Growing up in a camping family and joining scouting gave me a love of camping from an early age. Ask anybody who tent camps that one of your most valuable pieces of equipment is your sleeping bag. A well maintained sleeping bag can mean the difference between a comfortable good nights sleep after outdoor adventures or a long miserable night one the cold ground. Something that you can do to make sure your bag is working at peak efficiency is to periodically give it a wash. If you are a typical camper, you should only do a full wash about every year or so. You can do small spot treatments in between. If you are a hardcore weekend warrior who camps every weekend, you will need to wash a bit more frequently. Now there are services where you can send in you bags to be cleaned, but its just as easy to do at you home! Disclaimer: If ever in doubt about how to maintain any camping equipment, check the manufacturer's website. They often have FAQs that will be able to help. So lets get to it!
Step 1: Supplies
There is a couple of ways to go about this, hand washing (which is a bit better) or using a front loading washing machine. I will be hand washing but will be covering some aspects of both methods. If you decide to had wash, you will just need a bathtub, your dirty sleeping bag and some specialty sleeping bag detergent (or a regular mild detergent, no liquids though). Most manufacturers recommend Nexiwax wash, which are specialized for either down or synthetic sleeping bags. If you are machine washing, you need a front loading washing machine (MUST NOT HAVE AN AGITATOR, THIS CAN RUIN THE SLEEPING BAG!). You will also need a rope to hang your sleeping bag to dry or a dryer with a low heat setting and a few tennis balls
Step 2: Prepare the Wash
Before you wash your bag, be sure you know what type of sleeping bag it is, either natural down or synthetic. If you have a down sleeping bag, it is much safer to hand wash rather than using a machine. Synthetics can be washed in a machine but again only if they don't have the agitators as they can damage the nylon shells and ruin the loft (the fluffiness of the bag). For both wash methods, you will want to use warm water rather than hot. Fill the tub up halfway and add your soap. Make sure that the soap is a non-liquid and doesn't contain bleach especially if you have a natural down sleeping bag.The feathers in them have oils on them that add to their insulation properties and bleach has a tendency to remove them. The liquid soaps tend to leave a residue even after rinsing.
Step 3: Add the Sleeping Bag
After you have the water ready, turn your sleeping bag inside out and zipped closed. Do this for both hand washing and machine washing. We are doing this to make sure any debris that was carried into the bag is cleaned out. Once inverted, you can place it in the tub/ machine. Be sure the bag is submerged everywhere. Let the bag soak in the tub for 10-15 minutes to allow the soap to do its job and to let the water seep into the sleeping bag. If you are using a machine, use the delicate setting so the bag is less likely to get damaged.
Step 4: Agitate (Gently)
For this step its time to take off your shoes and socks and agitate the water. One of the best ways I have found to do this is to climb into the tub and step on the sleeping bag. Walk around on the sleeping bag as if you were stomping grapes but did not have a vendetta against grapes. Continue to agitate the water until you feel that your bag has been thoroughly cleaned.
Step 5: Drain
For this step, let the dirty water drain from the tub. You will want to squeeze out the excess dirty water from your sleeping bag by walking on it or by folding it over on itself and compressing. Be very careful when moving the sleeping bag as they are very very heavy and we don't want them to rip. Whatever you do, NEVER try to wring out a sleeping bag. This will ruin the insulation and make your sleeping bag worthless.
Step 6: Rinse
To rinse, just use cold water and fill the tub up until the bag is submerged. Lightly agitate and squeeze the bag to make sure you have gotten the soap completely out. Drain and refill until the water that is squeezed out of the bag comes out clean. Once it does, remove the excess water like we did in the previous step and allow the bag to drain for 15 minutes. If you are using a washing machine, you can use an extra spin cycle if the bag comes out wet after the wash cycle is complete.
Step 7: Drying
For the final step, hang your sleeping bag across a piece of rope and let it air dry. Air drying is the best method for both down and synthetic sleeping bags. The only downside is that it takes a very long time. For mine to dry completely it took around 20 hours. If you use a dryer, use the lowest possible heat setting and throw a few tennis balls into the dryer. These will help to break up any clump of insulation that may have formed and to maintain the loft of the sleeping bag. Once the bag is dry you are ready to take it back out into the field. Thanks for reading and I hope this tutorial has made your camping trips more enjoyable!