How To Deodorize A Sleeping Bag?

Airing a sleeping bag outside in the shade can help get rid of the sweaty odor that’s present after a camping trip. Moldy, mildew or smoky smells may require a bit more work to get rid of. 

Here’s a guide on how to deodorize a sleeping bag, with tips on how to deal with different kinds of odors. 

Why Does My Sleeping Bag Smell?

Why Does My Sleeping Bag Smell

If you spend a night or two in your sleeping bag, it’s inevitably going to smell. Usually, it’ll smell the same as your sweat. It can also smell stale or stuffy. 

This is no big deal and airing it out for a couple of hours should get rid of the smell. 

Other kinds of odors can indicate something wrong with the sleeping bag or how you store it. 

  • One of the most common causes of a stinky sleeping bag is dampness. It causes a mildew or moldy smell. If you don’t let your sleeping bag dry completely or you store it in a humid area, it can develop mildew or mold. 
  • If you don’t deal with the dampness on time, it can cause the down filling to start rotting. This can introduce other smells. 
  • Sharing your sleeping bag with other people can also make it smell funky as it absorbs other people’s smells. 
  • Your sleeping bag can smell like cigarette smoke if you are a smoker or bought the sleeping bag from a smoker. Even if you don’t smoke while in the sleeping bag, your sweat and clothes will smell of smoke and that odor will transfer to the sleeping bag. 
  • In other cases, your sleeping bag may just be dirty. If you’ve gone camping several times without washing, it’ll eventually start to smell. 

How you deodorize a sleeping bag depends on what it smells like. Some smells go away with airing while others require washing the sleeping bag. 

Let’s talk about how to deal with various kinds of smells. 

How To Deodorize A Sweaty or Stale Smelling Sleeping Bag

If your sleeping bag smells sweaty or just has a funky stale smell, it’s probably from your body and clothes. 

Turn it inside out and air it outdoors (in the shade) or indoors (with windows open) until the smell is gone. 

If the smell is particularly strong, use a deodorizing product to help eliminate the smell quicker. The safest option is activated charcoal. Place a pack of it near the sleeping bag to absorb odors. 

You can also use a deodorizing spray like Febreeze.   

How To Get The Musty Smell Out Of A Sleeping Bag

How To Get The Musty Smell Out Of A Sleeping Bag

If your sleeping bag smells musty, airing it outside usually gets rid of the smell. 

It’s normal for a sleeping bag to get musty after a camping trip. That’s why you should air it immediately when you get home to let it dry and deodorize. 

The sleeping bag can also smell musty after storing it in a humid area. Airing it out will get rid of the smell. Make sure you store the sleeping bag in a dry and cool area to keep it from getting musty again. 

Without proper care, a mild musty smell can develop into mold and mildew. And if you have a down sleeping, the prolonged exposure to moisture can cause rotting. 

To air out a sleeping bag, turn it inside out and lay or hang it in a shaded area. Don’t air it in direct sunlight as the UV can damage the fabric. 

If you don’t have a place to air it outside, hang it on the back of a chair or couch and open the windows. 

Let the sleeping bag air for several hours until it’s completely dry and smells fresh. 

Tip: Don’t wait until you get home to air the sleeping bag. Every morning when camping, turn the sleeping bag inside out and air it for a few minutes. It’ll prevent the mustiness from building up. 

How To Get Moldy or Mildew Smell Out Of A Sleeping Bag 

A mold and mildew smell is more worrying since it indicates the presence of mold or mildew.

Not only do these fungi make your sleeping bag smell awful, they are also bad for your health. This is especially so for people with allergies and respiratory health problems like asthma. 

If your sleeping bag smells like mold or mildew, simply airing it out is not enough to get rid of the smell. That’s because it doesn’t get rid of the mold. 

You have to wash the sleeping bag. 

You can hand wash it in a bathtub or clean it in a front loading washing machine. Make sure you use the right detergent. 

We recommend Nikwax Tech Wash for synthetic sleeping bags and Nikwax Down Wash Direct or Grangers Down Wash for down sleeping bags. 

In addition, add a bit of vinegar to the rinse water (if you are using a washing machine, add it to the softener compartment) to help kill the mold and mildew and get rid of smells. 

Dry the sleeping bag outside or in a large drier. Make sure the sleeping bag is completely dry before storing it. 

Here’s an REI video with tips on how to clean your sleeping bag without damaging it. 

Why Does My Sleeping Bag Smell Even After Washing?

Some smells can be stubborn, sticking around even after a cycle in the washing machine. There are a few more things you can try. 

One, make sure you use vinegar as we’ve mentioned above. Vinegar is a powerful and safe way to get rid of smells. 

For extra strong smells like tobacco, use a laundry deodorizer. The most effective one we’ve found is the Zero Odor Laundry Odor Eliminator.

As far as we can tell, it is safe for down and synthetic sleeping bags. But you can call up the manufacturer to confirm. 

Use the odor eliminator when washing the sleeping bag and any stubborn smells should go away. 

If even that doesn’t work, the last option is to send the sleeping bag to professional services like Rainy Pass. 

Tip: If the sleeping bag comes out of the washer smelling musty or like mildew, the problem could be the washing machine. Do a thorough cleaning before washing the sleeping bag. 

Tips To Keep Your Sleeping Bag From Getting Smelly

Prevention is always the best option when it comes to taking care of your sleeping bag. 

Take care to keep it from getting dirty, damaged or smelly. Here are our top tips to keep bad odors away from your sleeping bag. 

  • Use a sleeping bag liner. Since your body is one of the main causes of a smelly sleeping bag, having a liner between you and the sleeping bag will prevent sweaty and musty odors. 
  • Place your sleeping bag on a pad or cot. Putting your sleeping bag directly on the ground will make it dirty and damp, making it more likely that it will smell. 
  • Air out your sleeping bag daily when camping. Just a few minutes is enough to get rid of any trapped moisture and smells. If it’s raining or snowing outside, hang the sleeping bag inside the tent. 
  • Air the sleeping bag for a couple hours or so immediately when you get home. The fresh air will dry and deodorize it. 
  • Be careful how you store the sleeping bag. Never leave it in a compression bag as that can damage the loft. Instead, dry it and then store it in a large mesh or cotton bag. Hang or place the bag somewhere cool and dry like the closet. Avoid storing it in the garage, basement or attic. 
  • When camping, change into clean clothes before getting into the sleeping bag. Sweaty and dirty clothes will stink up the sleeping bag. Also avoid sleeping in the clothes that you had on when cooking. 
  • Carry your sleeping bag in a waterproof compression sack when going camping. This will keep it from getting dirty or damp from the rain or other items in your camping bag. 
  • While you don’t need to wash your sleeping bag after each camping trip, try to wash it at least once a year. If you go camping more often, wash it more frequently. 
  • When washing your sleeping bag, make sure the washing machine is clean. A dirty or moldy washing machine can leave your clean sleeping bag smelling musty or moldy. Also remember to remove the sleeping bag from the washer immediately the cycle is over. Leaving it in there too long can cause a mildew smell that’s difficult to get rid of. 

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