Person pulling a sleeping bag out of the dryer and taking out tennis balls

How to wash a sleeping bag

Your sleeping bag might not seem like a piece of gear that requires much maintenance, but taking good care of it will help it last longer – and keep you warmer. Use these tips to keep your synthetic or down bag in tip-top shape.

Find out about:

  • General care tips: Advice for sleeping and storage.
  • Spot washing: In case of dirty smudges.
  • Washing a down sleeping bag: How to give it some TLC to help it last a long time.
  • Washing a synthetic sleeping bag: A few tips for a smooth wash.

How to take care of your sleeping bag

Follow these best practices to look after your sleeping bag on the road and once you get home:

  • Always use a sleeping pad. It’ll keep you warmer and protects your sleeping bag from dirt, sticks and thorns.
  • Wash up before bed. If you’re wearing sunscreen or bug spray, do a quick swipe with a face wipe or bandana to keep oils from migrating into your bag.
  • Sleep in clean clothes. Wearing clothing you’ve hiked or cooked in can bring sweat, body oils, dirt and food particles into bed. Over time, these contaminate sleeping bag insulation, which makes it clump together and become less effective.
  • Pick the right base layers to sleep in. Clothes that are too warm can make you sweat during the night, which can contaminate your sleeping bag insulation.
  • Try a sleeping bag liner. It’s a lightweight way to protect your bag from sweat and body oils. It’s easy to wash after trips and adds a bit of warmth on chilly nights.
  • Air out your sleeping bag daily on your trip. During breakfast, unzip it and lay it over your tent so any condensation can dry before you stuff it back into your stuff sack.

How to store your sleeping bag

Storing your sleeping bag properly helps it last longer.

  • Air it out when you get home. Use the loops on the footbox to hang it from a hanger, or hang it over the back of a couch, on a clean floor or from the top of a door. Make sure your sleeping bag is completely dry before you put it away.
  • Loosely stuff it into a large cloth sack or mesh bag. A big pillowcase works too. Don’t keep it in a small stuff sack for long-term storage, because this will compress the insulation fibres and it will lose its fluffiness.
  • Store it in a clean, ventilated area. A large closet is a good spot.


Following these tips will help keep your sleeping bag clean, so you won’t need to wash it very often. If your sleeping bag gets really dusty or muddy, or it stops keeping you as warm as it used to, it’s time to wash it.

“I have a 5-year-old bag that I use about 20 nights a year, and I washed it for the first time last year.” – Taryn E., MEC Product Information Specialist

How to spot wash a sleeping bag

Unless your bag is very dirty, you can get away with washing only the soiled spots. Spot washing can help your sleeping bag last longer, since a full wash puts it through more wear and tear.

You’ll need:

  • Slightly soiled sleeping bag
  • Mild soap (like dish soap)
  • Water
  • An old toothbrush or cloth

Spot washing instructions

  1. Make a paste of a little soap and water.
  2. Hold the soiled shell or liner fabric away from the insulation, and use the toothbrush or cloth to gently clean it.
  3. Rinse it carefully to keep the inner fill from getting wet, then let it air-dry.
  4. Make sure it’s completely dry before you put it away.

How to wash a down sleeping bag

Sometimes, a spot wash just won’t cut it. After a particularly dirty or wet trip (or if your down sleeping bag just isn’t keeping you as warm as it used to) it might be time for a full wash.

When you buy a down sleeping bag, it’s super lofty and puffy. Over time, it gets less lofty as the down gets contaminated with dirt and body oils and starts to clump together. Washing your sleeping bag helps break up clumps and restore the down’s fluffiness and performance, but it’s a delicate balance – down is fragile, so you don’t want to wash it too often.

If you have a hybrid down/synthetic sleeping bag, you’ll also want to follow these instructions. A 2-person down sleeping bag might be too big for a home washing machine, so your best bet is to go to the laundromat.

You’ll need:

Items you need to wash a down sleeping bag

Note: we don’t recommend dry cleaning or bleaching your sleeping bag. Don’t use fabric softener as it will damage the down fibres. If you’re machine washing, make sure it’s a front-loading machine with a gentle cycle. Top-loading machines with a central agitator can cause damage.

Instructions for washing a down bag

Before you start, read the manufacturer’s instructions on your bag’s tag. If they differ from this advice, go with their recommendations.

1. Close things up: Close all zippers and Velcro® attachments.

2. If you’re handwashing: Fill a large sink or bathtub with lukewarm water and a small amount of mild soap or down cleaner (see instructions on the bottle).

  • Submerge the sleeping bag. Push it up and down a few times to work in the suds, then let it soak for a while. If there are any soiled areas on the shell fabric, use a sponge to work them out.
  • Drain the soapy water out of the tub and press as much as possible out of the bag.
  • Fill the tub with clean water and press it into the bag, then drain. Rinse until the water is clear and free of soap – this might take six or more rinses.
  • Drain as much water as possible out of the bag. A plastic laundry basket makes a handy “strainer.” Don’t twist or wring out your bag, as this will make the fibres clump together and could tear the fabric.

If you're washing by hand, then gently press out excess water – no wringing out the bag.

3. If you’re machine washing: Make sure it’s a front-loading machine with a gentle cycle. Top-loading machines with a central agitator can cause damage.

  • Wash your sleeping bag by following the instructions on the down cleaner bottle.
  • Use a second rinse cycle if possible, and at least a couple of spin cycles.

4. Carefully move the sleeping bag to the dryer: When it’s wet, down is very heavy. Cradle your wet sleeping bag like a baby as you carry it from the sink, tub or washing machine to the dryer, so you don’t tear the fabric or stitching.

Placing a wet down sleeping bag in the dryer

5. Dry on lowest heat: Dry your sleeping bag in a large dryer on the lowest heat setting – this can take a few hours. Add a couple of clean tennis balls to help it dry faster and break up any clumps. Drying may take a while, but you’ll want to make sure it’s completely dry before you remove it.

We don’t recommend air-drying a down sleeping bag – it would take several days and your bag could attract mould or mildew.

How to wash a synthetic sleeping bag

Person pulling a clean sleeping bag out of the dryer

Synthetic insulation is less delicate than down and doesn’t clump as much, so it’s easier to care for and you can wash it more often. Still, sleeping bags aren’t designed to be washed like your underwear, so don’t head to the laundry room after every trip.

You’ll need:

  • Your synthetic sleeping bag
  • Mild soap, or soap made for cleaning synthetic insulation (like Nikwax Tech Wash or Granger’s Performance Wash)
  • Large sink or bathtub for handwashing, or a front-loading washing machine
  • Dryer
  • Clean tennis balls

Note: we don’t recommend dry cleaning or bleaching your sleeping bag because chemicals are too harsh. If you’re machine washing, make sure it’s a front-loading one with a gentle cycle. Top-loading machines with a central agitator can cause damage.

Instructions for washing a synthetic bag

Before you start, read the manufacturer’s instructions on your bag’s tag. If they differ from this advice, go with their recommendations.

1. Close things up: Close all zippers and Velcro® attachments.

2. If you’re handwashing: Fill the large sink or bathtub with lukewarm water and a small amount of mild soap or cleaner and submerge the sleeping bag.

  • Push it up and down a few times to work in the suds, then let it soak for a while. If there are any soiled areas on the shell fabric, use a sponge to work them out.
  • Drain the soapy water out of the tub and press as much as possible out of the bag.
  • Fill the tub with clean water and press it into the bag, then drain. Rinse repeatedly until the water is clear and free of soap – this might take six or more rinses.
  • Drain as much water as possible out of the bag. A plastic laundry basket makes a handy “strainer” for this part.

3. If you’re machine washing: Make sure it’s a front-loading one with a gentle cycle. Top-loading machines with a central agitator can cause damage. Use a second rinse cycle if possible, and at least one spin cycle.

4. Dry on lowest heat: Carefully move your sleeping bag into the dryer and dry it on the lowest heat setting – this can take a few hours. Add a clean tennis ball or two to help it dry faster and break up any clumps. Make sure it’s completely dry before you remove it.

If you prefer to air-dry your synthetic sleeping bag, lay it flat on a large towel or clean grass in the sun or partial shade. As it dries, use your hands to break up any clumps of insulation. Make sure it’s totally dry before you put it away.