We started selling our Glow Worm sleeping bags back in August 2016 and I feel now is perhaps a good time to try to tackle the subject of washing your down sleeping bag. Now there are quite a few pieces online about washing a down sleeping bag. The majority of them fail to mention the most important thing about cleaning a down sleeping bag - avoid cleaning your down sleeping bag! I'm not trying to say you need to man up and just put up with a dirt stained, smelly bag. Far from it. What I mean by this is, try your absolute best to keep your bag clean for as long as possible. Whatever technique you use to clean your bag it's either going to be expensive or risky. So it is with great thought that I have decided to use the first half of this article to talk about ways to keep your bag clean.
1. Store your bag correctly
We have recently started supplying our customers with cotton lofting sacks. These sacks are a great way to store your bag without compressing the down too much and are also an ideal way of keeping any dirt from landing on your bag whilst not in use.
2. Air it out
All Glow Worms come with hanging loops at the foot of the bag. These go straight over a coat hanger. After you've spent a night in your bag you probably shoved it straight into the stuff sack. This is fine, but your bag will have naturally gained some moisture as you perspired in your sleep. Give this moisture chance to escape and avoid it soaking into the down by hanging it up somewhere it will be safe for a few hours - like an open wardrobe. Be disciplined about this. It is very tempting when returning from an expedition or wild camp to just flop on the sofa and think "I'll just do it tomorrow" - You won't, so do it then and there!
3. Use a liner!
Very soon Summiteer will have a sleeping bag liner out on the market, but if you already have a down bag and are currently using it without a liner, don't wait for us! Go online and order one from somewhere else. This will do wonders for keeping the inner of your bag clean and protecting the down from unwanted moisture.
4. Wipe away stains before washing
If you get the odd patch of dirt or food etc. on your bag, this doesn't mean it is due for a full clean. Make a mental note of it and wipe it off when you get home from your trip.
Now for how to clean your Sleeping bag.....
You effectively have two options. Wash it yourself or get it professionally cleaned (by a down specialist).
The general advice for DIY cleaning is to put the sleeping bag in a washing machine on a slow spin speed at the lowest temperature possible (Usually around 30ºc on most domestic washing machines). The best thing to do would be to use a very mild detergent or better still use Nikwax Downwash. Then the next step would be to dry it in a tumble dryer at an equally low temperature and use a few tennis balls - The idea being that these help loft the down.
Lots of research into this topic has pointed out two issues with this method of cleaning that can affect the performance of your down bag.
Firstly, as stated above, most domestic washing machines have a minimum temperature of 30 - 40ºc. At the point of needing a wash the down in your bag will probably be coated in a layer of gnarly grease that it has acquired from you over many nights in it. This is the stuff you want to get off, and it really doesn't need particularly hot water to do this. As a result 30ºc is more than enough to get rid of this. The bad news is that your down will also have a natural coating of grease, this grease is good and helps keep the downs loft and robustness. The down would not function the same without this. This good grease is naturally resistant to water, but particularly warm water can sometimes won't do it a great deal of good. To cut a long story short a 30ºc wash could potentially not only strip all the bad stuff off your down but strip the good stuff off it as well.
The second problem with self cleaning is the size of your washing machine and tumble drier. This is obviously not an issue when washing things like your cotton t-shirts, but the whole point of washing your down sleeping bag should be to try and rejuvenate the down performance in it. A lot of domestic washing machines and driers aren't sufficiently big enough for your bag to loft out fully and this increases the likelihood of the down clumping together.
So you hopefully have the information to make a decision as to how to clean your bag. We recommend contacting Mountaineering Designs if you were to seek a proper job. I've only ever heard very positive things about them and they will give you good, honest advice on this subject, based on their 40+ years experience, before you decide whether to use their services or not.