How to Store a Sleeping Bag

Jon Fesmire |

You love camping, and on cold nights, your sleeping bag makes the experience even better. If you need to put it in storage between trips, it’s important to take the necessary steps to keep it in good condition.

Here’s how to do just that.

Cleaning Basics

You use your sleeping bag every night while camping without washing it. As a result, dirt and body oils accumulate. It’s important to clean your sleeping bag before you store it.

Do not get your sleeping bag dry cleaned! Whether the stuffing in your bag is down or synthetic, the chemicals used in the dry cleaning process can damage it. You will want to wash it yourself. However, avoid using fabric softener, bleach, or bleach-like products.

Before you actually wash it, we recommend checking the manufacturer’s instructions. They may be on the bag somewhere, possibly on the tag. If not, check the company’s website. Most sleeping bags can be cleaned the following ways.

Tub Washing

To wash your sleeping bag in a bathtub, first, fill the tub with warm or cool water, then add a non-detergent cleaner. Don’t use too much soap. You want some suds, but not a lot. The more suds you have, the longer this process will take.

Once there is enough water in the tub, unzip your sleeping bag and put it in the tub. Manually work the soap and water through the layers and rub soiled areas together to help scrub out the oils and dirt. When satisfied, let the bag soak for one hour.

Drain the tub, then press the bag all over to remove excess soap and water. Put the plug back in the tub, and fill it with lukewarm to warm water again. Don’t use soap this time. Once the bag is soaking, knead it again to work out the soap. Let it sit in the water for about fifteen minutes. Drain the tub again, and press all over the bag again to work out as much soap and water as you can. Repeat these steps until you can detect only water coming out of the bag, no soap.

Next, lift the bag from underneath. If you have a large dryer in your home, carry the bag to the dryer. If not, put it in a large bag and bring it to the laundromat for drying.

If you don’t have access to a machine dryer, you can let it dry at home. The best way is to lay it on a clean surface in the sun. Press and squeeze parts of the bag from time to time to work out clumps in the insulation. It will likely take all day to dry this way.

Machine Washing

You will need a large washing machine for this, so you’ll probably need to take your sleeping bag to the laundromat.

As with washing in the tub, you’ll need a non-detergent soap, preferably one that specifies it’s for items with down or synthetic stuffing. Pick a machine that does not have an agitator (this is the cylinder-like part that sticks up in the middle of many top-loading washing machines). Note that you can use a top-loading or front-loading machine, so long as there is no agitator present.

Run the sleeping bag through on gentle cycle, either warm or cold, and use as little soap as you can. Once it is finished washing, rinse it at least two times. Alternately, you can simply run the wash cycle again, this time without soap. That will help rinse out any extra soap so that your sleeping bag is ready for drying.

Machine Drying

Once you have washed your sleeping bag, either in the tub or a washing machine, you can run it through a dryer at home, if you have one large enough, or at the laundromat.

Run the machine on low heat, and check it often to ensure it’s not getting too hot. Parts of sleeping bags made with plastics can melt under too much heat.

When the bag is almost dry, put several clean tennis balls in the dryer with the sleeping bag. This may seem odd, but they will help keep the stuffing from forming clumps, and will help keep the sleeping bag fluffy.

When finished, roll it gently, not tightly, and bring it home. We recommend laying the bag on a bed or carpet overnight to be completely sure it’s dry.

Storage

Once the bag is completely dry, put the sleeping bag in its a large cotton or mesh sack. This will allow it to breathe and will help ensure no moisture stays trapped inside. Also, when rolling the bag, don’t bind it too tightly. This can damage the loft of the stuffing.

It’s the spaces within the down or synthetic stuffing that make sleeping bags so warm. Your body heat goes into the stuffing and remains, keeping you comfortable while camping on cold nights. As your sleeping bag loses loft, it begins to lose that ability. While they do fluff up again after being pressed, over time, they will lose loft, so help extend the life of your bag by rolling it gently.

We highly recommend putting your sleeping bag—and really anything else you need to store—in a climate controlled self storage unit. Your bag will remain in its best condition when cool and dry, and units that do not have climate control are subject to changes in the weather. You want to keep out the humidity, that can cause mold to grow in your sleeping bags, and any extreme heat, which can melt parts of your bags. Fortunately, climate controlled units cost only about 25% more to rent.

There you have it, how to safely clean and store your sleeping bag. It can be a lot of work, but proper storage will expand the life of your sleeping bag, making your future camping trips even better.