Washing a down sleeping bag

wrote this on 22 September 2011. 8,134 views. 14 Comments. Last Modified: December 5, 2011
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cleaning  Alpkit SkyeHigh 800 down Sleeping bagOur Alpkit Skyehigh sleeping bags are getting a bit smelly even with the silk liners. We have tried a few times to organise to send them off to a specialist, but have always mistimed it.

If you have the space, we found that hanging them outside to air did remove the smell, though that didn’t clean them. It is hard to find a place outside that is away from the rain, where the bags will not get blown away or nicked, especially when you live on the ground floor on an estate.

So we decided to give it at shot at cleaning one of the bags ourselves, against better judgement. We had the credit card at the ready in case we should stuff it up.

Before you even start thinking about cleaning your down sleeping bag do read this: Cleaning Down Sleeping Bags, a guide written by the great people at Alpkit.

If I were to do this again, I WILL* send it to the company that Alpkit recommend: WE Franklins of Sheffield (+44 (0)114 268 6161). Though the last few times that we have tried to contact them they haven’t called or emailed back. I wonder if they have gone out of business? Alpkit (see comment below) told me that they now using http://www.mountaineering-designs.co.uk/ on phone : +44 1539 536333, email: info@mountaineering-designs.co.uk

*) This becomes very clear to you as you read the rest below.

Still ready to give it a shot? Well, first of all do read that Alpkit guide again first. What you need is at least 2-3 golf balls or tennis balls. Dry towels, you will need a fair few of them. Bathtub with a shower head. A tumble dryer, preferable a large one that can do low heat. Some sort of a rack* that you can lay your sleeping bag on so that it is above ground and air can circulate around it. Cleaner, could be soap flakes or down cleaner. Two whole days free with nothing booked in, you will need it.

*) We used our clothes dryer rack and some boxes along with a chair to make a “sleeping bag grill”.

Yesterday, I filled the bathtub with lukewarm water and added the cleaner, Granger’s Down Cleaner. I dropped in the sleeping bag into the drink. Then I started to worry, was this a good move after all? At first the bag wouldn’t soak the water, the fabric is rather waterproof. So after some light persuasion I managed to get the bag wet. I then left the sleeping bag to it and had a cuppa and went to the laptop. It was then that I started to read about people who had stuffed up their down sleeping bag cleaning attempt, gulp!

20 or so minutes later I set to rinse the sleeping bag. Remember how light your lovely sleeping bag was? Well, it is completely the opposite now! As you know it was rather hard to get water into the sleeping bag, and now it is equalky hard to get it out. You’re not allowed to wring out your wet down sleeping bag, for fear of damaging the feathers.

The wetter the sleeping bag got the more lumpier it got, all the down just gathered together and collected water, big time. I let it drain for around 20 minutes before I lifted it out of the bathtub like a big plastic bag with water in.

I placed it on the stack of towels and spread it out and started to gently divide all the lumps into smaller lumps. I had to change the towels a few times since they got soaked rather fast. These down feather do hold a lot of water. (See back to the warning that Alpkit gave.)

I let it drain/dry some more over the next two hours before it felt dry/light enough to go into our washing machine with the balls (previously mentioned – are you following carefully?) you have.

Our washing machine has a low heat setting which I recommend as you don’t want to hurry this drying process.

Why does washing machine have a delay on opening the door? This part will drive you nuts over the next two days. I have lost count of how many times I have stopped and started our washing/drying machine over the two days that it took to dry. I think it did help to give it around 15min on the drying setting and then take it out and massage and separate the still wet lumps of down. And then repeat!

If you can time your cleaning session to a time of year when you have your heating on anyway, this will help. Last night I left it out on the “grill” overnight in a heated room.

As the sleeping bag started to dry, the bigger and fluffier it got, and harder to stuff into the washing/drying machine. They do work best when there is more air/water flow around the things you are trying to wash or dry. (See we are now back to the warning that Alpkit gave.) So, I tried to stuff the dryer half into the stuff bag and made it nice and small, which seemed to work great.

The bag is now feeling dry and nice and fluffy again, though I’m sure it is not totally dry yet. So it is going to be left out laying flat for at least 2-3 more days and I will give it a good old shake now and again.

I just hope that I can get the down to go back into the panels that are now empty. And that after being packed into its stuff bag it still will be as warm and fluffy as before.

And I’ve still got another one to do!





14 Comments »

  • TJ Alexander said:

    Great blog. Making me think twice about washing ours

  • Marj Smith said:

    A liquidator was appointed for Franklins on 9 March 2011

  • Marj Smith said:

    Have you thought about taking them to a launderette and using their dryers, that should dry them and fluff up nicely.

  • Jay@alpkit said:

    Hey Woollypigs – Hope you had fun washing the bag and good luck with the other one, we need to update that section of the site as WE Franklins no longer exist. However we now use Mountaineering Designs who will wash, renovate or customise your bag.

    Have fun and enjoy,

    Jay@Alpkit.com

  • woollypigs (author) said:

    Thanks for that update, I was trying to search for their (WE Franklins) website but found nothing. I will use Mountaineering Design in the future.

  • TJ Alexander said:

    Aren’t they a bit hot?

  • Brien Assiter said:

    But beware, and put it on low heat, i once melted one!

  • Marj Smith said:

    Yes should have said low heat

  • Sue said:

    My friend has asked me to clean her down bag which got dragged through mud at a festival. She thinks I am more practical than her, but I am felling s bit concerned about is after all the stuff I have read. Can I just surface clean the muddy bit. What do you think?

  • woollypigs (author) said:

    I agree with you, this is scary as you don’t want to damage your down sleeping bag when washing it. I would think that it would be ok wash/wipe the muddy parts with a damp cloth, just don’t soak the sleeping bag.

  • Now that summer’s over…. « CycleTouring INFormation said:

    [...] and small-packing Vaude Polar 200 (I think) bag would be ruined. My experiences were similar to Woollypigs‘ in most aspects, however I chose my moment to wash the bag,believing I could air dry it if [...]

  • Chris said:

    Many years ago I worked at the Cotton Silk & Manmade Fibre Research Institute where we had a quiltometer that measured the tog ratings of duvets and sleeping bags. I remember asking if anyone had done any measurement on the effect of cleaning – they had and the received wisdom was that you could clean down duvets or sleeping bags in several different ways but you would always lose some of the ‘loft’ of the filling, and hence the warmth. Maybe 10-20%, perhaps less with exteme care? Its a trade off – a little less warmth for a much cleaner sack.

  • Richard Lycett said:

    Only been camping a few times with my down bag, got splashed once on a yacht while sailing but a big tumble dryer at the yacht haven sorted that in 20 minutes.

    Washing… Hmmm. Do they ever really need the feathers washing? After all, that is all you are doing here. If it’s getting grubby, and mine will eventually I’m sure, I’d just open it out and wipe the outer with slightly soapy cloth, wipe with a towel then tumble a little on cool.

    Just my halfpenny worth.

    Richard.

  • jay@alpkit said:

    Hey Chris and Richard –
    The reason to wash any down product is to re-vitalise the feathers. Chris you may have experienced this with brand new equipment, that continuous washing affects the plumes, however even after a couple of weekends, damp, dirt from your sweat and just general camping mess means the plumes will start to stick together.

    All natural fibres need to be kept clean so they can spread out and in between fill the holes with air (lofting) this air is what you warm up and that is what keeps you comfy. We don’t suggest washing your bag after every trip or as regular as even your sheets, but once or twice a season could keep it fresh and lofting properly for your weekends away.

    Hope this helps a little –

    Jay@alpkit.com

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