Why Does My Down Sleeping Bag Smell

a good way to care for down sleeping bag is to air it out

During camping, hiking, or backpacking, you’ll need something to sleep inside, and what is better than a fluffy down sleeping bag? Well, a fluffy sleeping bag that doesn’t smell. It’s not uncommon for your snooze gear to get smelly from time to time.

But, why is that happening, and can it be prevented?

The truth is, your down sleeping bag can get smelly from various conditions. Most common are people’s poor hygiene, moisture, and bad manufacturing process. While the odor can be very unpleasant, there are some things to consider that can prevent the smell from appearing in the first place.

So, today we are talking about some situations that can make your down bag smelly, and how to avoid that.

Table of Contents

Synthetic Vs Down Sleeping Bag

Good insulation is mandatory during an outdoor stay. While it is very important to have appropriate outerwear, you will need something to keep you warm at night. Sleeping bags are a great solution for chilly camping nights. The main difference between them is the material.

Different fabrics will act in different ways. The cloth with good insulation will slow the transfer of heat from your body. It will trap it in a layer of air around you. There is the rule – the loftier insulation, the higher the warmth-to-weight ratio. The most common insulators are down and synthetic.


Down is a delicate layer under geese or ducks’ feathers. It represents one of nature’s best insulators. Every individual plume consists of ultra-fine fibers radiating from the center. This specific structure creates air pockets that can easily trap heat and make you feel warm and cozy.

Down quality is measured by “fill power”. If the down is high in quality it can reach up to 800 fill power. Which is very expensive. 

Down Insulation

  • Durable
  • Light and Compressible
  • Great Weight-to-Warmth Ratio
  • Expensive
  • Lower Insulation When Wet


Many companies are making synthetic fill for sleeping bags. But two main trends are present: short-staple fibers and long continuous filaments. Short-staple fibers try to mimic 3D plume fibers and can compress well. But, they are not very durable. Continuous filaments tend to have more durable, high-loft insulation, but they don’t compress easily.

Synthetic Insulation

  • Quicker Drying
  • Insulates When Wet
  • Hypo-Allergenic
  • Lower Compression
  • Heavier Than Down
  • Less Expensive

Why Does Down Sleeping Bag Smell?

As you had a chance to see in previous paragraphs, down sleeping bags are pretty lightweight, and easy to transport, but their worst enemy is humidity. A lot of people have the same problem – down sleeping bag odor. Why does it happen, and how to solve it? We have some possible causes and solutions.

Down sleeping bags can get smelly from moisture inside a tent

Poor Hygiene

During hiking and other outdoor activities, people sweat. Over time, body oils and dirt can come in contact with a sleeping bag if you don’t practice regular hygiene. So, in that case, the smell may have stuck on the surface of a down sleeping bag, not on the down inside.


Natural environments often have humid air, so it’s not uncommon that you will be camping in high humidity conditions. There might certainly be some rain too.

So your down sleeping bag may absorb some moisture from the air, or even get wet from drying your clothes in it. If not dried properly, molds can develop inside the bag which results in an unpleasant odor.

The other possibility is that you’ve washed your sleeping bag before camping but didn’t dry it by instructions, so it kept moisture inside.

Bad Manufacturing Process

Unfortunately, not all manufacturers do their work well. As you know, down is an animal product, and it needs to be cleaned thoroughly during manufacture. So if the cleaning wasn’t proper, the outcome can be a smelly down sleeping bag. If you bought a brand new bag and it has a bad odor that won’t go away even after washing, it might be a manufacturing defect.

To avoid this, make sure to buy your down sleeping bag from a trusted manufacturer, and always look for RDS or Responsible Down Standard mark on the product. This means that feathers and down come from animals that have not been exposed to any unnecessary harm.

Side note: The odor can also come from moisture that isn’t dried thoroughly during manufacturing. So, be sure to contact the manufacturer if you have any questions regarding the product flaws.

How to Care for Down Sleeping Bag During Camping

One way to ensure your down sleeping bag won’t become smelly is to take good care of it during your outdoor activities. Check out some tips on how to achieve this very easily.

Sleep in Some Clean Clothes

After a long day of hiking activities, you are completely exhausted. But that doesn’t need to stop you from changing into some clean clothes before sleep. If you don’t have water near, try to use some wet wipes to freshen up.

That way you’re going to prevent the sweat and oils from the body interfere with your fluffy sleeping bag. It can be good to change the clothes you have been wearing during food preparation, especially if you’re camping in the bear area.

Try Using Sleeping Bag Liner

These liners can be cotton, silk, wool, or polyester. They are light and easy to carry. Liners can keep your down sleeping bag clean, as they serve as a barrier between your skin and the bag. It’s nice to know they also add insulation. You can wash them after every trip, and you’re good to go.

Protect Down Bag From the Ground

If you prefer to sleep completely outside, without-a-tent, it might be good to put some pad on the ground. That way you can protect the bag’s fabric from rough terrain and moisture.

Treat the Bag Gently

If you plan on using your sleeping bag as a cover when sitting by a campfire, consider taking some older synthetic bags. The sparks from a fire can make holes in your down bag, and ruin it.

Air Out a Down Sleeping Bag Daily

When it’s dry in your camping spot, it might be a good idea to turn the down bag inside-out and leave it out to dry any moisture. Make sure not to leave a bag in direct sunlight for a long time, as UV light can slowly damage the material.

Of course, if you’re dealing with a really wet bag, you may have to leave it in the air for a couple of hours. When you come home from camping, always air out a down sleeping bag.

Storing Sleeping Bag

Storing your down sleeping bag properly may prolong its lifespan. So, when you return home, unzip the bag and air it out for a while to be sure it is completely dry. After that, store it loosely in some large cotton sack (you should get one when purchasing a sleeping bag).

Avoid storing your bag compressed as this may damage it during the time. Skip the watertight storage bags also, if you can. Condensation is very common inside these bags so it can harm the sleeping bag.

How to Wash and Dry Down Sleeping Bag

Caring for a sleeping bag depends on whether it’s down or synthetic. Down bags need to be cleaned more carefully. Also cleaning them can be time-consuming. That is why many people opt for professional help. But, if you would like to do it on your own, make sure to consider the next tips.

Washing a Sleeping Bag

First, check out the manufacturer’s instructions. They should be labeled somewhere on the bag. If you wash the down sleeping bag yourself, bear in mind that it will take some time to dry completely. At least two to three hours. It may be easier to wash and dry it in large commercial machines.

Make sure to use special down soaps made for down-filled items. You can check out some of them on Amazon.

Drying a Sleeping Bag

Always set the dryer on low heat. If the temperature is too hot, it can damage the filling. When a down bag is almost dry, add two to three clean tennis balls (or you can buy commercial balls for drying) to the dryer. This way you avoid any clumps. Be sure the down bag is completely dry before storing it. You can leave it out at night, to be sure.

Things to Have in Mind

  • Never dry clean your down sleeping bag. Solvents used during the dry cleaning process can seriously damage the down.
  • Never use fabric softener or bleach.
  • Never wash a down bag in a top-loading machine that has an agitator. It can tear up the bag. On the other side, a top-loading machine without an agitator should be safe to use.

Bottom Line

A smelly down sleeping bag can be a nightmare, and turn your camping into an unpleasant experience. So, always think in advance when planning to bring this type of bag with you. Make sure it’s dry and clean. Often change your clothes before using a sleeping bag, and air out it whenever you get the chance.

With a few simple tips, you probably won’t have a sleeping bag odor problem anymore. All that’s left to do now is enjoy your camping.

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