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Down Sleeping Bag Cleaning

Down sleeping bag cleaning can seem challenging, but it's really not.

green down sleeping bag

Here's how to easily wash and dry your down filled sleeping bags.

Dry cleaning? No!

If the tag on your down filled sleeping bag says "Dry clean only", ignore it!

Dry cleaning will reduce a down bag's loft, which reduces its warmth.

So, why is that tag there?

My guess is that it's because washing a down sleeping bag incorrectly can completely ruin it.

I guess the sleeping bag manufacturers figure that damaging the bag a little bit (by dry cleaning) is better than ruining it completely (by improper washing.)

Fortunately, you don't have to do either. Down sleeping bag cleaning is easy when you know how.


Down sleeping bags can be hand washed or machine washed. I prefer to machine wash. Keep reading and you'll understand why.

The difficult way: Hand washing

If I had a very expensive top-of-the-line down bag, I might hand wash it. No, let's be honest, I wouldn't - because hand washing a down sleeping bag is a lot of work! (I did it once, and that was enough!)

If you want to give it a try, though, here's how it's done.

The easy part

  • Fill a bathtub with lukewarm water.
  • Add soap. You can buy choose to use expensive "down soap", or you can just use a gentle liquid laundry soap.

bathtub full of sudsy water

  • Place the sleeping bag in the tub and submerge it completely.
  • Gently rub and squeeze it so that the soapy water soaks all parts of the bag. Let the bag soak for an hour or so. 

The hard part

Now you're going to have to remove that soap! Here's how:

  • Drain the tub. 
  • Gently knead the bag to push out the suds. 
  • Fill the tub with lukewarm water. 
  • Rinse, push out the suds, and repeat - again and again - until all of the soap has been removed. Don't wring or lift the bag.
  • Now you have a heavy, soaking sopping mass of wet down. You can't pick it up, because the weight of the wet down will rip the inner fabric of the bag.
  • Gently press out as much water as you can. Don't wring
  • Gently gather the bag up onto a large bath towel. 
  • Lift the towel and place the whole mess into a large plastic tub.
  • Haul it to your washing machine. 
  • Carefully lift the towel, and gently ease the sleeping bag into the machine.
  • If you have a front loader, great! If not, carefully arrange the bag around the agitator, the big sticking up piece. (You're not going to run the bag through a wash cycle, so you don't have to worry about the agitator damaging the bag.)
  • Set the machine to "spin". You'll need at least one complete spin cycle - maybe more than one - to get out all of the water.

Whew. That was a lot of work! Now you know why I prefer using a washing machine for down sleeping bag cleaning!

The easy way: Machine washing

Why not just make a trip to the laundromat and use a heavy duty front loading washing machine?

commercial front loading washer

If you are washing a small sleeping bag, and if you have a front loader at home, you can use that. For larger bags, though, always use a commercial washer.

  • Do up the zipper before putting the bag into the machine.

sleeping bag zipper zipped

  • Use the gentle cycle.

That's all there is to it!


  • When the washing machine spin cycle is finished, carefully transfer the bag to the dryer. Most of the water has been spun out of the bag, but it is still damp and quite heavy.
  • Don't lift the bag by itself. Instead, place a towel under the sleeping bag and lift the towel.
  • Dry on low heat.

commercial dryer

If you're at the laundromat, ensure that the dryer has a "low heat" option and that it doesn't overheat.

heat controls on commercial dryer

Many commercial dryers have just one temperature: extra hot! Excessive heat will melt the fibers in your bag.

Tips for down sleeping bag cleaning

Use a quality down cleaner.

Gear Aid down cleaner

Gear Aid gets excellent reviews on Amazon.

Those who have tried it say that it gets their down sleeping bags and coats clean and fluffy.

Put a fluffy bath towel in the dryer with the sleeping bag.

 This will absorb water and speed drying time.

Put a couple of clean tennis balls in the dryer, too.

These will fluff up the down - but put them in just for the last few minutes of the cycle.

You may have heard that you should put a tennis shoe in the dryer to fluff up the bag. Don't. This can damage the down.

Don't air dry a down bag.

It will take too long, and the bag may become mildewed in the process.

Down sleeping bag cleaning doesn't have to be done often - just when the bag is very soiled, or beginning to smell.

You can reduce the need for down sleeping bag cleaning by using a sleeping bag liner.

Once your bag is nice and clean, be sure to store it properly. Here's what you should know about sleeping bag storage.

Now that you know all about down sleeping bag cleaning, learn how to clean your synthetic sleeping bags.

Click here to learn how to choose the right sleeping bags for your family.

Go to The Camping Family home page.

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