By Mary Beth Skylis
The best way to extend the life of your quilt or sleeping bag is by maintaining proper care. If you’re noticing a reduction in the sleeping bag loft, running it through a washing cycle can help it spring back to life. But it also removes potential threats to your sleeping bag like moisture and mold. Whether you’re a weekend warrior or a thru-hiking addict, caring for your gear will help you to get the most out of it.
Katabatic Gear uses some of the most durable and ultralight materials on the market. But, like all ultralight materials, they’re more delicate than heavier counterparts. Some soaps can damage the materials in your sleeping bag. And washing your backpacking quilt in an improper manner can shorten the lifespan of your quilt. Taking special precautions when cleaning your sleeping bag is the best way to protect those sensitive fabrics and insulation.
The following guide will explain how to clean a quilt or sleeping. With a few extra steps between uses, you’ll substantially extend the life of your backpacking quilt.
Photo by Juliana "Chaunce" Chauncey. Her Flex 15 hanging to dry after a good washing.
How frequently should you wash your sleeping bag or quilt?
Many backpackers wash their quilt annually in order to remove any dirt and grit they might’ve picked up during their journeys. But how frequently you should wash your quilt depends on how you use it. If you’re in the backcountry every weekend, you’ll need to wash your quilt more often than someone who goes on one trip per year.
Additional factors that can determine how frequently you need to clean your bag include the environment in which it is used and skin type (ie If you expose your sleeping bag to a lot of oil, you might benefit from washing your bag more frequently). Like with most backpacking gear, there isn’t a “one size fits all” solution to cleaning your bag. Your best bet at determining if your quilt needs to be washed is to keep an eye on its performance. Is it still lofty? Does it smell nice? Is it keeping you warm? If you find yourself answering these questions with a harsh “no”, it might be time for a wash.
Can you wash your sleeping bag or quilt in a machine, or just by hand?
Yes. But washing machines can be tough on your backpacking gear. Never wash your sleeping bag or quilt in a top loading washer with an agitator. Doing so can rip the delicate materials of your sleeping bag. Front-loading machines at a laundromat are your safest bet.
Can you wash your sleeping bag or quilt at home?
Yes. But make sure to follow our washing guidelines if you choose this route.
1. Use a technical wash that’s designed for sleeping bags. If you have any doubts about the type of wash you should buy, get in contact with your sleeping bag’s customer service department. Katabatic Gear’s down quilts can be safely washed with Nikwax’s down wash (most synthetic bags can be washed with Nikwax’s technical wash).
2. Submerge your sleeping bag in a cleaning solution and water in a Rubbermaid bin, bath tub, or plop it in the washing machine (see above) on a gentle cycle.
3. Rinse your sleeping bag multiple times if you have the time. This ensures all the detergent is rinsed from the down.
4. Allow your backpacking quilt to entirely dry before storing. This will most certainly involve several drying cycles. It’s safe to use a dryer on low heat for most sleeping bags.
Can you take your sleeping bag or quilt to the dry cleaners?
No. Don’t do it. Dry cleaners use chemicals that destroy some of the performance properties of your sleeping bag’s fabrics and insulation. If you’re determined to let someone else do the dirty work, consider taking it to a gear-specific cleaner. We know of Gear Washers in Denver that accepts mail-in items!
Find the Right Sleeping Bag Detergent
If you decide to wash your quilt, make sure you use a gear-specific soap like Nikwax. These special detergents use ingredients that don’t break down the DWR finish as quickly as conventional detergents. And won’t damage the loft of your down insulation.
Drying Your Sleeping Bag or Quilt
Even if you don’t wash your sleeping bag between trips, it can be helpful to toss it in the dryer for a few minutes when you get home. Doing this periodically will help you to eliminate any lingering moisture before storing it away.
Preventing Sleeping Bag Dirtiness
While you’re on your trip, taking steps like turning your backpacking quilt inside out for a few minutes in the morning can help minimize moisture in your sleeping bag. Airing out your sleeping quilt can give the fabrics and insulation a chance to fluff and dry. By removing moisture, you can reduce the chances of mold or bacteria growing in the insulation layer.
You can also take special care to sleep in clean(ish) clothes. Many backpackers wear the same outfit day in and day out. But if you switch to pajamas or a clean base layer at night, you’ll create an additional clean barrier between your grimy body and your sleeping bag. Similarly, wearing a hat at night can create a barrier between the oil in your hair and your quilt.
Use a Sleeping Bag Liner
If you add a lightweight sleeping bag liner to your kit, you’ll create a barrier between your body and the fabrics of your sleeping bag. This allows you to reduce the oils and dirt to which you’ll expose your bag. And it’s much easier to clean or replace a sleeping bag liner than it is to replace a sleeping bag. Of course, depending on your quilt’s pad attachment system, this might not be the best solution, as it could reduce access to the attachments for adjustments.
Sleeping bag liners can be found in various shapes and sizes. The most lightweight option is going to be a silk liner. But you can find liners that are designed to add warmth to your sleep setup. This can be helpful for those chilly months, when you’re not quite ready to upgrade to your winter bag.
Backpacking Quilt Cleaning Tips & Tricks (The short version!)
Nobody wants to have to replace an essential piece of gear like a quilt. But if you take extra precautions to care for your gear, you’ll give yourself better odds against the gear reapers. These reminders will give you extra support while caring for your bag.
There's nothing better than climbing into a clean, lofty quilt at the end of a hard day!