Washing and Maintaining a Sleeping Bag

This is important. When you sleep you do put some sweat and dirt onto the sleeping bag liner, but you also put a whole lot of sweat into your sleeping bag. I believe you can lose up to a litre of water each night this way, although most of it will be in y

Maintenance during and after trips

This is important. When you sleep you do put some sweat and dirt onto the sleeping bag liner, but you also put a whole lot of sweat into your sleeping bag. I believe you can lose up to a litre of water each night this way, although most of it will be in your breath. You bag will slowly get damp, and a damp bag loses its warmth, and if stored like that it gets mouldy and the soft downy feathers break down. End of bag, and not a good thing.

You should wash the liner and pillow slip when you get home each time. Never mind that it was just one night: the dirt and sweat are there. In addition, let the bag air for a day, although not in the sun. Too much sun and you will get UV damage to the fabric. We spread them out on a spare bed in a well-ventilated room for a few days after a trip. Then store the bag loosely, with the down all fluffed up. You can store it in a large light cotton bag for extra protection if you want, but it isn't essential. The top shelf of a wardrobe is just fine for storage. It will last a lot longer that way.

You will probably notice that there are a few feathers floating around in your tent in the morning. It is a sad fact of life that modern light-weight fabrics cannot prevent a few bits of down from escaping, often through the seam holes. It is unlikely that the few bits you lose will affect the warmth of the bag, but you can pull some bits back inside if they are only half way through. This is probably more cosmetic than effective, but it is satisfying.


Dampness during and after trips

The other hazard for down (apart from rough treatment and mould) is damp. Moisture makes the down stick together or clump, and away goes the air. Even if it didn't rain, you sweated each night in the bag and some of that will stay in the down. A bit of TLC* at home is a good thing.

 Note that wet down takes for ever to dry, and keeping your sleeping bag dry is worth fairly extreme efforts. It is also said that extended storage of wet down will accelerate it's breakdown.

If the trip is fairly long you may feel that your bag is losing it's warmth towards the end. This could be true, but is most likely due to the bag slowly getting damp from the moisture you generate each night. During a long trip it can be very worth while hanging your bag over the tent as soon as you pitch the tent, in the sun. Take it in as soon as the sun goes off it, or it will get damp very quickly. You might be surprised at the improvement in warmth each night. This can even work in the snow, as long as the sun is up. This (the sun in our snowfields) does happen sometimes.


Washing a sleeping bag

Actually washing a sleeping bag is something to be avoided if possible. It tends to reduce the loft of the down by stripping out the proper duck oils (seriously). However, when the bag is so dirty that the loft is reduced anyhow (body grease), the time has arrived. Use a small amount of proper down soap or liquid obtained from a good bushwalking shop and follow the directions which come with it. Remember that the sleeping bag shell is not all that strong, and the baffles inside some designs are even weaker and can rip under the weight of a wet bag.

Two methods widely recommended are a front-loading washing machine on the most gentle cycle, and your bath. Top loading machines seem to agitate a bit too roughly. For the bath method (very safe) you lay the bag out in the soapy water and gently walk up and down on it until it is wet, then you massage it gently. Either way, make sure you give it a couple of good rinses to get all the soap out (and another rinse for good measure), and then scoop it up very, very carefully in one compact bundle. Do not try to separate the wet down: you won't succeed and will only damage it.

If you are going to spin dry the bag, be very careful how you arrange it in the tub. It must be packed very loosely around the rim, so no part of it gets stretched. This is very important. However, this will only strip out part of the water: you still have to dry the down inside.

There are also two methods for drying the bag - or rathe rather down inside. The first is a very gentle, warm, front-loading tumble drier, with a couple of tennis balls thrown in to massage the down. Some people have suggested using a pair of old Volleys instead of tennis balls: not with the smell of my Volleys thank you! The second is to let it dry in the wind with a little sun to warm it up, first on the ground and later (when apparently dry) on the clothes line, and to give it a bit of a gentle beating when nearly dry to stir the down up. Allow a whole sunny day for the drying process: it really can take that long to get the water out.

Some dry cleaners advertise that they can wash sleeping bags. They can, but the result is not as good as you might wish. They get the dirt out, but the solvents used tend to strip the proper duck oils off the down, which reduces its life. In general dry cleaning is to be totally avoided for good bags.

Once you have done all this, buy and use a liner inside the bag, and wash that regularly.