If you’re anything like me, you know what it’s like to get to camp after a long day of hiking and cannot possibly wait one second more to be horizontal in your bag. Maybe you wear your hiking clothes to bed, and maybe your body is caked in oil, dust, mud, or whatever else, but you’re too tired to scrub yourself down before you slip in. When we’re out on the trail, our bags are our home. We don’t realize how disgusting they truly become until we’re back home, surrounded by off-trail smells and family members saying ‘gosh, you HAVE to wash that nasty thing.’ Here is how I care for my down-sleeping quilt!
First off, the bags and quilts that we take out are super, super lightweight. Because of this, during the washing process, you have to be very careful with the material. This is why I do not recommend using a washing machine, and instead, using your hands and a bathtub. Because our bags are filled with down, we have to use a special cleaner, not your typical detergent. I recommend using the brand Nikwax, and you can get two bottles in a set: the Down Wash Direct paired with the Down Proof water proofer. Once you have the supplies you need, it’s time to get washing. I use a quilt, so before I put the quilt in the tub, I make sure all the loose straps are taken off and all synch cords are tied to make sure they don’t come off. When you fill the tub, you just need enough water to cover the bag or quilt. Because it is down, you will see that it floats quite well. You’ll have to use some ‘oomph’ to shove that thing under the water.
During this first rinse, I don’t use the cleaner yet. I knead the quilt with my hands in the water to get the first round of dirt and grime out. You don’t realize it, but you can get a lot of gunk out before you even use the cleaner. Throughout the process of kneading the bag or quilt, be careful not to pull it out of the water. It will become quite heavy as you will see and if you pull it out of the water, you are putting excess pressure on the material that could rip seams or such. Now it’s time to add the cleaner. Look at the bottle to see what the recommended amount is per the amount of water you’re using. Once the cleaner is added, start going to town on that thing. I turn mine inside out, I swoosh it all around, and I frankly beat the poo out of it. Once you feel as if it is thoroughly soaped up, it’s time to start rinsing all of it out. I would say the most important part of this process is to make sure you get all of the cleaner out of the bag or quilt. If you don’t, it could damage the down.
When I recently washed my quilt, I did five cycles of rinse. Once you knead the bag and no longer see cloudy water but clear, that’s when you know that all of the cleaners is out. Before you move the quilt or bag from the tub, make sure you have squeezed out as much water as possible. Remember, water makes the down super heavy so be careful in transition. Next up is the drying stage. If you have a dryer, make sure it is in the ‘no heat’ setting. You’ll find that the moisture makes the down clump up and so because of this, throwing tennis balls or something like that in the dryer with the bag will help break up the clumpiness. I do not have a dryer, so I air-dry mine. Now, obviously, air drying takes way longer than a dryer, like three or four days to be exact. As I hung my quilt up to dry, I would often take my hands and knead out the down clumps. I would also shake my quilt quite vigorously to help disperse the down. However you choose to dry your quilt, it’s just important that you make sure it is all the way dry before it goes back in your pack or back in storage. As mentioned above, I choose to re-waterproof my down gear as well when I wash it. I take my second cleaner, the Nikwax Down Proof and do the same process that I did with the first cleaner. I always let the quilt dry completely in between the two processes but to each their own. That is my top-to-bottom process of not only washing my down quilt or bag, but also jackets, pants, or whatever else. Happy hiking!