After extended periods of use, down gear tends to lose some of its loft. This is due to the body oils and dirt that begin to cover the down feathers. With reduced loft, your bag can lose a significant amount of warmth and comfort. Washing your down sleeping bag or quilt is a great way to restore this loft and therefore restore your warmth. Though how often you clean your bag or quilt depends on how much you use it, a good rule of thumb is to clean your down gear at least once a year (especially after a thru hike!). Keep in mind though, special care must be taken when cleaning any down gear!

So what do you need to consider when cleaning a down quilt or sleeping bag? Check out these quick bullet points:

  • Down must NOT be cleaned with traditional detergent. I recommend using a down specific soap such as: Nikwax Down Wash. If you don’t have a down specific soap, washing with hand-warm water can still be beneficial.
  • DO NOT wash your down bag or quilt in a top loading washing machine. The spinning of top loading machines tends to knot up sleeping bags and cause all sorts of havoc. Baffles can tear, shell material can rip open, down can get everywhere. Instead, opt for a front loading washing machine or a hand wash in a bath tub or large tub. If you do use a bath tub, make sure you clean most of the soap and shampoo residue out first. Most laundromats have front loading washing machines.
  • For water temperature, warm-hot is ideal. Make sure it’s not too hot though. If in doubt, stick with warm on your washing machine.
  • When drying the gear, stick to warm air not hot. Make sure to get as much moisture out of the bag as you can before beginning the drying process. It can take a long time. I pat dry with a towel

Recently, I took some time to clean my PCT down quilt. Check out the pics and descriptions below for a step by step tutorial:




Here is a picture of the quilt’s loft before washing. Though not terrible considering it just survived a thru hike, it could still use a little love. (For a more info and a video description of the quilt check out this video on my youtube channel:




Because I don’t have easy access to a front loading washing machine, I opted to wash the quilt in a clean bathtub.  I filled the tube with about 2 inches (you shouldn’t need more) of hand-hot water. As the tub was filling I added in 5 ounces of the Nikwax Down Wash. Nikwax is the best down wash I’ve used and comes highly recommended. You can find it here:




Now the fun part, trying to stuff this giant ball of down into the 2 inches of water. It is surprising just how air-tight this quilt was. Working all of the air out of the quilt took a good ten minutes. If this is a problem for you, I recommend rolling up the quilt from one end to the other.




Still working out those air pockets… You can see just how nasty the quilt was based on how dirty the water in the tub is. All of that dirt and oil was killing my loft! After getting all of the air out, I agitated the quilt by hand for a good five minutes to ensure that the down was being cleaned. To agitate, I just keep grabbing the quilt and scrunching it up over and over. After agitation, I let the quilt sit for ten minutes to soak in the water.




Success! You may wonder why the water is clear here… After the ten minute soak, the water was so nasty that I decided another wash cycle was in order. I drained the dirty water and added new hand-hot water. Like last time, I agitated for five minutes and then let it soak for ten minutes. This extra cycle may not always be necessary for your gear, but if your water comes out nasty, it is likely a good idea.




Now the tedious part: rinsing. It takes a long time to get all of the soap out of the quilt, so you’ll likely need to spend a good thirty minutes or more rinsing your quilt. I found it incredibly helpful to use a mobile shower head for the rinse. This kept the water fresh and allowed the soap to drain out. Massaging the quilt is essential here as it ensures that the soap is removed.




Now that the quilt is all rinsed out, you’ll need to get rid of the excess moisture in it. I start by rolling up the quilt from head to toe in order to wring out the bulk of the water.




Next, I roll up the quilt in a fluffy towel to wick even more moisture out. This may seem redundant, but drying times for down bags and quilts can be ridiculous. Get as much moisture as you can out now and you’ll save yourself a lot of time drying in the actual dryer.




Yup, there’s a quilt with a pound of down in there somewhere…




Now the easy part: using a dryer. You’ll notice that I throw in these little balls with the quilt. These simply help to fluff up the down and break up down clumps, thereby drying the quilt faster and making it super lofty! But don’t worry if you don’t have fancy dryer balls! Tennis balls work just as well. In the first dryer cycle (of what will likely be many) I like to throw in a dry, fluffy towel to soak up even moisture. I’ve found that this speeds up the drying time slightly.




You’ll want to dry the quilt on a delicate setting with low heat. The delicate synthetic fabrics used in backpacking gear don’t take kindly to high heat and could potentially melt. Don’t worry if you quilt or bag isn’t dry in the first cycle, It is going to take at least 2 hours worth of drying, probably more. Between cycles, take the quilt out, fluff it by hand, and untangle any twists that may have happened. Also, take some time to break up the large, wet clumps of down by hand. These are what take the longest to dry. Eventually, you’ll see your quilt or bag begin to fluff, It’s coming back to life! Once it looks fully fluffed, take it out and give it a good pat-over. I set my quilt on the ground and hand slap it from head to toe and back again. Check corners and seams for clumps of down that still need to be broken up, there will undoubtedly be some. Give it another dry cycle and you’ll be the proud owner of a newly restored down bag! For what it’s worth I spent a good five hours drying this quilt.




Here’s the finished product, though this is not a great picture. It actually came out much fluffier than it appears here. DONE. Make sure when you store your bags and quilts long term to store them uncompressed.


Hope this helps you in all of your down gear washing endeavors. If you have any questions just leave them in the comments and I’ll get back to you!