Care and Washing - Down Bags
Down Sleeping Bags and Quilts
Down sleeping bags are expensive items but their initial outlay is offset not only by their quality and performance, but also by their lifespan: with the correct care a down sleeping bag will last for decades.
Mountain Equipment recommend using a sleeping bag liner whenever convenient: it reduces the number of washes a sleeping bag requires, it increases the warmth of your bag, and makes a handy layer to sleep in if your bag proves too warm and you’d rather use it like a blanket. On weight-critical trips we’ll often leave our liner behind, but for valley or recreational camping they’re an excellent idea.
During a trip air your bag whenever possible, especially if it has got wet. This might just mean laying the bag out once you’ve got the tent up rather than leaving it until you go to bed.
After a trip, leave your bag inside out to allow it to air before storing it.
Small stains and spillages can usually be cleaned up with a damp soapy cloth.
Down sleeping bags should be stored in a cool dry place away from direct light sources. Whenever they are to be stored for long periods they should be kept uncompressed (inside a mesh storage bag or Mountain Equipment Storage Cube is perfect), rather than in a tight stuffsack.
Washing and Drying
Down sleeping bags are not easy to wash. Washing them is an involved and time consuming job, and if you have any doubt about carrying out the task yourself then you should send your bag to a specialist down cleaning service, such as Mountaineering Designs. The difficult part is not actually the washing, but the drying. The washing cycle can be done in most large household washing machines, while a tumble drier is extremely useful during the drying stage.
Your down sleeping bag should not be washed frequently; it certainly should not be washed after just a few uses, and many people will never wash their sleeping bag during the lifetime of the product. However, if your bag smells strongly or has lost significant loft due to grease and sweat causing the down to clump, then it is time to wash it.
Most sleeping bags can be washed in a large (>7 kg) front-loading washing machine, though we recommend bags with more than 1000 g of down in to be washed only in >8 kg machines or to be sent to a specialist down cleaning service. Hand washing in a bath is also an option for large bags or very old delicate bags. Instructions can be found at the bottom of the page.
To Machine Wash a Bag.
Bags should be washed at 30 °C on a delicate cycle using a specialist down cleaning product (such as Nikwax Down Wash Direct, Nikwax Tech Wash, or Grangers Down Wash) from an outdoor shop, or soap flakes from a supermarket. The spin cycle speed should be no greater than 800 rpm. The bag will require additional rinsing cycles (up to 3 extra rinses). Make sure no trace of soap remains in the sleeping bag before beginning drying.
Remove your sleeping bag from the washing machine very carefully, as the extra weight of the wet down can cause delicate internal stitches to fail. As this stage the bag may well look ruined – flat, empty, and with the down collected into little hard lumps. Don’t worry.
The next stage is to allow the sleeping bag to drip dry and air dry for a while to start the drying process – don’t hang it over a line but lie it flat on a rack or across a rotary washing line.
Dry the sleeping bag in a tumble drier. The tumble drier should be as large as possible, but avoid using a laundrette’s unless you really trust the temperature setting. Use the lowest heat setting – this is not so important during the start of the drying process but is absolutely essential as the bag dries further; the down will not be affected, but fabrics and transfers can melt. Putting tennis balls or other soft objects in the drier may help break up lumps of down. The drying process may take many hours, particularly for heavier sleeping bags, and it should be checked occasionally to ensure it is not getting too hot. Once much of the bag seems dry, begin to tease apart any small lumps of wet down you can find. These are usually found in the hood, footbox, and collar. Once the lumps are broken up, continue the drying, and repeat this process until the bag is completely dry and no further lumps can be found. If much of the bag is dry and only a couple of lumps are present, a hair drier can do the job of the tumble drier. When you are sure that the bag is thoroughly dried, leave it to air for a day or two before storage.
To Hand Wash a Bag
Fill it the bath with lukewarm (30 degree) water and add the recommended amount of cleaning agent. Mix the cleaner in thoroughly.
If the bag has a water resistant outer such as Drilite – turn it inside out.
Then put the bag in the water and gently immerse it. Treat the bag gently when it is in the water but agitate it to mix the water through the filling and fabrics. Leave it to soak for a little while then agitate again.
When the bag is wet you risk tearing the internal baffles that keep the down in place so treat it gently. To minimise this risk lay the bag flat in the bath and press the water through the bag.
Once the wash has finished rinse the bag thoroughly, three or four times are required as any cleaning products left behind will affect the loft of the bag when it has dried.
When rinsed thoroughly, carefully slide the bag out of the bath into a container to avoid straining the baffles.
Then spread the bag out in warm, well aired place to dry, turning it over regularly. A rotary washing line is ideal.
Then follow the tumble dry instructions above.