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Gear Guy

How should I clean my crusty old sleeping bag?

Greetings, greetings, greetings. I have a five-year-old down-filled North Face sleeping bag. I think it's called the blue moon. I've used it over 100 nights so far and I haven't washed it yet (I know). Anyway, I wanted to know two things. First, what is the best way to wash it? The inside is starting to get, um, for lack of a better word, crusty. I want to wash it myself as I don't trust dry-cleaners. My second question involves the fill. This bag is rated to 20 degrees, so there isn't too much fill to begin with, but now there are some "empty spots" on the bottom. Is there a way to move the fill around? Jeff Dobozy Lake Tahoe, California

A: Greetings and salutations to you, as well. The bag you have is no doubt a Blue Kazoo (Kazoo, Wazoo, Moon, Spoon...whatever), a classic budget-priced down bag ($199) that is still around and still popular. It certainly is washable, and worth doing so to help extend its life and make it more comfortable. To do, simply take yourself, the bag and a bunch of quarters to a commercial Laundromat with front-loading machines. Washing the thing with most any detergent on the "warm" setting. Run it through an extra rinse cycle to get all the soap out. DO NOT DRY-CLEAN -- this will strip the needed natural oils from the down.

Next, just put the bag in the dryer. There is some debate on how best to do this. One school of thought: Add a clean tennis ball or two to the dryer, as this will break up the down clumps. Some argue that this can damage the baffles. Myself, I'd go with the tennis balls. Run the dryer until the bag is thoroughly dry, but watch the heat setting so you don't melt the shell. Then, grab the bag by the foot and give it a good, long shake. This will help re-distribute the down through the baffle channels, with luck eliminating the thin spots you're seeing.

And that should do it. As a matter of course, I recommend always wearing something to bed -- a cotton T-shirt and light long underwear is fine. That helps keep the bag much, much cleaner, extending the time between washings and extending the life of the bag.

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