The reason a down sleeping bag feels so warm is the same reason geese and other birds stay warm in winter. Down feathers fluff up and trap air in numerous tiny pockets. The trapped air is an excellent insulator.
If your down sleeping bag loses its fluff or loft, it no longer has these pockets that keep you warm. Here are some tips on how to re-fluff a down sleeping bag to restore its warmth.
Why Does A Down Sleeping Bag Lose Its Loft?
Normally, your down sleeping bag should stay soft and fluffy, with the down filling evenly distributed throughout.
If the sleeping bag appears flat and the filling has gathered into uneven lumps, it has lost its loft and will not keep you warm.
There are several reasons why a down sleeping bag can lose its loft.
- It’s wet. One of the biggest downsides of a down sleeping bag over a synthetic one is that down loses its loft when it gets wet. This can happen from too much condensation or if it gets rained on.
- You’ve left it compressed for too long. Down sleeping bags have to be stored uncompressed. Leaving it in a compression sack for too long can make it lose its loft.
- It has aged. Down breaks down over time and gradually loses its loft and warmth rating.
4 Ways To Re-fluff A Down Sleeping Bag
How you get the down filling back to its fluffy shape depends on how bad it is. If it’s not too lumpy, a quick shake gets it right back up.
If it’s all matted and flat, you’ll need to do more.
Here are four ways to re-fluff a down sleeping bag.
1. Let It Rest
If the sleeping bag doesn’t look too bad, it probably just needs some time to air out and regain its loft.
A down sleeping bag can lose a bit of its loft after a camping trip. This happens because of the extended time it spent in a compression bag.
Body oils and dampness from condensation or body sweat can also affect the down filling.
Shake and massage the sleeping bag with your hand like you would a pillow. Then leave it laying down or hanging for several hours or a couple of days.
If the weather allows, you can air it out outside in the shade (don’t leave it in direct sunlight).
After some time, the sleeping bag should feel warm and fluffy again. You can also try this technique if you stored the sleeping bag somewhere damp or humid, causing it to lose its loft.
2. Break Up The Clumps
If the clumps on the sleeping bag are particularly large and noticeable, shaking and airing the sleeping bag will probably not be enough to re-fluff it.
Try to break up the clamps first before leaving the sleeping bag to air and rest.
You can do this by hand. Work on a single clump at a time, using your hands to separate it through the sleeping bag fabric.
Another technique is to hang the sleeping bag on a line or the back of a couch. Then beat it with a tennis racket or anything else that’s not sharp. This should break up large and stubborn clumps.
Leave the sleeping bag to rest for a couple of days before storing it.
3. Air Dry It in The Dryer
The tumble of a dryer is perfect for shaking the down clumps loose and re-fluffing the sleeping bag.
Just make sure you use a large dryer, so that the sleeping bag has plenty of room to move. If you have to force the sleeping bag inside the dryer, it’s too small and could further damage the sleeping bag.
Add a couple of clean tennis balls or a pair of clean sneakers in along with the sleeping bag. As the sleeping bag tumbles about in the dryer, the tennis balls will help break up and loosen clumps.
It’s important that you don’t use any heat at all. Use the air dry setting on your dryer to avoid damaging the sleeping bag.
4. Wash & Dry It
If the air dryer trick doesn’t work, take it a step further – give the sleeping back a complete wash.
A lot of campers are afraid of washing their down sleeping bags. But as long as you follow the cleaning instructions, you won’t damage it.
In fact, regularly (once every few months) washing your sleeping bag extends its lifespan and maintains its insulation.
That’s because washing it gets rid of oils and dirt that can make the down clump together.
It could be that your down sleeping bag has gone a long time without a wash and that’s why it has gone flat and lumpy.
Taking the sleeping bag through a wash and dry cycle will restore its loft.
The most important thing to remember when washing a sleeping bag is to use the right soap (look for down-specific detergent), set a gentle cycle and use cold water. Oh, and only wash it in a front loading machine.
Here’s a video from REI with more advice on cleaning your sleeping bag.
Tip: Run the sleeping bag through two rinse cycles to make sure all detergent is rinsed away as it can keep the sleeping bag from fluffing up.
Is A Down Sleeping Bag Ruined If It Gets Wet?
Any dampness in a down sleeping bag is bad. Luckily, you can restore a down sleeping bag even if it is dripping wet.
Leave it to air dry (outside in the shade or inside with windows open) for several days or put it in the dryer on a low heat or air dry setting.
Once it’s dry, the sleeping bag should regain its loft.
Can You Refill Down In A Sleeping Bag?
If you’ve tried everything and your sleeping bag still won’t fluff up, the down filling is probably permanently damaged.
This can happen with age or extended exposure to moisture.
If that’s the case, you have two options: get a new down sleeping bag or replace the damaged down filling.
If you are not ready to spend money on a new sleeping bag, refilling your current one with new down filling is a cheaper option.
You can buy pure down filling in bulk for about $70 for a 1lb sack. You’ll then need to unstitch individual baffles on your sleeping bag, remove the old filling and replace it with new down fill. Then re-stitch the baffle to close it.
Usually, you don’t need to refill the entire sleeping bag. Focus on those areas that have lost the most loft. For worn out sleeping bags, that’s usually the area that covers the upper body.
If that sounds like a lot of work, there are professional sleeping bag repair services that can refill the sleeping bag for you.
How To Maintain Your Sleeping Bag’s Loft?
Down sleeping bags are more delicate than synthetic ones and require special care to maintain them in good shape.
Here are some tips on using, cleaning and storing a down sleeping bag so that it maintains its loft for as long as possible.
Eventually, however, your sleeping bag will age (average lifespan of down sleeping bags is 10 years) and will inevitably lose its loft.
But until then, here’s how to keep it fluffy and warm.
- Poor storage is the most common reason for sleeping bags losing their loft. As soon as you get home from camping, get the sleeping bag out of the compression sack, let it air, and then store it uncompressed in an oversize mesh or cotton bag. Never keep a down sleeping bag compressed for an extended period.
- Furthermore, make sure you store the sleeping bag somewhere cool and dry. Exposure to dampness can cause the down filling to clump. Extended exposure can make it start rotting, permanently damaging it.
- Be careful when washing a down sleeping bag. Use the right soap and cycle settings. The wrong detergent or aggressive washing can damage the fabric and filling.
- Keep the sleeping bag from getting dirty. When camping, place it on a sleeping pad, cot or some other surface, but not directly on the ground. Dirt can get in through seams and reduce the down’s loft.
- Have a barrier between your skin and the sleeping bag. Sleep in long underwear and use a sleeping bag liner to prevent body oils from penetrating into the down filling.
- If you go camping often, consider having two sleeping bags to switch between. This will give your down sleeping time to rest and extend its lifespan.
How Long Does A Down Sleeping Bag Last?
If you’ve had a down sleeping bag for 10 years or more, you are getting close to the end of its lifespan. That’s how long most down sleeping bags last. With good care, a high quality down sleeping bag can probably last 15 years.
At 10-15 years, a down sleeping has already lost a significant amount of its loft already and will keep getting flat.
This is an irreversible breakdown of the natural down material, so there’s nothing you can do to re-fluff it short of refilling it with fresh down filling.
On the upside, that’s far longer than synthetic sleeping bags, which last 3-4 years.