or find your question in the clickable table of contents below.
Taking Care of Your Bag While Camping
Although cleaning and storing a bag is important, there are ways you can take to extend the life of your bag even while you’re using it. Following these steps can also make the cleaning process go faster or be unnecessary.
- Keep it clean
As much as possible, keep the bag clean even while you’re camping. Wear clean clothes to bed so oils and sweat don’t dirty the bag. Make sure to remove sunscreen and bug spray or other residues too.
Use a sleeping liner will put a barrier between your body and the bag, keeping it extra clean. Always put something under the bag so it is not in direct contact with the ground or the dirt. Refrain from eating in your bag to prevent spills and stains.
- Air it out
For longer camping trips, make sure to unzip and air out the sleeping bag each day. Turn it inside-out and hang it up nearby. Don’t let it get too much sun though because UV light could damage the fabric.
- Be gentle
Treat your bag with care by never jumping around or standing inside it. Don’t sit too close your campfire while wearing the bag. Go easy on the zippers even though they can be frustrating at times.
- Use it as a blanket
If the weather is warm, sleep on top of your sleeping pad and then use the bag as a blanket. This will keep the inside of the bag cleaner and won’t strain the seams.
Cleaning a Sleeping Bag
After your camping trip is over, that’s when the maintenance begins. Although it’s not the most exciting part of camping, it’s absolutely essential.
The first step before you can put the bag into storage is to make sure it’s thoroughly cleaned. Start by unzipping the bag and shaking it out to make sure there are no bugs, dirt, stones or twigs inside.
Also, check into the end to make sure you didn’t leave any clothes or other items inside. If your sleeping bag has inner pockets, make sure they are empty.
Then do a thorough examination of the bag to see if there is any dirt on it. If there is, you may need to do an in-depth clean. If it looks good, then you can move to the next step. You shouldn’t need to launder your bag after every trip. But a thorough washing once a year won’t harm the bag.
If your bag just has some spots of dirt, you can also use a damp cloth to wipe it away instead of putting it in the washing machine.
Another option is to use a mild soap and a soft-bristle toothbrush to spot treat the bag. Rinse it with a soft sponge and set it out to dry. Try to hold the shell away from the insulation so it doesn’t get wet. If you think the fill is damp, give it extra time to dry before storing it.
For bags that need to be washed, the methods for cleaning will depend on the materials used to make your sleeping bag. The filling is the main difference and most bags either have a synthetic or down fill.
How to Clean a Synthetic Fill Bag
Make sure the bag is completely unzipped and then put it in the washing machine. Always use a front load washer, never a top load one.
Use cold water and a minimal amount of soap. Then tumble it on a low heat until it’s dry. Synthetic fill bags are relatively easy to clean so this process should be a breeze.
Try to hold the shell away from the insulation so it doesn’t get wet. If you think the fill is damp, give it extra time to dry before storing it.
How to Clean a Down Sleeping Bag
If you’ve heard people say they hate cleaning their sleeping bag, then they probably have one filled with down. These bags are a little more difficult to clean because they are more delicate than their synthetic counterparts.
You can’t use a washing machine because it can compress the feathers, making the bag lose its fluffiness (or loft) which is necessary for it to insulate properly. Instead, most down fill bags need to be hand washed and air-dried. But you can just put them in the bathtub with some soapy water and gently scrub any dirt away.
After the bag has been washed, the hard part is getting out all the water so it can be dried. Lay the bag down flat and roll it to press out as much water as you can. Don’t wring it out.
When transporting a wet bag, it’s easy to tear because there isn’t a lot of support. Instead, put it in a basket, pillowcase, or bag. Never lift the bag from one end when it is wet. Be careful when removing it from the washing machine.
Hang the bag out to dry in the sun until they are fully dried. If you aren’t sure if the bag is completely dry, leave it out for longer just in case. Some down bags require professional cleaning. Some brands of down bags might be machine washer friendly but these are few and far between.
Always check the instructions on the tag to be sure before putting a down bag in the washing machine. Like synthetic bags, only use a front load washer and use a small amount of soap.
Never use bleach or other additives and use only cold water. You’ll also have to rinse the bag multiple times to get all the soap out. This is very important to make sure the soap doesn’t break down the oil from the feathers.
Then tumble the bag dry on the lowest setting and know that it can take hours for the down to completely dry. Add a few clean tennis balls to help break up the clumped together down so it dries faster.
Do dry cleaners clean sleeping bags?
As mentioned, some down sleeping bags will require professional cleaning. However, this is not the same thing as dry cleaning.
Professional cleaners will use special ingredients and cleaning techniques to prevent damaging the feathers inside. Some dry cleaners will clean a bag, just make sure to ask them if they clean sleeping bags.
Make sure they don’t use dry cleaning chemicals on the bag. The products used could strip the oils from the down. Synthetic bags should not be dry cleaned either. The filling could be melted and the bag could be permanently damaged.
In addition to the industrial solvents used by dry cleaners, you should also avoid using bleach or fabric softener when washing a bag.
How do you deodorize a sleeping bag?
If you’re worried that your sleeping bag has started to smell, you can clean it to remove any odors. Although you may be tempted to spray it with air fresheners or odor eliminators, doing so could damage the bag.
Instead, try airing the bag out. Putting it in the sun for a few hours should neutralize odors and kill bacteria. If it still smells, then wash it thoroughly or have it professionally cleaned.
For really tough odors, a natural deodorizer such as baking soda can be used. Put 1-2 cups inside the bag, zip it up, and shake it so the powder covers the interior. Let it sit for a few hours and then shake the powder out or clean the bag.
Another option is to mix vinegar with water and spray it on any affected areas. Make sure to thoroughly clean and dry the bag after using any liquids on it
How does a sleeping bag lose its warmth?
There are a few ways that a sleeping bag will lose its warmth by failing to properly insulate you once you’re inside. For down sleeping bags, getting wet will immediately reduce the insulating properties and you won’t be able to stay warm.
Any sleeping bag that gets compressed for too long will also harm the insulation inside by breaking it down or crushing it. When the insulation can’t trap air anymore, it won’t be able to keep you warm.
Also, if the filling is not evenly distributed, the entire bag won’t be warm either. The warmth could get concentrated on one side or at one end, such as the feet of the bag. Although the insulation may be there, it won’t cover your entire body and you’ll feel cold inside the bag. That’s why it’s important to fluff the bag and even out the filling before crawling in.
Does a down sleeping bag lose its warmth?
While synthetic fill bags don’t lose their warmth easily, the same isn’t true for a down sleeping bag. One of the most common ways a down bag will lose warmth is by getting wet.
Wet feathers will stick or clump together and no longer be able to trap air. They may also get grouped in a corner of the bag, leaving entire areas without any insulation.
The best way to prevent a down sleeping bag from losing its warmth is to keep it dry at all times. Make sure to fluff the down periodically so it stays evenly distributed and doesn’t clump together.
How do you fluff a down sleeping bag?
If your bag seems to have lost a little loft or the down has been dispersed throughout, you will need to fluff it. This will move the filling around and get some air in between the feathers to make it fluffier.
You can put the bag into a dryer with some clean tennis balls and tumble it on low heat. Make sure to use a very low heat and check it every 15 to 20 minutes to make sure the shell does not melt. The balls will help break up clumps of feathers that may be grouped together. Another method is to hang the bag up and allow the feathers to spread out inside.
You can also unroll the bag completely and shake it with your hands, gently massaging the filling and breaking up the clumps by hand. Once it has been fluffed, you can hang it across two hangers so it doesn’t get compressed further.
Proper Storage of a Sleeping Bag
Once your sleeping bag has been cleaned and completely dried, it’s time to put it into storage until your next trip. How and where you store it will make a big difference and help make the bag last longer.
The most important thing regarding storage is to prevent compression of the sleeping bag. Keeping a bag compressed for a long time will damage the filling and it won’t insulate well anymore.
If your sleeping bag came with a sack made from cotton, mesh, or other breathable material, you can store it inside. The sack should be quite a bit bigger than the stuff sack so the bag doesn’t get compressed.
Sleeping bags that didn’t come with a storage bag can be hung over a hanger or put inside a large pillowcase or another mesh bag. You can also store the sleeping bag flat and keep it underneath a bed or up on a shelf.
Another option is to put it loosely into a large cardboard box or plastic storage bin. Keeping the bag dry is also important so avoid waterproof bags or plastic trash bags. If there is any moisture or condensation, it will get trapped inside and could lead to mildew. Always be gentle when putting the bag in or removing it from storage. Never roll it up to store it either.
Never store the bag in a stuff sack. The stuff sack is a smaller bag that is used to transport the bag to the camping site or in your backpack while backpacking.
Stuff sacks will compress the bag quite a bit but this should only be for a short time, not for weeks, months, or years on end. There are also compression and waterproof stuff sacks but neither should be used for long-term storage.
When putting a sleeping bag into a stuff sack for temporary transportation, start with the feet of the bag and zip it up partially. Then slowly push more and more inside to release the air and get the rest of the bag inside.
Be careful when removing the sleeping bag from the stuff sack, making sure not to rip or tear any parts.
How long do sleeping bags last?
The main goal of investing time to take care of your sleeping bag is to extend its lifespan so you can use it for many years. However, that doesn’t mean that a sleeping bag will last forever.
A bag that has been properly cared for, cleaned, and stored should last for a long time. The exact amount of time it will last depends on how often it is used and how well it has been treated during its lifetime.
Down bags usually last 3 to 5 times longer than synthetic ones which get compressed and lose insulation over time. A down-filled sleeping bag has the potential to last you for as long as you need it, up to your entire life.
Many people have had the same sleeping back for over 35 years and are still able to use it. If the bag does lose some warmth or if you’ve become more sensitive to cold as you get older, you can always add in a bag liner to extend its life even further.
Sleeping bags that get regular use may wear out in 10 to 15 years. However, very few people use their sleeping bags every weekend during the entire year.
Those who take care of their sleeping bags usually only upgrade because there are new features that have been released. They may want a new bag that has more details or can be used in a broader variety of temperatures.
Do sleeping bags expire?
While on the subject of how long a sleeping bag lasts, you may be wondering if the manufacturers have an expiration date on their products. Unlike perishable items, most companies do not have a set expiration date for sleeping bags.
However, each manufacturer is different and some may have a recommended usage life for their sleeping bags. The total amount of time they predict the sleeping bag to last may be based on their recommended care instructions.
If the bag is not cared for or stored properly, it could potentially “expire” within a few years. As soon as you notice the bag is no longer warm, then it’s time to think about getting a new bag.
Maintaining a Sleeping Bag
Of course, no matter how hard you try to take good care of your bag, there is always a chance it could get damaged. Then it won’t matter that you always make sure to clean and dry it after using it and storing it properly.
While camping you may accidentally rip or tear it, forget something sharp in a pocket, or get it snagged on a rock or tree branch. Should that happen, your sleeping bag shouldn’t be rendered completely useless.
Minor tears and holes can easily be fixed so they don’t turn into something bigger which could mean the end of your sleeping bag. Instead, take care of them right away so your sleeping bag will continue to work well.
If you’re at the campsite, bring something to make repairs. This can be an actual sleeping bag repair kit or any kind of tape such a duct tape or even a bandage. Make sure the patching material is bigger than the hole itself so it will cover it completely. Cut the patch to round out the edges so it is less likely to peel up at the corners.
Then hold the area which has the hole taut and use something to smooth the tape down over the ripped portion. It should hold for the rest of your trip until you can take it home and use something a little more durable for a long-term patch.
For larger rips and tears, you can try sewing the bag up yourself if you have a needle and thread. Another option is to take it to a professional who can repair it better or replace the torn portion with new materials.
Sleeping Bag Zipper Care
One of the first things to wear out on a sleeping bag is the zipper because it is used constantly. Many sleeping bags also have double zippers which can cause frustration to some campers, causing them to yank the zipper harder than necessary.
Try to always be gentle with the zippers and take time to make sure they are lined up properly to avoid pinching the lining or shell in the teeth and causing a tear.
If the zipper does break, you can look into getting it replaced. Zippers can be difficult to sew on and it might be hard to find one long enough for your entire sleeping bag.
Try contacting the manufacturer and see if they will repair it for you. If you have a warranty, it might be free or you may have to pay a small fee to have it repaired,b ut the amount you’ll pay will be much less than purchasing a brand new sleeping bag and your current bag will end up lasting much longer.
Repairing Leaking Down Sleeping Bags
With down sleeping bags, there is a chance that the feathers inside can poke through the shell and start to come out. Because the feathers still have the hardy, pointy quills on them, they may go through the fabric.
If you start to see fluffy feathers sticking out, resist the temptation to pluck them out completely. Instead, try to get them back inside the sleeping bag where they belong. Do this by gently pinching the shell away from the insulation. Then try to locate the pointed quill end of the feather with your fingers. Grip it and pull it back inside the bag.
Once the feathers are back inside, give the bag a bit of a shake to fluff the feathers and move them away from the hole that was created. The area where the feather poked through should be so small that it doesn’t need to be patched.
But, if for some reason you notice feathers coming through in the same location over and over, that area should be patched so it doesn’t get worn down over time. The hole could become bigger and turn into a rip which would result in the loss of even more feathers.
Maintaining a Sleeping Bag’s Water Resistance
Many newer bags have been coated with a durable water repellent (DWR) that makes them water-resistant. But this will wear off over time, although, if you don’t use your bag very often, this can take years.
If you find that your bag doesn’t repel water as well as it used to be, try cleaning and drying it first. Sometimes washing the fabric or applying light heat can restore the DWR. However, be careful not to use too high of heat because sleeping bags can easily melt when exposed to warm temperatures.
When washing doesn’t seem to work, then it might be time to apply a new coating of DWR in the form of a spray or wash. Some DWR restoring solutions are meant to be used when washing a product while others need to be sprayed on.
Double-check before buying that the solution can be used on a sleeping bag and doesn’t require high heat or ironing because that will ruin the bag. Not all solutions require heat so try to find one that won’t damage your sleeping bag.
Be sure to completely clean the sleeping bag before applying anything to it. If you previously washed it with detergent, rinse it thoroughly because it can affect the new DWR coating.