For most of us, the thought of washing our expensive down jackets and sleeping bags is enough to send a shiver down our spine. Which is ironic because that's exactly what we'll get if we don't look after them properly!
With the right care, your down jacket and sleeping bag can last for years and years. Here's how to wash, dry (the complicated bit) and care for your down jackets and sleeping bags:
- How often do you need to wash your down sleeping bag or jacket?
- How to wash your down jacket or sleeping bag
- How to dry your down jacket or sleeping bag
- Alpkit's down washing service
- How to care for your down equipment
In the past, washing your down gear was an act of absolute last resort – which led to some very ripe smelling jackets and stinky sleeping bags. Nowadays, a lot of people wash their down gear at the end of each season so it's ready for next year, but it really depends on how often you use it.
Body oils, sweat and dirt can make their way into your down jacket and sleeping bag through use. When your down gets mucky, it loses its fluffiness and the baffles (down chambers) flatten. It's this fluffy loft that keeps you warm, so you keeping your down clean is essential to staying warm and cosy inside.
You may also need to wash your down jacket or sleeping bag after it's gotten damp or seriously wet. When down gets damp, the fluffy filaments flatten and clump together. Don't worry though – your down isn't ruined! But you do need to wash and dry it properly to restore its warmth-trapping loft.
What will I need?
A large tumble dryer is essential. You can air dry your down equipment but it's much less effective. Air drying takes a long time and you will have to constantly agitate the down as it dries to ensure that it doesn't clump.
A large capacity washing machine (10 kg) or a bath for hand washing
Nikwax® Down Wash™, Grangers® Down Wash or Liquid Soap Flakes
Nikwax® Down Proof™ or Grangers® Down Repel (optional)
Clean tennis balls or Grangers® Wash Balls
How To Handwash Your Down Jacket or Sleeping Bag
Handwashing causes less stress to the fabrics and the stitching of your down gear. If you share a house with other people, make sure you negotiate an appropriate time slot though as this may take some time!
- Fill your bath with lukewarm water mixing in either liquid soap flakes or a specialist down cleaner.
- Make sure there's nothing in any pockets and place your jacket or sleeping bag into the bath and gently press it down until it's submerged.
- Agitate it a little and then go and get a cup of tea and some biscuits (we recommend chocolate hobnobs).
- After an hour or so let the water drain from the bath and refill with fresh water. Gently massage the bag to remove the soap from the down. You could use a shower head if you have one in your bath.
- Keep at it until all the soapy water is removed. Gently push down on the down bag to get as much water out as possible.
IMPORTANT: Do NOT wring or squeeze the bag, this will damage the down.
How to Machine Wash Your Down Jacket or Sleeping Bag
We recommend using a large capacity front loading washing machine (over 10kg capacity), especially for bags with over 1,000g of down – the bigger the bag the more capacity you'll need. A standard household washing machine usually has a capacity of under 7kg which is not gonna to cut the mustard for most sleeping bags.
Run a quick empty wash cycle to throughly clean the drawer of any detergent or fabric conditioners.
Set the machine to a gentle cycle at 30°C and fill the drawer with the recommended quantity of Nikwax® or Grangers® Down Wash (this will depend on the weight of the bag/number of jackets).
After the wash cycle is complete, rinse your jacket or sleeping bag thoroughly.
Now it's time to do something with that soggy mass of feathers. Proper drying is the most important part of the whole process as it stops your down from clumping together in a useless lump at the bottom of each baffle. Your down needs to be dried thoroughly, slowly and with regular fluffing to regain its original loft.
IMPORTANT: Your bag will be extremely heavy after washing so take care when you lift it out to avoid putting any stress on the seams.
- Set your tumble drier to the lowest heat setting (take care with launderettes as they seem to only have one single setting that's hot enough to melt through glass) and throw in your tennis balls / drying balls.
- Check your jacket / sleeping bag every half hour or so to make sure it's not getting too hot and give each baffle a gentle shake and massage to distribute the down evenly as it dries.
- Don't take your jacket or sleeping bag out too soon. It can take 3-5 hours to properly dry out heavier down items on the low setting.
- Leave your down items to air inside uncompressed for a day or so to ensure they are completely dry before packing them away.
If all that sounds a bit complicated or you don't have a tumble drier, you can send your down items to us instead. We offer a professional cleaning service from our Ambleside store to get your down jackets and sleeping bags lofting like new.
Down items can lose their loft if you store them compressed for a long time or in damp conditions. And then you'd need to wash and dry them all over again which wouldn't be good for your electricity bill! Here's how to look after your down to avoid washing for as long as possible:
- Keep down items in a drybag when you pack them in your rucksack to stop them getting damp.
- Sleeping in (clean) long underwear protects your sleeping bag from skin oils, sweat and dirt. (We usually opt for a long sleeved merino base layer and long johns, and a thin hat to protect the hood)
- If it's too hot to sleep in long underwear or you don't have any clean clothes, you could use a cotton or silk sleeping bag liner instead. Then you only have to wash your liner at the end of your trip.
- Make sure your sleeping bag isn't pushed up against your tent flysheet when you go to sleep.
- Air your sleeping bag out before you pack it away or air it out whenever the weather allows.
- Don't squeeze damp down items into compression sacks.
- Air your sleeping bag or jacket throughly, away from direct sunlight. Don't hang down items over a rail.
- Spot clean any dirt, spills or oil stains.
- Store your down items uncompressed in a large cotton or mesh lofting bag. If you don't have one (all our down sleeping bags come with an organic cotton lofting bag), you can use an old pillow case instead.
- Store your down items in a clean, dry and well ventilated area.