How to Handwash a Sleeping Bag

If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, then it's spring, and it's time to dig out the camping gear.
If you live in the Southern Hemisphere, then it's getting colder and it's time to think about putting it away for the winter.

Either way, it's time to wash your sleeping bag.

Problem:- it won't fit into the washing machine, and if you jam it in there then there won't be any room for the water.
Second problem:- even it if it did fit, then it wouldn't fit into the drier, and the wet bag would be too heavy for a clothes line.

Now you could take it to a Laundromat, but that's hardly in the spirit of this website, so let's handwash it instead.

To wash, you will need:-

a bathtub
a pair of welly boots (gumboots, galoshes, gardening boots) or fishing waders
two pieces of timber long enough to span the bathtub
a roll of Glad Wrap (cling film, Saran Wrap)
some dishwash liquid
a scrubbing brush
washing machine powder (or liquid)

To dry, you will need:-

a pair of saw horses or other strong stands, each at least as tall as the width of the bag
a long, strong metal or wood pole (I used a ten-foot length of 1" square steel tube)
more Glad Wrap
a windy day

Step 1: Clean Your Boots

Using the washing up liquid and the scrubbing brush, clean the outside of the boots.

If they have been used for gardening or in muddy conditions, then there will probably be mud stuck in the tread of the sole, so make sure you get it all out. The object of the exercise is for the sleeping bag to be cleaner at the end than it was at the beginning.

I used a hard-bristled dish-cleaning brush which is dedicated to cleaning gardening tools after use.

Once the boots have been thoroughly cleaned on the outside, give them a rinse with the hose.

When they look as clean as in the last photograph then you're good to go.

Step 2: Protect the Bag From the Beams. and Vice Versa

In the good old days, washer-folk used raw wood tools to manipulate the wet laundry. Those tools were continually cleaned and had long-since leached anything they were going to.

I am using some scrap construction timber. Goodness only knows what is in the timber which could harm or stain the fabric, so I wrapped a spiral of Glad Wrap around it. Use plenty, so it is overlapped several layers over the wood, and there is lots to crimp flat and fold over at the end.

Put the beams to one side.

Step 3: Wash

Finding the right amount of soap powder to use takes a bit of doing. I found out what volume of water my washing machine used for a load (which uses one cup of powder) and then did some rough calculation to figure out that the bathtub would use three times that much water to half-fill.

I filled the bathtub half-way with hot water, then added the soap powder and the sleeping bag.

Now the fun part. Put your boots on, and trample all over the sleeping bag, making sure that as much air as possible is forced out from the batting.

Two or three shuffles up and down the tub with your feet forming a herringbone pattern should be enough to get the soapy water deep into the material.

Then leave the tub for ten or twenty minutes to let the enzymes in the detergent work their magic. Put a rubber duck in the tub to keep your sleeping bag company: look after your gear, and it will look after you.

Step 4: Rinse and Repeat

After the wait, get back into your boots, and give the bag another good trample to force as much water as possible out of the batting. Then push the sleeping bag up to the end of the tub furthest from the plughole. Pull the plug and stand in the tub keeping the sleeping bag away from the drain until most of the water has gone.

Get out of the tub, and place the two plastic wrapped wooden bars across the tub and drape one end of the sleeping bag across one (the bag is _really_ heavy at this point, so don't put your back out.

Then hoist the other end out, and lay it over the other beam. Try to keep as much as possible of the sleeping bad away from contact with the bottom of the tub.

Leave it there for five to ten minutes to drain.

Then remove the beams, dropping the sleeping bag back into the tub, and refill the tub with clean, cold water.

Trample again to get the clean water into the material and the last of the dirty water out.

Repeat the draining exercise, and then repeat the rinsing exercise.

On the final draining, leave the sleeping bag for ten minutes, then readjust it to get more of it off the bottom of the tub and leave it for another ten minutes, so that as much water as possible drains from it.

Step 5: Dry

The sleeping bag should now be light enough to lift into a washing basket and carried outside. If you have an undercover drying area, then that will do, but things will be a lot slower.

Set up the saw horses and lay the plastic wrapped pole across them. If it is possible to zip the sleeping bag around the pole then you are more fortunate than I am.

To speed drying, I left the sleeping bag on the pole for an hour, then turned it inside out and put it back. I repeated that process a couple of times during the four or five hours that it took to dry.

This method also works great for duvets/quilts/comforters. Although I wouldn't clean any priceless heirlooms this way, it does a great job of getting everyday bedding clean and dry without going to the laundrette.

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    2 Discussions

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    Penolopy Bulnick

    3 months ago

    I actually have never thought about how to wash a sleeping bag. Thanks for sharing how :)

    1 reply
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    Alex in NZPenolopy Bulnick

    Reply 3 months ago

    Thanks for your comment. As I said in the intro, some laundromats have extra large machines which wash them, but it would make for a really short 'Ible to say "Take it to the shop" :-)