Washing Down Sleeping Bags and Jackets

If you spend anytime in the backcountry, chances are you own some down gear. Down sleeping bags and jackets are lightweight, incredibly warm, and super compressible. Just like everything else, down gear gets dirty (and smelly) and needs to be washed. But down gear is so delicate and expensive, that washing it is a little more complicated than just throwing it in with the rest of your laundry.

I’m going to focus on how to wash two different types of Gear. A down jacket, and a down sleeping bag. The jacket’s tag has wash instructions, and yours may too, be sure to check the washing instructions before washing any gear. My down sleeping bag on the other hand, has no instructions. So lets tackle it first.

Down Detergent.

As I mentioned before down is expensive, delicate, high end gear. To keep it protected you want to avoid standard washing detergents. Be sure to use a specialized down detergent like Down Wash from Nixwax. And since we don’t have washing instructions we are going to avoid the potentially harmful motion of the washing machine. Nixwax suggests hand washing in the bath tube, which is what we are going to do. Wash your Down Sleeping Bag in the Bath Tub. Fill the bath tub about 2-3 inches deep and add 3 ounces of down wash. Don’t use too much water or the detergent will be too diluted. Soak your down bag in the tub and gently agitate it by hand. Be sure to use gloves to keep the harmful detergents away from your skin. My sleeping bag was too large to be completely submerged in the water so I gently flipped, rotated, and turned the bag inside out to make sure it was completely washed. Be sure to properly support a wet down bag when flipping or moving. Wet down can be so heavy it will rip straight through the bags baffles. Once the bag is sufficiently clean be sure to rinse with fresh water. Continue to rinse until the water runs clear.

Nikwax Down Wash
Wash You Down Bag in the Bath Tub
Nikwax Down Wash instruction Label

Dry your Down Bag. 

Once again, wet down can be so heavy it will rip your bags baffles. For this reason we don’t want to throw the bag in the dryer. Being sure to properly support your wet down bag lay it out flat somewhere to air dry. To do this I laid three kitchen chairs on their backs and draped the bag across the legs. I threw some towels underneath to catch dripping water. With this method the bag is properly supported and exposed to air on all sides. It took all night for my bag to dry. Periodically I would flip or turn the bag inside out to allow it to dry a little quicker. Once the bag was mostly dry I went ahead and threw it in the dryer along with a couple of tennis balls. The tennis balls help fluff and break up clumps of down inside the bag. Be sure to set the dryer on “low” or “air only” to keep from melting the shell.

I laid 3 kitchen chairs on their backs over a couple of towels to dry my down bag.
Throw in a couple of clean tennis balls to brake up down clumps

Store your Bag Uncompressed. 

It’s not good for down to stay compressed for long periods of time. The stuff sack that came with your bag should only be used when you are on the trail. When your at home store your bag in a large cotton sack. I use a cotton storage sack made by Kelty specifically for this purpose.

Down Sleeping Bag stored in a cotton sack
Down Sleeping Bag stored in a cotton storage sack. I use this sack made by Kelty

Wash Your Down Jacket. 

The down jacket is a little bit easier. With smaller baffles it is less likely wet down will rip through the seems. The jackets label allows for front loading washing machines which are pretty common these days. I followed the label on the Jacket along with the Nixwax instructions.

Washing Instructions for my down jacket. 

Clean Out Your Detergent Dispenser. 

Probably the hardest part of washing down in a washing machine is cleaning out the detergent dispenser. Standard detergents can be harmful to your down gear, so you don’t want any residue mixing in with the down wash. I pulled the detergent drawer completely out and took it to the kitchen sink for a good washing. I had to scrub old detergent out of the despiser with a brillow pad making sure to clean even the hard to reach places. I then went back to the machine and cleaned out the path the detergent flows down to get into the wash. Once it was sufficiently clean, I tossed my down jacket in by its self and pored 3 ounces of down wash in the dispenser. I made sure the washer was set for cold water, gentle cycle with minimal spin cycles.

I cleaned out the detergent dispenser in the kitchen sink
Make sure to use cold water, and low spin.

Drying your Down Jacket

After the washing machine the down jacket came out mostly dry. (probably due to the spin cycle.) The instructions allowed for a drying in a dryer and so I threw the jacket in with a couple of tennis balls. A little while later and the jacket was dry and smelling fresh.

Be sure to check your gear for specific washing instructions and read the label on your down wash. I hope your gear smells as good as mine the next time you take it out on the trail.

1 thought on “Washing Down Sleeping Bags and Jackets”

  1. wow this was really helpful thanks a lot! I needed to wash my down sleeping bag badly, but i didn't want to mess it up. Thanks again!

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