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My down sleeping bag began to smell not so good, so I washed it. I used lowest spin cycle possible 400 rpm and it ruined it. There were no cleaning instructions added. Some say low spin cycle on delicates is acceptable, but not in that case.

I was drying it at home and later on I used industrial drying machine, to dry it even more. The problem is I guess water made chunks of feathers and spin cycle displaced all that chunks in one side of the sleeping bag. That means it is totally uneven distributed. I tried to distribute dried feathers manually back from one side to the other side but I always get some cold spots and the sleeping bag is less fluffy that it was. I can't do it evenly. The difference is noticeable, when trying to compress it. I had always stored it in uncompressed form and it is less than 1 year old.

I don't know what are your experiences can anything be done or is that it.

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    The usual method is to add a bunch (3-5) of clean/new tennis balls or a clean shoe to the drier when drying. This separates the feathers. I don't know if you can do this with an already dried bag or if re-wetting will work. General advice with down is to get them dry-cleaned by a dry-cleaning company rather than washing yourself.
    – bob1
    Feb 26, 2023 at 20:38
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    Typically if clumped it also wasn't dried enough. Tennis balls/dryer balls are super helpful. My guess is if you wash it again and dry it properly (low spin is generally fine, just need to dry a REALLY long time with balls) it'll fix itself
    – noah
    Feb 26, 2023 at 21:10
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    Please post as answers, not as comments.
    – Willeke
    Feb 27, 2023 at 5:55
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    Just in case this wasn't clear: any washing of a down sleeping bag will permanently damage it, and it will never be as good afterwards as before. With the right technique the damage can be mitigated and depending on the state washing might be necessary - but generally you should wash down as rarely as possible.
    – fgysin
    Feb 27, 2023 at 8:22

4 Answers 4

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Any way to save down sleeping bag after washing?

I would try rewashing, rinsing thoroughly (see below) and dry/fluff/dry/fluff/etc.

I wash down sleeping bags, down pillows and down comforters, and often, in spite of having read warnings not to. None seem worse for the wear (or wash).*

As stated in comments, drying with tennis balls works wonders. It's probably not too gentle, though, but that's how I used to do it. Now I dry/remove to fluff/replace into the dryer, dry/fluff/dry/fluff (etc.) It takes longer and is more work, but it works just fine. Put aside several hours for this nonsense; if the down doesn't get completely dry, you'll end up with a mildewy smell. It takes me about 6-7 hours to dry a queen-sized comforter this way.

Some common sense tidbits:

  • Use a front loading washer. Tumbling is more gentle, and gets textiles (and down) cleaner than top loading/agitating machines.

  • Use a mild detergent (you already knew that) and a gentle-ish cycle. (You already knew that, too.) However, once most of the water has been spun out of the bag, put the washer on a higher spin speed to get more of the moisture out. I increase spin speed until it's at the highest it will go. It doesn't seem to damage the down when done that way.

  • Rinse, rinse, and rinse again. It's better to get every trace of soap out of the down so the down will fluff better. If you're worried about machine rinsing being rough on the down, do it by hand (or foot) in a clean bath tub, lift out by degrees allowing it to drain gently, repeat as necessary, then carry to the washing machine to finish.

  • The larger the dryer, the faster the object will dry. The largest commercial dryers are best, but a triple-load home dryer is fine.

I've never had to separate clumps of down, even from old down comforters before baffles were commonly used to distribute the down more easily. If it's dried sufficiently (which takes a very long time!), the down separates on its own.

*The finest particles of down can migrate through even down-resistant fabric. These down particles collect in the dryer's lint filter. I believe that if my method of caring for my down-filled objects were rough on the down, I would get progressively more of these particles with every wash, and my objects would flatten down. I've found that the lint filter gets the most down particles with the first wash, and very little with subsequent washes. My down pillows fluff up invariably higher than they were before washing.

I wash my down objects as much as I do because I have dogs, large dogs that are allowed to act like dogs (getting dirty in the process) and who then insist on sleeping on my bed with me. Despite doubling up on duvet covers and pillow cases, my pillows and comforters eventually get dirty. I'd rather wash my stuff than banish the dogs.

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It all comes down to using the right approach in the first place.

Theory

The primary goal of down care is to preserve the fluffiness of the feathers. There are three enemies to it:

  1. Dirt: fat and salts coming from your body
  2. Breaking: from mechanical action, such as washing too hard
  3. Lumping: from improper drying

By washing, you took care of (1). By using uncompressed storage and delicate washing and drying programs, you avoid (2). (3) requires the proper technique and action on your side.

Recommended technique

All suppliers I know of do say that washing from time to time is recommendable; if done properly, it should not do any damage (still, I agree with @fgysin that you should wash it as rarely as possible). You didn't do a bad job IMHO -- Mountain Equipment¹ recommends² 800 rpm delicate washing at 30 °C in a large machine, and special down detergents.

Now, the drying is actually the more intricate process. You need, again, a delicate program, a large dryer, and low temperature (but this is more important for the plastics than the down). Alternate a few passes of careful machine drying with with some tennis balls (or other soft clean objects) with airing the bag (for days!). Shake and fluff it between passes. Several passes may be needed; at least two, in my experience.

The secret

Now comes the manual part. Take your dry but lumped bag to some passive, sitting activity - listening to music or watching TV. While you sit, tear apart the lumps in each segment and redistribute the feathers. Shake the bag, repeat. For at least an hour.

This manual treatment is what I recommend you try. It really is possibly to re-fluff a completely lumped bag into a state that is better than before washing, with enough patience.

Last resort

Mountain Equipment recommends not to use them, but there are services for professional cleaning and refilling sleeping bags. They will remove the down, wash it, optionally top it up a bit, and put it back in. This should, in case your down is just badly lumped and not broken, fix the problem.

Another thing that came to my mind is the design of your bag. Modern bags are organized in segments, sometimes even overlapping ones, so that down can't all coagulate in one corner at any time. However, older models may not have them and be organized as just one chamber, like a blanket. In that case, more than shaking, there's really nothing that can be done except buying a new bag - but you might still be able to recycle the old down.


¹ I mention them a couple of times simply because I found their descriptions best - this is not an advertisement, nor am I affiliated with them.

² There's an English version of the same page, but I find it worse than the German one.

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I have always used a commercial down wash for the detergent and then dried in a household dryer using dryer balls to break up the down - making sure not to over-dry. I then make sure it's hung inside for a good while before packing away just to make sure is properly dried. Has always worked fine for me.

I would recommend re-washing and re-drying your down, hopefully that'll fix it.

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I would rewash it but follow typical sleeping bag washing instructions. Almost every modern bag with a nylon liner and down or synthetic filling have similar instructions.

  1. Non-detergent soap; this is a must
  2. Coldwater
  3. Light spin cycle to preserve the bag; you want to treat it delicately
  4. Tumble dry with low heat for 30 min
  5. Tumble dry with no heat for 90 min
  6. Air dry for a half-day
  7. Rinse and repeat 4-6; manually try to fluff the bag in the meantime.

I've also found that the clumps get better with some moderate use. Don't be too discouraged if there is clumpiness; it should work itself out.

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