As discussed in our Sleeping Systems 101 article your sleeping system is one of your most expensive outdoor equipment investments. With that in mind it is extremely important that you care for your sleeping bag and mattress as proper care will increase the bag & mats life and your personal comfort level in colder conditions.

Unfortunately when you use your sleeping bag your body produces moisture and oils which impede the ability of down to clump and loft as efficiently as it could. Packing your sleeping bag away into its stuff sack only perpetuates the problem. Here are some aftercare tips to help you properly care for your sleeping bag.

Sleeping Bag Storage

When not in use your sleeping bag should always be stored uncompressed out of its stuff sack, allowing air to flow through the down. (Many of the leading sleeping bag manufacturers provide mesh or cotton storage bags with your sleeping bag). If you didn’t receive one or have misplaced it mesh storage bags are available for purchase from Paddy Pallin stores or online. A large pillow slip can also be used.


Use a sleeping bag liner

Using a sleeping bag liner will protect the down from perspiration, grime and body oils which as mentioned will inhibit the lofting ability of your down. This will mean that your sleeping bag will require washing less often. Liners are available from Paddy Pallin stores or online in varying materials including Silk, Cotton, and Thermolite polypropylene all of which also act as another layer of insulation and can add extra warmth to your sleeping bags.

Washing your Down Sleeping Bag

As previously mentioned the down in your sleeping bag works most efficiently when it is clean and unimpeded by moisture, oils and dirt produced by the human body. If you have been on an extended trip or you notice that your sleeping bag isn’t lofting as well as it did it`s time to give your bag a wash. We recommend the following procedure:

  1. Undo zippers turn the bag inside out and soak the bag overnight in a bath or large tub of lukewarm water.
  2. Hand wash using a non-detergent soap or one of the specially formulated down soaps available at Paddy Pallin stores or online. Gently knead the suds through the bag.
  3. If the bag is really grimy, leave it submerged in the soapy water for a few hours.
  4. Rinse with fresh water to remove all traces of soap. Keep rinsing with fresh water until you can`t see any more suds.
  5. Gently squeeze out all excess moisture while your sleeping is still in bath or tub.
  6. Carefully lift the soggy bag, placing your arms underneath it to support its entire weight, and place into a washing basket. Down is very heavy when wet and can cause damage to the internal baffles, so be very careful when moving the bag.
  7. Prepare a clean, dry area out of direct sunlight and carefully lay the bag out flat.
  8. Pat the down from both sides of the bag to help minimise down clumping.
  9. Your down bag may require several days to dry completely. Hot, non-humid days are best.

A method of speeding up the drying process is to place the sleeping bag into a large delicates calico wash bag and if your washing machine has no agitator, you can place the sleeping bag in on a low spin cycle to disperse excess liquid prior to drying.


If you wish you use a large front load washing machine at a laundromat be careful to run your hand around the drum to make sure there are no sharp burrs. Compress the air out of the sleeping bag and quickly but carefully load the sleeping bag into the machine inside out with the zips undone and make sure your using a specially formulated down soap. To dry use a large tumble dryer making sure your carefully place the bag in as not to damage the baffles. Select low heat and the lowest speed (do not use dryers without a heat setting). Adding a tennis ball can help to break up the clumps as it bounces around the drum of the dryer, however its not necessary as the natural flopping of the bag inside the dryer will be sufficient. Be aware that the bag will still take a long time to dry.

Professional Cleaning 

The solvents used in dry cleaning can cause a reduction in the down’s loft, and they are generally not environmentally friendly, so we suggest dry cleaning as a last resort. A better option for those who don’t wish to personally clean their sleeping bag is to have it cleaned by a professional outdoor equipment repairer. Both Venus Repairs in Sydney and Remote Repairs in Melbourne offer an excellent service.

If dry cleaning is your only option, check with your local outdoor store for a recommendation, and ensure the cleaner uses only clean fluids and clear distilled solvent for the rinse. After cleaning, hang up the bag to air for at least a week to ensure any hazardous and toxic fumes have evaporated.

Field Care and Tips

Setting up camp

It`s a good idea to remove your sleeping bag from its stuff sack and lay it out to give the down time to loft fully before you get into it. As soon as you have set up camp, A gentle shake will also help ensure the down lofts to its potential.


When packing up camp always stuff your sleeping bag back into its stuff sack. Never roll it as this can damage the baffles (the internal walls which separate the down into panels). Sea To Summit Dry Compression Sack is a great investment as it will both compress your bag for carrying but also keep it waterproof if any misadventures are to be had.

Image: Lachlan Gardiner


Most modern sleeping bags use nylon coil zippers which are ‘self-repairing’. This means the teeth can move about a little so they are less prone to damage if snagged. A lot of manufacturers recognize that snagging zippers is an issue and there are many snag proof zip systems built to modern sleeping bags. If a snag occurs, carefully ease cloth out of zip teeth. Coil zips have rounded teeth that are less likely to chew your sleeping bag fabric.

When opening or closing a zipper it is best to use the pull tag inside the bag. Placing your fingers or hand between the cloth and the zip as you slide it will virtually eliminate snagging of the fabric. When joining zips back together make sure both sliders are hard up against each other.

Leaking down

Quality sleeping bags use down-proof fabrics which effectively prevent the down fill from leaking out. The majority of the warmth-trapping down consists of soft, spidery clusters that cannot poke through the fabric, and thus remain safely contained inside. However, there is often a small percentage of feather quills in the down mix, which can occasionally pierce the cloth and escape. This minor leakage from a new down sleeping bag is no cause for alarm, and some of the escaping quills can be pulled back inside simply by feeling through the fabric and easing them in from the other side.

Sometimes a small amount of down may appear on the surface of a new down sleeping bag, particularly where the fill is a very high quality down. This is quite normal and will cease after the bag has been used a few times.


Caring for your Sleeping Mattress


After each trip, air dry your sleeping pad for at least 24 hours before storing. Avoid storing your sleeping pad for extended periods of time in its stuff sack, especially if there are open cell foam or insulation components. Over time, tightly compressed foam and insulation can lose its ability to rebound or insulate, and may be permanently compressed or creased. If possible, keep the product stored flat or otherwise, loosely rolled, uncompressed, and away from direct sunlight. Under a bed or behind a couch that’s against a wall are good, space-saving options.

Store your closed cell foam mattress flat or loosely rolled. Though fine for active use in the field, closed cell mattresses should be stored long-term with straps to hold it rolled or attached to a pack or under heavy objects. This can permanently deform a closed-cell mattress.


Cleaning & Drying

To clean your sleeping mattress, wipe down the surface with a wet and/or soapy cloth. Make sure to keep water out of the valves (keep valves closed) if necessary. Do not machine wash your mattress.

Do not machine dry your sleeping mattress. Be sure to let your sleeping mattress fully line-dry before storing in a cool, dry environment. Make sure to dry your sleeping mattress away from direct sunlight as exposure to UV is harmful to the fabrics.

Repairs in the field & Tips

It is highly recommended that you don’t leave your mattress in the tent or car inflated with the valve closed during the day. Once the sun hits your tent can get very warm and as air heats it expands. If the valve is closed you mattress has no way to let this expanding air escape and your mat may get damaged.

Always place your mattress on some kind of ground sheet or inside the tent. If you lay your mattress directly on the ground you may puncture your mattress.

If your unfortunate and do puncture your mattress you can repair it by patching the hole. For patching mattresses, most brands come with patches for repairs in the field. These can be either self bonding or a simple fabric patch.


If a fabric patch is supplied cut the patch to fully cover the hole and round the edges of the patch to keep them from peeling up. Use an adhesive like Gear Aid  Seam Grip to bond the patch to the pad.  Follow the adhesive manufacturer’s directions for application and curing time.

If you have misplaced your repair patch kit you can also fix a leak using clear Tenacious Tape patches by Gear Aid. Just clean the surface, let dry, and peel and stick on the patch. You’ll have a durable, nearly invisible repair that won’t leave behind a sticky residue like duct tape will.

We hope this has given you some ideas on how to care for your Sleeping System and if you need more tips on your other equipment head to our RainwearFootwear and Tent care articles.

About The Author

Dave Casey

Dave has worked as an International Expedition Leader and in Outdoor Education for over 15 years. He has extensive travel and guiding experience in Australia, NZ, Asia, South/North America and Europe. In his spare time Dave is a keen bushwalker, mountain biker and climber while also dabbling in some mountaineering and sea kayaking.

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