Do Down Sleeping Bags Smell?

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Written By Jay Clatworthy

Off Grid Camping contributor.

Do Down Sleeping Bags Smell?

Do down sleeping bags smell? 

Down provides insulation from the cold by trapping warm air within its fibers. The most common sources of this material are duck and goose feathers. Over time, it is not uncommon for down sleeping bags to smell.

Besides, given they are brought into the outdoors, and most people sleep in it while they are sweaty after hiking, trekking, or exploring the great outdoors.

However, it does not mean that sleeping bags should smell bad. This occurrence may be common, but there are certainly many ways to eliminate, if not prevent, foul odor from developing in it. 

Before anything else, it is crucial to know the factors that contribute to a foul-smelling sleeping bag before dealing with how to eliminate them. In this way, you can work on preventive measures to avoid the problem before it even arrives. 

These are some of the common reasons why sleeping bags develop a smelly odour: 

  1. Dirt and Stain

Naturally, when your sleeping bag gets dirty or stained, it will most certainly stink, especially if the stain is left unattended for days. Food crumbs or spills that are not immediately taken care of will lead to odor sticking into the sleeping bag’s fibers, making it more difficult to remove them.

  1. Bacteria

Without a doubt, bacteria, especially odour-causing ones, are one of the major contributors to stinky sleeping bags. These odours can come from two places: chemicals released by the microorganism as they degrade the material or chemicals they create directly.

There are many classes of bacteria that are odoriferous offenders, and not only do they make your sleeping bags smelly, but they also deteriorate the fabric over time. In some cases, it might be because of the down itself. 

  1. Moisture/Dampness

Excess moisture is the leading cause of malodorous sleeping bags, and they are the starting point that leads to a variety of other problems, such as rotting or mildew. There are many sources of moisture, especially during camping.

It is important to reduce, if not entirely prevent, these moisture sources from getting into contact with your sleeping bag. Most of the time, the moisture isn’t caused by accidents, sweats, or other scenarios that leave a noticeable odor. Tent condensation, for instance, can be the source of the problem.

  1. Mould or Mildew

As previously stated, moisture is the start of where other problems emerge. When the sleeping is left damp for a long period, mold may form and mildew. These do not only produce a musty odor, but they are also tough to clean. 

  1. Down Rot

If your sleeping bag is completely made from down, it may deteriorate over time if it is exposed to heavy moisture that has not dried fully. All of the factors combined– bacteria, fungi, mold, usually release acids that cause the down to lose the natural oils bound to the feather proteins, causing the musty smell.

How do you remove the down sleeping bag’s smell?

Just like any other beddings or sheets at home, sleeping bags require maintenance care. However, cleaning them might slightly be a little different than how you would wash typical home bedding.

It is essential to keep the sleeping bag clean as poor maintenance may also cause your sleeping bags to deteriorate more quickly.

Instead of purchasing a new sleeping bag, you can save more money by taking care of the one you already have. There are many different ways to remove the foul odor from your down sleeping bag, and it won’t cost you a lot to do it. Here are some tips:

  • Unlike synthetic materials, down sleeping bags are made from bird feathers. Hence, you should be careful of the cleaner you use as it might damage the down feathers. Detergents and other cleaning products with strong chemicals are not advisable for this material since they may strip your sleeping bag from its essential oils (from the feather). Several cleaning products are made specifically for down, so you might consider using one of those. 
  • There are two ways to wash your sleeping bags, either by hand or by washing machine. Regardless of the method chosen, manufacturers provide instructions on how to wash your down sleeping bag properly. So make sure to read the instructions carefully before starting the process to guide you with the right temperature for washing and other necessary things to consider. It’s always best to refer to the instructions provided by the manufacturer since they know best about their product. 

Machine Wash:

  1. Ensure that the zippers are fully closed, then turn the sleeping bag inside-out. While doing this, inspect your sleeping bag and make sure that there are no holes or tears in it.
  2. Set the washing machine temperature based on the manufacturer instructions provided. The maximum temperature should not exceed 30°C. Select the Gentle or Delicate Cycle.
  3. Add your down-specific cleaner and place your sleeping bag inside the washing machine. Press Start. You may do another cycle if needed.
  4. Once that is complete, it’s time to dry your sleeping. This is a significant step since retained moisture leads to mould or mildew. Place the sleeping bag in a large dryer that allows plenty of room for the bag to tumble about. Be careful not to drag the sleeping bag or let it hang since they are very delicate at this time. Always make sure to support its entire weight. 
  5. Select the low-temperature setting for the dryer. Do not dry it in high heat as this will damage the material.
  6. Place two or three clean tennis balls or wool dryer balls to break up any down clumps. If the bag is not completely dry after the first cycle, you would have to do it again to ensure no dampness or moisture is retained. 
  7. Once done, do not immediately pack the sleeping bag and store it. Leave it out for at least another 48 hours to allow it to properly loft.

Hand wash:

  1. Refer to the instructions provided by the manufacturer and make sure that all zippers are closed. Turn the bag inside-out and check for holes and tears.
  2. Use a large tub that allows the entire sleeping bag to fit completely. Fill up the tub with lukewarm water, and mix the down cleaner with it. Soak the sleeping bag in the bath.
  3. Knead it gently. Do not squeeze, wring, or raise the bag up. After kneading for a couple of minutes, leave it to soak for 1-4 hours.
  4. Drain the water and replace it with clean water. Continue kneading until there are no more suds visible in the water.
  5. Remove the bag with care, making sure it does not dangle or hang in any manner, and do the same steps with the dryer as you would in machine wash (Follow steps 4-7 above). You can also air-dry it but do not expose it to direct sunlight, as this can degrade the fabric. However, refrain from dry cleaning your sleeping bags since the chemicals used are harmful to the material.