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Washing down in top loading high efficiency agitator-less machines?
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Steven Adeff
(TinCanFury) - F

Locale: Boston
Washing down in top loading high efficiency agitator-less machines? on 06/27/2012 15:10:39 MDT Print View

So our landlord replaced our washing machines with new HE ones, but they are the top loading type. I'm wondering if, since these have no agitator, if they are ok to use to wash down in (with Nikwax Down Wash)?


Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Washing down in top loading high efficiency agitator-less machines? on 06/27/2012 16:42:35 MDT Print View

I really do not like the idea of washing down gear in anything mechanical at all. The potential for shredding the baffles and destroying the item is huge.

I wash our down gear by hand in the bathtub. When I have rinsed and squeezed it out as much as I can, then I carefully arrange it in a top loader for spinning.


jeffrey armbruster
(book) - M

Locale: Northern California
"Washing down in top loading high efficiency agitator-less on 06/27/2012 19:14:28 MDT Print View

Roger: which brings me back to my recent post about washing my down bag. Marmot does a great job on my (Marmot) bag but they take 5-6 weeks. I barely or not at all trust myself to wash the bag. It's a big investment that I don't want to screw up! I may just wait until the end of the season and have Marmot wash and plump my bag. Meanwhile, the big question is: are local businesses with no real expertise in backpacking equipment to be trusted with washing a down bag? Do they use a "mechanical" agitator that might mess up my bag? and is it a liberal or conservative agitator? Or am I just paranoid, man?

Edited by book on 06/27/2012 19:22:51 MDT.

Dave Triano
(Dtriano) - MLife

Locale: Desolation Wilderness
Washing down items on 06/27/2012 19:34:26 MDT Print View

Its not that tough, just kind of a 'zen' experience that takes time. So, I put aside a day that I can devote to staying around the house, wash the down bag (or jacket) by hand with Nikwax down wash, rinse thoroughly, then put in the dryer with two dry towels on 'air' setting. Go for about 20 minutes, then sit down for the 'Zen' part..... Carefully work the down Clumps apart inside the bag with your fingers, working from one side to the other, then back in the dryer for another session. Repeat for about four hours until the down doesn't clump anymore, and you are done.

Yes, I avoid the washer altogether.

Good way to spend a day.


Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: "Washing down in top loading high efficiency agitator-less on 06/28/2012 00:00:51 MDT Print View

> are local businesses with no real expertise in backpacking equipment to be trusted
> with washing a down bag?
Not with MY down gear!
Do it in the bathtub, like the rest of us. It's safer.


James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Re: Washing down in top loading high efficiency agitator-less machines? on 06/28/2012 06:08:38 MDT Print View

This is generally OK with several caveats. I have one at home that works really well.

Turn down the agitation level to as low as possible. I am not sure if this is really necessary, but "Delicate" (or "handwash") is fine on my machine. I hate to try any stronger and the bags don't really need it (once I had some pine pitch on it that took two washings to remove.)

Water does most of the actual washing with the soap just mixing oils with water to get body oils off. Soap also acts as a surficant, sort-of like a light dye replacement, for dirt and stains. With the HE washers, generally you cannot select water level. But, after a pause, you *can* add another gallon. I will often do this, but it isn't strict...sometimes I forget about it in the hustle and bustle of getting unpacked. Anyway, I use adout 1/2 to 1/3 the recommended amount of soap. IFF I have been out for a long hike (4 weeks or so) I use about 3/4 but never the full amount. I use a hot wash and hot rinse with an extra rinse. Then a wash and rinse with no soap added...just insure it has been completely rinsed. My seetings are "Heavy Soiled" and "Deep Clean." I think this just increases the time to wash and the water to rinse, though.

I do our bags one at a time. Again, this allows the most water to wash the bags. I will also use the Nikwax's Down Proof. This will help a bit with water resistance. Much like a DWR coating for down. It will wear off after two or three washings, though. The first time is full strength. After that, I use a half strength mix as a touch up. This seems to work fine since we have had the machine, about 5-6 washings per year... The machine will add this automagically by pressing the "Fabric Softener" button after washing and putting it in the proper dispenser.

For bags, zippers should be "zipped." There is no agitator to catch and rip stuff, so these are fairly safe, but, they could damage the shell materials in the spin cycle. Maybe I am being too cautious here, though. I have a light pertex shell that is easily damaged. Inside out to clean the inside is mostly what I do, but even then, some stains will accumulate. DO NOT try to remove these. Stains are often embedded, like a dye, into the fabric and will require a detergent or bleach...never use either on your bag. Soo, I just ignore them. You can try wiping down a stain with Simple Green or the like. It doesn't effect down like bleach. But do not let it penetrate to the down. It is still a detergent. Small amounts on a rag and wiped quickly seem to do OK, but, I still think ignoring them is best (unless you are like my wife who insists a stain is not "clean"...I do our bags.) A detergent will strip any oils off the down. This leaves the down brittle and subject to breaking or clumping even when clean.

Carfully roll the bag into a roll to move it to the dryer and unroll it. Use two to four dryer balls (like porcupine quill covered tennis balls) and dry with LOW or NO heat. This will take a couple hours. Down is relativly impervious to heat up to boiling water temps, but synthetic fabrics (the shell,) plastic zippers, elastic cords & cord locks can be damaged. IFF you know you dryer gets about 130F on low that is fine. There is a LARGE difference in dryers!!! My wife has a stationary rack (sweater rack) for our dryer that reads 125F on low so that is where I set ours...Low. I have used commercial dryers that simply get too hot on low...YMMV. Generally anything <140F will be safe, but I would suggest 130F. Small, metal YKK zips can hold heat and possibly heat the fabric to damaging. Turn the bag inside out after the first hour. After drying, pick apart any clumping(I never found any) and hang the bag for a day or two. Or, since I hang our bags, I put them on hangers in the closet with the doors open for a couple days. Then you can put them in a bag, I never use the bags, though.

Reviv-X does not seem to get hot enough to work well on bags. It works OK, but, I have pretty much given up on it. I just rely on the fabric's fine weave to repell water. Maybe because I am too cautious about the heat? Using Down Proof, seems to help as much, but this will also wash out, so, needs to be added back after washing, though not as much as the first application.

The agitators in a machine were responsible for catching on fabrics and violently pulling on the fabric, tearing internal baffles and other things. The agitatorless machines do not do this. While fairly forcefull, they do not catch on things. I am probably being too cautious on the delicate setting, but hate to take a chance with my bags. A light soap, Woolite or Down Wash, should be used to wash down, never any type of detergent (though soap will act as a detergent after 1000-2000 washings.) While down is safe from reasonable heat, the shell is not. Mechanical damage, chemical damage, and heat are the three main items to control while washing your bag.

I have a Whirlpool, about 3-4 years old thse days, I guess. I have been washing my bags every 7-14 days of use with no harm done to the bags. On return from weekend trips, I will often throw them through the dryer to make sure they are dry, and reactivate any remaining Down Proof in the down.

Seth Brewer
(Whistler) - MLife

My thoughts on 06/28/2012 07:16:56 MDT Print View

Take it for what its worth, but I've washed about 8 down bags without issue. Here is what I do:

1) Find a commercial FRONT loader of adequate size and run your hands around inside to check the drum for "burs" or anything metal that is not smooth that may snag your bag material.

2) Set machine to LOW / COLD and follow the very simple instructions on NIKWAX Down Wash (I would never personally use anything else since I have had such good results with NikWax). Wash in the commercial front loader (way easier than by hand). Make sure the it rinses all the down wash out of the bag , so ensure it has a good rinse cycle (or do it twice).

3) Carefully gather up very heavy bag into your arms and put into a Front Loader dryer that is set on LOW and has been checked for burrs and hot spots (a very hot dryer setting can melt your bag shell fabric). Add in 3 tennis balls. Let it go for 30 to 45 minutes or so. Open up and break apart the clumps. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. And when you think you are done....Repeat. Takes about 4 hours for a 20* and maybe a little less for my WM 35* when I washed that.

4) Really not that hard to do, I read a book and listen to my iPod while I spend the 5-6 hours that it may take --- but I've washed 4 bags (in separate machines) on the same day ! So it is a once a year or so job that is not that bad.

5) I WOULD NEVER TRUST ANY COMMERCIAL CLEANERS TO TOUCH MY BAG. They would mess it up for sure. Don't think they really would take the care that I would.

Ed Hayes
(ejhayes) - F

Locale: Northwest
Rainy Pass did a good job on my marmot bag. on 06/28/2012 09:36:17 MDT Print View

I sent a marmot bag to Rainy Pass earlier this year. I had it returned to me in within a week. They did a great job. I would recommend them for those that don't have a day to spend in a laundry mat, or a commercially huge dryer at home. Cost was, I think, $35 plus the shipping each way (It was about $50-55 total for me from Porland, IIRC).

My 10 year old bag (which had never been washed0 came back nice and fluffy without the campfire odor it had :)

Totally worth the cost to me to not spend a day on it. Rainy Pass is respectable, they do a lot of the warranty work for other companies. I was very pleased with their communication (email response) and shipping speed.

Edited by ejhayes on 06/28/2012 09:37:14 MDT.

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Re: My thoughts on 06/28/2012 10:09:51 MDT Print View

I pretty much agree with Seth, but I would add that you should check for any detergent "rind". Even small amounts will accumulate damage over time. Suggest rinsing the machine out first, if you find ANY residue, and avoid those that have an actual rind on them.
"I WOULD NEVER TRUST ANY COMMERCIAL CLEANERS TO TOUCH MY BAG." I agree. Even the best of them is beyond my controll.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Washing down in top loading high efficiency agitator-less machines? on 06/28/2012 10:47:20 MDT Print View

I haven't tried the agitator-less machines, so know nothing about them. Fortunately, my daughter-in-law has an extra large front loading machine (larger than commercial laundromat machines) with an extra delicate cycle. I just go up and spend a day there (giving her plenty of advance warning since she has three kids = lots of laundry). I follow exactly the instructions on the Western Mountaineering website and the results have been excellent.

I think I'd want to check with your sleeping bag manufacturer before using any kind of top loader.

BTW, Woolite ain't what it used to be. It is now a detergent and definitely not recommended for anything where detergent is not recommended.

Edited by hikinggranny on 06/28/2012 10:50:16 MDT.

david beveridge
Interview w/ owner of WM on cleaning a bag on 06/28/2012 11:07:07 MDT Print View

I send my down to rainy pass for cleaning. However there is a pod cast of an interview with the owner of WM and as I recall he comments that machine washing is no big deal.
That's just a recollection, please check for your self.

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
Re: Washing down in top loading high efficiency agitator-less machines? on 06/28/2012 12:14:50 MDT Print View

Mary, Thanks about the Woolite. I see it recommended on some older sites and by some old timers. I am glad somedody keeps up with that stuff. Thanks again!

David Olsen

Locale: Steptoe Butte
Re: Washing down in top loading high efficiency agitator-less machines? on 06/28/2012 14:39:07 MDT Print View

I would go ahead if you are washing a garment without baffles.

Ben R
(snowfiend131) - MLife

Locale: Western PA
Regular washer/dryer has worked OK for me on 06/28/2012 17:57:23 MDT Print View

I have washed a few bags in my old top loading washer with success, using downwash. However, I actually let the washer fill up with water, then turn it off, and then use it like a bathtub to wash by hand. Then I turn the washer back on to rinse and spin, sometimes twice. Five hours or so in my old dryer with a few tennis balls or clean sneakers and the bag is good as new.