19 days till it’s officially Spring, folks! That means longer daylight hours, hotter temperatures, and prime camping season! As we approach the Spring Equinox, I’d like to share some reminders about cleaning your winter gear, proper storage, and waterproofing items as necessary.
Today let’s talk about cleaning your down jackets and sleeping bags.
Real down loses its loft and insulation properties as it gets dirty and used. The down can also clump or shift after use within some bags like the Sea to Summit Trek II. This is why proper care of your expensive down gear is essential to its longevity and integrity.
I personally like to wash my down gear before and after each season for maximum cleanliness, but once at the end of the season is normal. You’ll also want to wash your gear if for any reason you sweat through it, or if it’s excessively dirty/someone spilled beer on it/you knocked over your Alpine Air Pineapple Chicken dinner all over it.
Here’s what you’re going to need to clean your down items:
- Down Cleaner
- A bathtub or a front loading washing machine
- A large canvas laundry bag to stuff your items into before drying
There are several down cleaner products available in stores and online. The two most popular outdoor cleaner brands are Gear Aid and NikWax. Gear Aid’s ReviveX Down Cleaner Concentrate and NikWax’s Down Wash Direct are fairly equally rated, and retail for approximately $9 each per bottle. One bottle will wash 3 sleeping bags or 12 jackets.
These two are not the only cleaners on the market, and you may find a better bargain on a different down cleaner on sites like Amazon, but before purchasing a cleaner first check the type of down fill in your gear. Hydrophobic, or water-repellent, down fill won’t fully wash with regular down cleaner such as the type for household pillows and duvet inserts.
If you’re not sure whether your gear is filled with water repellent down, check the item’s description online. Note: If your gear is filled with DownTek or Mountain Hardware’s “Q Shield” then it is hydrophobic down.
Another important consideration when purchasing Down Cleaner is whether you will hand wash or machine wash using a front load washer. If you plan to machine wash your items, first check your machine to see if it is a High Efficiency washer. HE washers require cleaner that is he compatible, which you can identify by looking for the blue and white lowercase “he” symbol on the cleaner’s bottle.
So you’ve got your cleaner. You’ve got your large cloth laundry bag. Now you’re ready to clean your gear. There are two methods you can use: hand wash or machine wash. Absolutely do not wash a sleeping bag in a top loading washer, but if you have a front loading washer your bag should be fine. Just use the Delicates cycle.
For the best care of your down bag, it’s best to hand wash. You can do this by filling your tub with just enough water to submerge your gear, and adding your cleaner. Compress your bag to remove air, then place it in the tub. Kneed and swish gently to help the soap pass through the entire bag and remove dirt and oils. Once you’ve washed your bag thoroughly, rinse until the water runs clear.
For machine washing with a front load washer, add the appropriate amount of cleaner for your item , and wash on Delicates cycle. Run 3 extra rinse cycles to ensure all cleaner has been rinsed from the gear.
Remove your bag from the tub, squeeze excess water (gently) from the bag, as much as you can (not necessary when machine washing),then place your bag inside the cloth laundry bag. This will help protect synthetic materials from the heat within the dryer.
Run the dryer on LOW HEAT. Check it every 30 minutes, and turn the bag inside out. Repeat this step until bag is thoroughly dry. It takes a long time for down gear to dry, so be patient. The process may take several hours, and incomplete drying can lead to mold or mildew.
You’ll notice as your gear becomes more dry that it becomes fluffy/lofty.
Once your gear is completely dry, it’s time to store it. This is very important. Proper (or improper) storage will affect your gear’s lifespan. Most sleeping bags will come with a cotton drawstring storage bag, but if yours didn’t or you lost it, you can use the same bag you used to dry it, or purchase a new storage bag online such as this one from REI.
Happy Spring Cleaning, Gear Rats!