Down sleeping bags will last quite a long time with proper care, and don’t really need to be washed very often. We’ve had Mike’s Marmot Pinnacle for around 8 years, and it’s still kicking. That being said, Mike’s sleeping bag has been looking noticeably less puffy and emanating that I’ve-been-camping-for-a-week-with-no-shower-plus-wet-dog smell all by itself, even when unoccupied. While Mike didn’t mind, I was the person who was sleeping next to this smelly article, so it was time to wash the bag.
We only have top loading washers in my apartment, so I washed the bag in our tub after scrubbing the tub clean and rinsing so to ensure no scum was around to muck up the sleeping bag.
I messed up on my first try because I was too haphazard with the way I was trying to get all the water out of the sleeping bag, resulting in knotty balls of down clumped unevenly across the bag. This was compounded by my attempt to use the dryer when the bag still had too much water (did not use extractor the first time), which rolled and twisted the bag around (aka, rolled and twisted the down clusters around). It was a lumpy, knotted mess. I was worried that I had killed Mike’s bag when I was only trying to be nice and wash it for him. After attempting to gently work them apart, I gave up, and decided to start the process over at the rinse step with some modifications. This turned out much better, and the knotty lumps detangled themselves in the water with some gently prodding. It took about a week to air dry the bag, with twice daily flipping and fluffing.
10+4 steps to a fantastic, fresh smelling bag:
1. + 150 ml Nikwax down wash in warm water (the tub was about 1/3 full)
2. Submerge sleeping bag fully by pressing down gently, letting the air expel through the seams.
3. After the sleeping bag fills with soapy water, swish and massage each baffle of the sleeping bag, making sure that the down is distributed across the baffles. Let soak for 30 minutes, alternately swishing and and pressing straight down on the sleeping bag so the water continues exchanging.
4. Drain the tub
5. Press straight down on the sleeping bag to expel as much water as possible. Don’t wring your bag, or else you’ll end up tangling and balling up your down clusters. Be careful not to push down with sudden force and blow out a baffle. This will take awhile.
6. Fill tub with fresh water. Swish and press sleeping bag again. Drain, press out water.
7. Repeat this rinsing 2 more times.
8. Fill tub enough to just submerge sleeping bag, +0.5 oz mirazyme (enzymatic odor destroyer found in the kayak Xanax 1mg section of REI. It is amazing and concentrated. The recommended usage is 0.5 oz per 22 gallons. I just estimated) Swish and soak for 30 minutes. Do not rinse out!
9. After a final soak, press as much water out as possible. The sleeping bag will still be relatively heavy with water. Carefully fold the sleeping bag in quarters lengthwise, supporting the weight so that you don’t tear any baffles. Transfer to a large rubbermaid container so that you can carry it to the washing machine to use the extractor setting.
[After wiping down the washer to remove as much regular detergent as possible, I ran it through a cold water cycle, and timed it so that the washer on our floor would be at the extraction step by the time I finished pressing out the water. That's how I roll.]
10. Place sleeping bag carefully in machine, making sure that the sleeping bag isn’t twisted when you load it in. Extract away!
11. Now the bag should be a lot drier. Lay it flat. The down will likely be in long flat mats in your sleeping bag. I draped it across several mesh camping chairs on our balcony since it was warm and windy out, securing it to the chairs with some carabiners and rope. At this point, the sleeping bag resembled a sad pancake.
12. Routine for the next week: Every morning and night, flip the splayed out bag over and the foot area inside out, gently massaging apart any hard clumps of down. There were only a few that needed attention at the foot of the bag. Leave all the softer down mats alone at this point. As the bag gets drier and starts fluffing a bit at the edges of the mats, fluff and redistribute the down so that it is even across the entire baffle. This will also allow it to dry faster. If you have any blown baffles and can feel where the hole in the mesh is, you can work dry fluffy down through to fill it from your neighboring, overstuffed baffle, or else you’ll have spots with no/less insulation that it should!
13. After a week of this constant fluffpuffing, it is pretty dry. For good measure, I throw it in the dryer and dry on the lowest heat setting for an hour. Take it out, and check over each baffle again for fluffiness, and evenness.
14. Put it away in a large fluffy cotton storage back!
It’s quite a process. Good thing it’s only once a year (^_^)/ (I smell like roses and sunshine, so my bags only get washed once every four years or so :p YMMV Supposedly the powers that be recommend that you wash your bag every 25 bag nights or so)