How to look after your sleeping bag – a simple guide

cleaning your sleeping bag in a washing machine

When you are new to camping, it’s easy to overlook the importance of caring for your sleeping bags before and during your camping trip.

Despite being one of the more affordable camping items, sleeping bags are a camping essential and crucial for comfort. We learned this the hard way after a couple of uncomfortable nights when we started camping.

Whilst camping, sleeping bags can be cared for by allowing air circulation and drying during the day, sleeping in clean clothes inside an inner bag liner to protect the inside from body oils and grim. Spot clean your sleeping bag after your camping trip, limiting it to a full wash once a year using Nikwax Tech Wash to avoid damaging the insulation. Repair any tears or frays with a self-adhesive repair kit.

Caring for your sleeping bag during camping

The steps to make sleeping bags last longer and maintain quality are simple and take only a few minutes daily. Ensuring you have a comfortable night’s sleep.

1 – Invest in a sleeping bag liner

Sleeping bag liners will help to keep your sleeping bag clean and add warmth
  • Sleeping bag liners keep your sleeping bag clean and add extra warmth.
  • They prevent body oils and grime from transferring to the inside of your sleeping bag.
  • Sleeping bag liners are cost-effective, ranging from £14.99 to £70.
  • Depending on your preference, look for options made of cotton, linen, or silk.

My liner is a NiCoLa Travel Sleeping Bag Liner from Amazon, and my son has an Iregro Sleeping Bag liner. They are both the same quality and around the same price, under £20.00. We have different colours, which is the only difference. There is plenty of room to move about, very easy to clean compared to a sleeping bag. If you sweat a lot at night, they are easy to dry the following day.

2 – Wear clean clothes at night

Okay, this is simple, although depending on the type of camping you’re doing, this may sometimes be difficult.

  • Always wear clean clothes inside your sleeping bag to maintain hygiene.
  • Sleeping bag liners can help if you can’t change clothes, especially when camping with kids.

Kids love the novelty to curl up in their sleeping bag during the day especially if the weather is not ideal or you are having a chill day. Sometimes asking your kids to change clothes for only a short period is impossible.

This is when the sleeping bag liner will come in very handy.

3 – Daily airing keeps your bag fresh

Don’t pack your sleeping bag away each day. Leave unrolled to air and remove any dampness.

Don’t pack your sleeping bag away each morning. Allow to air as this helps to remove odours.

  • Open your sleeping bag and place it in the sunlight. 
  • If there is a slight breeze to help dry and refresh
  • Once dried and aired, you can safely stow it back in its breathable bag or on the camp bed.

3 – Ensure your sleeping bag is fully dry

Morning dampness in your sleeping bag can be caused by condensation within your tent overnight. 

  • If your sleeping bag is damp, open it fully and hang it outside to dry. 
  • Hang your sleeping bag outside to dry if it feels damp in the morning.
  • Find a suitable location, whether it’s over a camping chair, car bonnet, windbreaker, or in direct sunlight on your car bonnet.
  • If hanging isn’t feasible, try suspending it from a tree, ensuring it won’t get damaged by snagging on branches.
  • Ensure it’s completely dry before storing it in a waterproof bag.

4 – Use a waterproof dry bag with caution

While waterproof dry bags can compress your sleeping bag to save space, they may damage the bag’s loftiness.

  • Always ensure your sleeping bag is completely dry before storing it in one.
  • If camping under typical conditions, store your bag in a dry area without the need for a dry bag

5 – Freshen up with caution

A can of Febreze can help keep your sleeping bag smelling pleasant during your trip.

  • This should be a last resort and not a replacement for proper cleaning.
  • Frequent use of air fresheners can damage your sleeping bag over time due to their chemicals.
  • Use it sparingly and only after you’ve thoroughly aired or dried your bag in the mornings.

6 – Beware of direct heat

Avoid snuggling in your sleeping bag near a heater or fire on colder nights, as this can damage the insulation.

  • Heat can affect the loftiness of down sleeping bags, reducing their ability to retain heat. If you’re sitting in a tent with a fan heater, the down features may break down and clump together.
  • Direct heat can also harm the outer liner by scorching the material and melting the fibers inside, increasing the risk of rips.
  • Instead, keep a blanket handy for colder nights or use a sleeping bag liner to eliminate drafts.

if you are around an open fire, don’t get too close due to sparks.

7 –  Enhance protection with a sleeping mat or pad

Sleeping mats or pads not only provide insulation against the cold ground but also protect your sleeping bag. They prevent dirt and potential damage from items that could rip your bag.

  • Sleeping mats or pads provide insulation and protect your sleeping bag from the cold ground.
  • They also prevent dirt and sharp objects from damaging the bag.

Various types of mats are available, with R ratings indicating their protective capabilities. Higher-rated mats offer more protection. Choose between open and closed cell mats, depending on your preferences and needs.

The closed cell does not have air pockets., whereas the open cell can be fully air or a combination of foam and air. They can be expensive, but a simple foil back mat is suitable if you do not use them often.

To find out more, read our article about the different types of sleeping mats/pads. Understand why it is important to buy the correct one in the style of your sleeping bag.

Maintaining your sleeping bag after your camping trip

When returning home, it’s tempting to unpack your car and stow everything away immediately. However, pay special attention to your sleeping bags to extend their lifespan.

It is very tempting to unpack your car and put everything away in the garage, shed or loft when you arrive home. Either separately or in plastic containers.

1 – Nikwax Tech Wash for cleaning your sleeping bags

Nikwax is ideal for cleaning your sleeping bags in a washing machine or for spot-cleaning sections.

Nikwax is ideal for spot cleaning and fully washing your sleeping bags. 

When washing your sleeping bags, it is essential to check the label first for temperature and if it can be machine washed.

  • Do not use normal household detergents to clean your synthetic or down sleeping bags.
  • Down sleeping bags may differ,always check the labels and ideally use a dry cleaners. However, check first the detergents they use as this will damage them.

Have a look at the Nikwax products available on Amazon. I have found them to be the most cost-effective brand to use. I have tried others, and they have left marks on my sleeping bags. I will always test a new cleaning product on an old sleeping bag, not any new ones. However, always spot-test first.

2 – Proper washing techniques

Depending on your cleaning needs, follow these steps:

  • Spot cleaning – Focus on edges and areas near zips, where dirt tends to accumulate. Mix Nikwax tech wash with water to create a paste and gently clean using a soft toothbrush. Allow it to dry on a washing line or in a well-ventilated area.
  • Washing machine – For a full wash (ideally done once a year to preserve loftiness), turn the sleeping bag inside out and fully zip it. Place it in the washing machine using Nikwax Tech Wash, from Amazon and consider adding a towel to assist with weight distribution. Air dry if possible.
  • Hand washing – Hand wash your sleeping bag in your bathtub. Turn it inside out and fully zip it. Use Nikwax Tech Wash with lukewarm water for a gentle clean, ensuring you rinse thoroughly. Dry it either in a well-ventilated room or on a washing line.

It is important to support the whole sleeping bag when hanging to dry as you do not want to stretch sections of insulation lining.

3 – Repair small rips and frayed edges

Always inspect your sleeping bag for small tears or frayed areas, as they can be easily repaired, eliminating the need to purchase a new one.

Keep a sleeping bag repair kit in your camping essentials, especially if you have kids. Self-adhesive patches are effective in preventing further fraying and rip expansion.

If you see a rip, a kit like the Willbond Self-adhesive repair kit, costing under £10 – £12 on Amazon, can provide quick and reliable solutions. Ensure you choose the appropriate patch size, smooth out wrinkles, and secure it over the damaged area.

I always have sleeping bag repair patches in my emergency repair box. The Willbond Self-adhesive repair kit has 80 different-size patches —a straightforward, quick fix with no worries. I used the kit for the first time last year and it stayed on during our trip, which I did not expect.

They are the same colour and match my sleeping bag. However, my sleeping bag is not nylon or polyester. I removed it when I arrived home and repaired it with a needle and thread.

How to use sleeping bag repair patches

  • Gently push the insulation back into your sleeping bag
  • Select the appropriate patch for your repair
  • Smooth out any wrinkles 
  • Gently remove the repair patch from the sheet
  • Carefully place over the area you want to repair, ensuring the tear is in the centre of the patch.
  • Gently smooth the patch so it is secure.

It is possible to purchase different colour patches if you want to keep the patch the same colour as your sleeping bag, but it will not be an exact match.

4 – Properly store your sleeping bag at home

Avoid storing your sleeping bag in tightly sealed bags like compression bags or plastic containers, as this can compromise its loftiness.

Opt for a well-ventilated room and spread the sleeping bag out to allow proper ventilation, preventing insulation from stretching. If ventilation is challenging, loosely roll it and store it in a cotton bag, ensuring adequate airflow.

Your sleeping bag will remain clean, comfortable, and durable for many future camping adventures.

Related questions

Common mistakes in sleeping bag care

Caring for your sleeping bag might seem straightforward, but there are common mistakes that many people need to realize. 

1. Neglecting cleaning

A big blunder is neglecting to keep your sleeping bag clean. It might not be apparent, but natural oils from your skin, along with body lotions and deodorants, can be harmful to your sleeping bag. Over time, these substances can hamper its performance.

2. Avoid aggressive washing

Another mistake is washing your sleeping bag too aggressively with hot water and a harsh spin cycle. This can harm the insulation. 

It’s crucial to read the instructions carefully. Make sure to use the correct temperature and opt for a gentle spin to remove excess water. 

Afterwards, hang your sleeping bag on a washing line while providing full support.

3. Storing it wet

Storing your sleeping bag when it’s damp can lead to a musty smell and mould growth inside the insulation. Depending on the type of sleeping bag, you might even notice marks on the outside. 

However, storing it in a compression sack for extended periods can harm its fluffiness. To keep your sleeping bag in top shape, store it in a breathable bag in a moisture-free area. Ideally, lay it out so it can breathe properly.

Signs your sleeping bag needs cleaning

It’s essential to know when your sleeping bag requires a good cleaning. 

1. Check the instructions

Always start by checking the instructions provided with your sleeping bag. They often contain valuable information about when and how to clean it.

2. Unpleasant odour

One noticeable sign is a not-so-pleasant smell emanating from your sleeping bag. If it doesn’t smell fresh, it’s likely time for a cleaning. You can air it out and see if the odour disappears.

3. Reduced warmth

If your once-warm sleeping bag isn’t keeping you cosy anymore, this could be another sign that it needs cleaning. Natural body oils can interfere with its thermal efficiency, causing it to lose its heat-retaining abilities. So, if you’re feeling the chill at night, it might be time to wash it well.

We treat our sleeping bags the same as our bedding at home. After each camping trip, I check for dirt and any damage. To avoid a full wash I spot check and only clean sections. Caring for your sleeping bag prolongs its life.


I'm a single parent who loves pitching a tent and exploring the countryside at any opportunity. I am working with a glamping pod company and helping them to set up a family campsite in East Riding Yorkshire.

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