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Fixing down clumps in a sleeping bag?
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Aaron Reichow

Locale: Northern Minnesota
Fixing down clumps in a sleeping bag? on 10/19/2010 20:32:28 MDT Print View

I recently purchased a used Montbell UL Super Stretch #3. I noticed a few box baffles where the down was totally clumped together. I know that the previous owner had washed the bag with a down wash product before putting it up for sale, though the clumps could have formed in an earlier wash.

I've never had clumps before- I've always been very careful- frankly, a bit paranoid- but the proper care and feeding of down bags. Is there any hope of fixing these? Do I just want to give it another proper wash and dry?

They're all on the backside of the bag, which leads me to speculate that it was used when wet, or perhaps not all the way dry before the previous owner used it after a wash.



Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Fixing down clumps in a sleeping bag? on 10/19/2010 20:45:00 MDT Print View

I've fixed one of my sleeping bags when it had down clumps. There is no convenient way to do it. I sat down in front of the TV one evening and massaged it, inch by inch, with my fingers. I pulled each clump apart, but I was careful not to completely shred the down. Each hour along the way, I fluffed it up, and by the end of the evening, I was done.

Previously I had tried to put it in the clothes dryer with a clean running shoe. All I got was flattened clumps.


Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
clumps on 10/19/2010 20:46:36 MDT Print View

I read in a "how to" wash article that if you had dry clumps you need to start over (ie wash again)

I recently washed one of my older bags- it was a great pain, but every 10-15 minutes or so I'd pull the bag out- go baffle by baffle and unclump the down, repeated this too many times to recall how many, but finally ended up w/ a very lofted (clump free) bag :)

Javan Dempsey

Locale: The-Stateless-Society
Re: Fixing down clumps in a sleeping bag? on 10/19/2010 21:47:45 MDT Print View

Wash the bag again, double rinse, and dry it in a tumble dryer on low heat for atleast 10 hours, if not much much more. Throw a 3 pack of new tennis balls in there with it.

It wasn't completely dried last time.

edit: BTW, be careful trying pull apart down clumps that are solid, especially when wet. This is one of the few things that can actually destroy the clusters themselves, as they get all kinds of knotted together under these circumstances.

Edited by jdempsey on 10/19/2010 21:49:20 MDT.

Steven Evans
(Steve_Evans) - MLife

Locale: Canada
Re: Fixing down clumps in a sleeping bag? on 10/19/2010 22:07:17 MDT Print View

I have found that letting the bag air dry (on a nice sunny day) greatly eliminates the amount and size of the down clumps. It also eliminates the need to use tennis balls and such which can potentially damage your bag (That what I have read - no first hand experience with damage caused by tennis balls)).

My current method is to wash, rinse many times, and then lay flat to dry. After an hour or so, I shake it up and pull the clumps apart by hand. Repeat many many times until you are happy. Once all clumping is gone I throw it in the dryer to really force any moisture out.

The reason I air dry is I have noticed that when you initially take the bag out of the washing machine, the clumps are not that bad. When you put it in the dryer, the bag will develop much larger and denser clumps.

YMMV: I'm no expert, simply a dude that washes his stuff. At the end of the day, it is a straight up pain in the rear to wash a sleeping bag so set a day aside for it.

Edited by Steve_Evans on 10/19/2010 22:08:35 MDT.

Brendan Mulholland
(dools009) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
home dryer technique on 10/19/2010 22:59:17 MDT Print View

I've been looking for a work-around for drying my down bags after washing. I live in the PNW and it could be weeks before I have the chance to dry my bag in the sun : )

Anyways, I put my Golite Ultra 20 in a big cotton/poly stuffsack (like the standard one's that they come in, however I used a stuffsack for a 0 deg back to maximize size).

I threw in 4 tennis balls and ran it on low heat in my dryer (note: it takes a LONG time - like 3 hrs plus to completely get it dry).

Every 30 minutes to an hour I took it out and worked the baffles over by hand to get the major clumps out.

RESULT: The stuffsack (we'll tied to be sure that it didn't come open) did the job protecting my bag from the hot metal plate on the inside of the dryer (worth seeing how hot the metal plate on the hot air inlet pipe is in your dryer - YOU DON'T WANT THAT TO TOUCH SYNTHETICS DIRECTLY). Also, make sure that you don't let the dryer stop without quickly removing your bag (to minimize stationary contact time between the stuff sack and the hot plate).

I will definitely continue to do this with all my bags in the future - HOWEVER this ISN'T a guarantee that it will work with all dryers obviously. Use discretion.


Brett Peugh
(bpeugh) - F - M

Locale: Midwest
slightly frustrated on 10/20/2010 07:48:24 MDT Print View

Drying my down bag has got to the point now where I don't even think I want to use down for all of the hassle involved in just the drying portion. It has gotten to the point where it has become more difficult that making a 5 gallon batch of beer.

Roy Staggs
(onepaddlejunkie) - F

Locale: SEC
My Procedure on 10/20/2010 08:04:40 MDT Print View

I convinced my wife that we needed a new washer and dryer a couple of years ago and talked her into buying the highest capacity front loading machines that were available. This had nothing to do with washing clothes (with the exception of my high performance clothing) and everything to do with washing large puffy jackets and sleeping bags. The large capacity machines will allow your bag to fluff up much better than a small capacity machine. It’s simple physics. Do not take your bag to the laundromat and put your expensive bag in a machine that does not have good temperature control unless you are looking to buy a new one. Never put your bag or jacket in a top loading washing machine. EVER. Wash using NikWax down wash on delicate. Do another rinse cycle to make sure all of the soap is out. Do a second wash, also on delicate, but use NikWax down proof instead of soap in the dispenser. Put the bag in the dryer on extra low heat (also a pre-purchase requirement for the dryer I bought) and add tennis balls to suit. I use 6. Dry for a while then pull the bag out and spray some NikWax direct spray around the head and face area (anywhere you would normally have a problem with condensation) and rub it in good with your hands. Put the bag back in the dryer and set back for a long wait. Go back three or four times and reset the timer that only goes to an hour or hour and a half. When you are absolutely - positively sure that the bag is dry, dry it some more. No, I don’t have any involvement with NikWax. I do like their products. This procedure has also brought back a couple of synthetic fill bags for me in the past, just use the appropriate wash and treat products. It will also bring down pillows and comforters back to their like new glory.
I hope this works a well for you as it has for me.

Colin Kelley
(ckelley) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara
lumps in Montbell on 10/20/2010 11:58:32 MDT Print View

I have had this problem much worse with Montbell gear than anything else. Lumps have never been a problem when I've washed a sleeping bag from Western Mountaineering or a jacket from Marmot. But Montbell gear has consistently clumped, badly. My only recourse was to painstakingly massage the lumps out. Even then I wondered if I got full loft back.

Maybe the Montbell DWR treatment (Polkatex) winds up washing onto the down and clumping it?

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: lumps in Montbell on 10/20/2010 12:50:01 MDT Print View

Colin, I can think of a few possibilities. The Montbell stuff might have a completely different grade of goose down compared to your other experience. The baffles might be a different size, and that contributes to clumping. The washing agent you used might be different, and the DWR treatment might be different.

If you can come up with a perfect solution, I would like to know.

Strangely enough, I have one down sleeping bag that I purchased in 1977, so it has been washed more than any other down item I have, and it is still holding up.


Vince Contreras
(pillowthread) - F

Locale: like, in my head???
My theory... on 10/20/2010 13:22:57 MDT Print View

...says that using an extractor to help dry your bag can lead to clumps. The Centrifugal force an extractor applies to your bag, while effective at removing water quickly, works to compress the down inside each baffle into the smallest possible cross-sectional area given the speed of rotation and distance from the center of the drum. Thus, the "best" extractors are also the most effective at compressing the down.

Looking at my bottle of Nikwax down wash, their recommendation is to spin the bag in a front-loading washer 3 times on the slowest setting possible. There is no mention of using an extractor; perhaps this exclusion is not accidental?

I washed/dried my REI Kilo Flash using an extractor the first time, and it ended up re-clumping quite quickly considering it's seen only around 30-50 nights use since then. I am currently washing the bag again as I type this, and will dry it this time per the Nikwax suggestions, without using an extractor. I'll try to keep all other factors constant, and report back when I've again racked up another 50 nights in the bag.

Until then, I've given up on extractors...

Edited by pillowthread on 10/20/2010 13:25:20 MDT.

Brad Groves
(4quietwoods) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
Re: Fixing down clumps in a sleeping bag? on 10/21/2010 10:07:14 MDT Print View

Probably wasn't dried thoroughly.

I use an extractor nearly every time. Gets the excess water out better than anything, reduces weight & stress on the baffles/etc, and "speeds" drying time.

I don't pay attention to how many hours I dry the bags on low; it takes forever, but I don't do it often. Large capacity dryer at the laundromat on low heat (it is a good idea to pre-check the dryer you're going to use to make sure the thermostat works). Two tennis/racquet balls each in two tube socks. Let it go and go and go and... eventually it'll be done, clump-free.

If you have clumps, gotta get it wet again and re-dry...

David King

Locale: Olympic Peninsula
Washing a down bag on 10/21/2010 11:27:13 MDT Print View

I wash in a front loading washer with Nickwax Downwash or equivalent. Rinse twice and spin dry.

Then I put it in the dryer with three tennis balls and NO heat. Since it's drawing from the ambient air in the house - about 70 degrees and very dry in the winter - it works fine. I just dry it for a long long time. Periodically I make sure that the tennis balls are bouncing around - not caught inside the bag.

This has worked for Montbell and Mountain Hardwear bags.

Aaron Reichow

Locale: Northern Minnesota
thanks on 10/22/2010 13:22:08 MDT Print View

Thanks for the replies, everyone. Between our top-load washer and our dryer which only does high heat, this will have to be a project for some weekend at the laudromat. I did another inspection, and the clumps are less frequent that I first thought. It performed well enough when I used it last week- I was comfortable in the low 30s on an uninsulated sleeping pad (POE Ether Compact 6, R <= 2.0)- but I won't abide clumps. :)

/A .
(biointegra) - MLife

Locale: Puget Sound
Re: thanks on 10/22/2010 13:36:49 MDT Print View

What about prevention?

- how do clumps form?

- how can one avoid them.

I go through great pains to keep my down bags dry + clean and have never had problems with clumping, so my guess is that it has to do with trapped moisture and/or oils and/or dirt.

Aaron Reichow

Locale: Northern Minnesota
Re: Re: thanks on 10/22/2010 13:54:13 MDT Print View

Clumps form when down gets wet. If you don't dry your bag completely and/or use some mechanical intervention (fluffing, tennis balls, etc) you're likely going to get clumps.

I've also gone through great pains to keep my down filled stuff clean and dry and have never had problems with clumping for something I washed. If anything, I'm probably a bit OCD about washing my sleeping bags- I only wash them when it's truly needed, mostly because the process is so labor intensive. Some people wash their bags pretty regularily. I've never had problems with my own routine, so I've never had an interest in messing with it.

The clumps I'm trying to fix came in a bag I bought used. They're all on the underside of the bag, so my assumption is that the bag got wet while being used or that the bag wasn't quite dry after its last wash before getting used.

Brad Groves
(4quietwoods) - MLife

Locale: Michigan
Clumping on 10/22/2010 14:27:56 MDT Print View

Two ways:

1) body oils built up on down, not washed enough based on frequency of use

--this has been my most noticed problem. if you over-wash a down bag you can strip the natural oils off, which help keep its resiliency... so i don't overdo the washing. however, not washing enough gets your nasty oils (even if you always wear clothing to bed as I do) "soaking" the down & causing the clumps.

2)got wet, not dried well --not encountered as often, but can definitely be the culprit