Do you suffer from soup and coffee stains on your down parka? Does your down bag give off an ominous scent sure to repel ill-tempered Sasquatch? Friend, you have suffered the trail funk long enough; it’s time to do something about it! In this post I’ll show you step by step how you can WYO (Wash Your Own) down gear. With a little TLC you can refresh your down gear and even improve its performance.
Options for Washing Down Sleeping Bags and Garments
There are right and wrong ways to do this. Going about it the wrong way may destroy your expensive down sleeping bag!
- Bag Laundering Service:
A laundering service such as Rainy Pass Repair out of Seattle Washington specializes in laundering down bags, garments, and repairing outdoor gear. If you don’t want to do it yourself then definitely find someone like these folks. The downside of course is the associated cost and the turn around time which might be 2 weeks or more.
- Hand Washing:
Hand washing is the way to go if you’re going to wash your own. This is what we’re going to talk about in just a second.
- Dry Cleaning Service:
DO NOT take your bag, or down clothing to a dry cleaner. The harsh chemicals they use will shorten its life and strip away insulating properties of the down.
- Machine Washing:
DO NOT use a washing machine. The rotary motion can be tough on delicate seams, especially with lightweight fabrics that many sleeping bag shells are made of.
How to Hand Wash a Down Sleeping Bag or Quilt
If you decided to WYO, here’s a run down.
First, you’ll need a few things:
- A Bathtub or large wash basin
- A clothes dryer
- Clean tennis balls, 2-3 of them. Yes, you will need these.
- Specialty soap such as Nikwax Down Wash or a non-detergent soap such Dr. Bronners Magic Soaps
- About an hour of your free time
Keep the sleeping bag compressed up until you’re about to put it into the bathtub.
Fill the tub with about 8 inches of warm water. Check the directions on the soap for the correct amount to use, Nikwax recommends 3 cap fulls for washing in the tub.
Remove the sleeping bag from its stuff sack and lay it out in the tub – or as commenter LightDan suggested, just put the stuff sack underwater, then remove the bag from it. The less air in the bag the better. Knead and press it under water. Try to work as much air out as possible to work the soap into the down. Continue doing this up and down the length of the bag. It’s going to take a little (lots of) effort. After about 10-15 minutes of it should be looking like a dead jellyfish and your bathwater may be a tad bit disgusting.
Drain the tub and squeeze as much of the wash water out of the bag as you can. If the bag and wash water were really gross you may elect to give it a second wash, just repeat steps 2-4.
Refill the tub with warm water. Knead and work the bag like you did earlier. The goal is to rinse out as much of the soap as possible. After kneading for a bit, let it soak for 5-10 minutes then drain the tub and squeeze as much of the rinse water out of the bag as you can. Rinse it under running warm water for a few minutes if you feel it still has some soap inside.
Transfer the bag to your clothes dryer. Put the tennis balls in the dryer with it. Do NOT put any fabric softener sheets in the dryer, only the sleeping bag and the tennis balls. LOW heat is desirable, if your bag/quilt has a 5D or 10D shell you may even elect for no heat to avoid potentially melting the delicate material. Ok, so just let it tumble. It will probably take at least one cycle to fully dry. The purpose of the tennis balls is to break up clumps of down which ensures the down will dry completely. Without them this will take A LOT longer.
When your bag is all done drying (there should not be any clumps of down) use your hands to massage the down into the baffles. Some bags allow for down to be moved around more than others so there may be a lot or not much to do on this step. Congrats, your bag is all fresh and ready for your next trip!
Taking Care of Down Gear
Down loses some of its insulating properties as it gets dirty, and of course it gets heavier too. Just a couple of reasons why birds are constantly preening. Washing your down gear once a year is probably often enough for the average Jane or Joe, crazy berserker hikers may need to wash more regularly. Keeping gear clean is not an easy task, of course. One way to keep your sleeping bag a little cleaner is to always sleep in base layers, or use a bag liner. Either way will reduce the transfer of oils from your skin into the bag, and eventually into the down.
Airing out down gear will increase its lifespan as well. A few minutes laid out in the sun can dry out any moisture absorbed by sleeping bags and clothing overnight. If you have down-filled air mattresses don’t blow them up with lung power, instead use some type of pump or a contraption such as the Instaflator. This will prevent moist air getting into the air mattress where it will have a hard time drying out. Storing down that’s still damp is an invitation for mold, mildew, and degradation of the down. Long term storage should be done in an un-compressed condition.
Lastly, be careful applying any type of DWR spray to the shells of down gear. You may increase the water resistance of the kit, but at the same time you may decrease it’s ability to breathe. If moisture can’t escape then the down will become saturated and will no longer insulate you.
Show your down gear some love and it will treat you well in kind. Make sure to approach any cleaning the “right way” and follow the manufacturer’s care instructions when in doubt. That’s it. Enjoy your feathers! Hike It. Like It.