How to Wash a Sleeping Bag

Hanging sleeping bags

If you are like us, then you probably do a lot of hiking and camping, which means that a sleeping bag is a big part of your equipment. However, you have probably realized by now that sleeping bags do get sweaty, stinky, and really dirty, especially if you are an avid camper.

Simply put, they get nasty, to the point where you would rather not have to climb inside of it during the night due a horrid smell and a variety of indefinable stains. Well, washing a sleeping bag is definitely possible, although not particularly easy or enjoyable.

That said, washing a sleeping bag is a necessary evil that probably every camper has to deal with at some point. How to wash a sleeping bag with as little effort is what we want to discuss, so you can get back to camping in comfort!

Spot Cleaning A Sleeping Bag

Alright, so maybe you only slept in your sleeping bag a couple times and it got a little sweaty. Maybe you spilled something on it, or something of the sort. Whatever the case may be, if you don’t have to go through a full blown sleeping bag washing process, you can always spot clean it. If you are like us, and you don’t want to spend hours washing a sleeping bag, a spot clean might be the best way to go.

After all, there’s really no point in wasting a bunch of time and money fully washing a sleeping bag when there are only a couple spots that need some TLC. If you want to do a small spot wash, to clean the roughest areas of the sleeping bag, all you need to do is mix some soap and hot water in a bowl, take a soft bristle toothbrush, or something similar, and scrub away.

Be sure to not use any harsh detergents, as you may damage the sleeping bag or destroy the liners. Also, a soft bristle brush is more than enough here. Sleeping bags aren’t usually all that durable and won’t stand up well to being scrubbed with a stiff brush.

Also, try holding the shell or liner, where you will probably be doing most of the spot cleaning, away from the insulation so it doesn’t get wet. If you are only doing a spot treatment, you really do not want to get that insulation wet. Generally speaking, unless the sleeping bag somehow got super dirty, it’s probably not going to need a full wash for quite some time.

Machine Washing A Sleeping Bag

Up until about a decade ago, most sleeping bags could not be machine washed due to various reasons. Nowadays, there are many sleeping bags that can be machine washed, at least some, but do keep in mind that you really need a front loading washing machine to wash a sleeping bag because most top loader machines cannot handle a sleeping bag. That said, some front loaders, due to being smaller and more energy efficient, also may not be able to fully wash a large and heavy sleeping bag.

Use cool or warm water to machine wash a sleeping bag. Don’t use too much detergent, or else the sleeping bag will get too sudsy and your washing machine won’t be able to remove all of the soap before the cycle is done.

When the machine spins out, to remove as much water as possible, the sleeping bag is probably going to stick to a certain area, so to try and even the weight out, add a few towels or other clothing articles you want to wash.

Sleeping bags, due to being so thick, are going to retain a lot of soap, so you may need to go through 2 or 3 rinse cycles until all soap is removed.

Below we want to cover how to hand wash a sleeping bag, and then we will talk about how to dry these bad boys with minimal effort or mess.

washing machine

Washing a Sleeping Bag By Hand

Ok, so your sleeping bag is super dirty, you got it sweaty, you got it muddy, and you spilled some spaghetti on it. It probably looks pretty rough and smells even worse, but what can you do? You might just have a sleeping bag that can’t be machine washed, which is often the case, and they really should not be dry cleaned either.

This means that you have to hand wash it, and although it’s a pain in the neck, it might just be your only option to go with, that is if you actually want to sleep in a clean and fresh-smelling sleeping bag once again. So, how do you hand wash a sleeping bag without going insane?

You are going to need a bathtub for this, especially if you have a thick winter sleeping bag that’s super bulky. Fill the bathtub with warm water and soap. Be sure to research what kind of soap you can use with the synthetic material of your sleeping bag. The wrong kind of soap may ruin it. Always use only a small amount of soap, because if you use too much, the sleeping bag will get way too sudsy and saturated with soap, which is then a nightmare to rinse out.

Take the sleeping bag and lay it in the warm and soapy water. Work the soap through it and gently massage all parts of the sleeping bag, preferably while submerged in that same warm and soapy water. If there are heavily soiled areas of the sleeping bag, rub them against each other, or against cleaner parts of the sleeping bag to clean them.

You should also let the sleeping bag soak in this water for an hour, or more, depending on how dirty and smelly it is. Keep in mind that you really don’t want to use a brush for this, as you may rip or tear the sleeping bag, or just brush away parts of the shell.

Once the sleeping bag has soaked for an hour or so, drain the tub of all water, squeeze as much water out of the sleeping bag as you can, and then fill up the tub with more water. Now you want to fill up the tub with warm or cool water, the purpose of which is to rinse out of all that soap, which is probably all brown and nasty at this point. You want to work the soap out of the sleeping bag by gently massaging it and just working it around. You may need to drain the water out of the tub, fill it up, and work out the soap multiple times. Repeat this rinsing process until there is no soap left in the sleeping bag or in the water.

Squeeze the sleeping bag, roll it, lean on it, anything you can do to squeeze as much water out of it as you can. You don’t want it dripping wet when you go to carry it to the dryer or the clothesline to let it dry, or else you will have another mess to clean up. Drying is a different story, so let’s move on to that now.

Drying Your Soaking Wet Sleeping Bag

Air Drying

You may have a sleeping bag which states that you should not put it in a dryer, in which case your only choice is to hang it up to air dry it. Be sure that you put it somewhere sunny, dry, and with good airflow. There is nowhere better to do this than outdoors in the sun on a dry and windy day. You will have to beat the sleeping bag with a carpet clapper or something similar on occasional, as it dries, to break up any clumps that may have formed during the washing process.

Using a Dryer

For the most part, sleeping bags can be put in the dryer, although not always. That said, let’s talk about how to dry your sleeping bag in a dryer for the best results.

Use a low heat setting if you are going to put a sleeping bag in the dryer. High heat settings may melt various components of the sleeping bag, or you might shrink it, and no grown adult wants a dwarf-sized sleeping bag.

When the sleeping bag is nearly dry, add some clean tennis balls into the dryer. This will act like the ball bearings in a can of spray paint, and it will break clumps and keep things smooth.

Always make sure that the sleeping bag is totally dry before you put it away, or else it will get moldy and start to smell super bad.

Other Tips For Keeping Sleeping Bags Clean

If you don’t want to have to wash your sleeping bag as often, there are some steps you can take to keep it clean for longer.

Something that will help your sleeping bag stay cleaner for longer, and stop it from stinking like body odor, is to sleep in clean clothes. You might not like sleeping in clothes at all, as is the case with some of us, but that layer of fabric between your arm pits and the sleeping bag will make a difference. It’s debatable, but sleeping in a sleeping bag with dirty clothes might just be worse for cleanliness than not sleeping in any clothes at all.

Something else you can do to help keep your sleeping bag clean is to use some kind of mat or padding. The closer your sleeping bag is to the ground, especially dirt, the dirtier and moister it will get. Simply put, don’t just plop your sleeping bag on the ground.

Another step you can take to help keep your sleeping bag clean is to use a sleeping bag liner. These are special liners you can insert into a sleeping bag to provide an extra layer of protection between you and the bag. They will help keep your sleeping bag from getting moist, sweaty, and dirty.

Some people enjoy using a sleeping bag like a canvas bag, jumping around in it, which is definitely not good. Not only will this totally destroy the toe box of the sleeping bag, but it will also get it really dirty.

Don’t get your sleeping bag near the fire. Although fire might be a big time cleanser and bacteria killer, a burnt sleeping bag full of holes won’t do you much good.

It’s probably best not to lend your sleeping bag to anybody else, especially to someone who is known for having poor hygiene. You don’t want Bush Whack Bill who hasn’t showered for the past week, to get in your clean sleeping bag.

When it comes to storing your sleeping bag, always put it in a dry and somewhat cool place. Anywhere that won’t cause mold to occur should be fine. On that same note, you might also want to get a special airtight storage container or bag for when the sleeping bag is not in use.


The bottom line is that sleeping bags are a great thing to have — they are warm, comfy, and portable. However, as is the case with us humans, we are dirty and we grease up everything around us. To make sure that you don’t get into a dirty, moldy, and odor-filled sleeping bag the next time you go camping, be sure to store it properly. If it does need a wash, maybe start with some spot cleaning, but for any serious dirt and odor, you’ll probably want to do a thorough wash.