About a year and a half ago I bought my first backpacking quilt from Enlightened Equipment. Check out my review here. Its accompanied me on many trips and adventures, but the time had come for a washing which I’ve been putting off for months. Enlightened Equipment gives a how-to here. I basically followed this tutorial they provided and write about my experience with it here. Usually I wear base layers or all of my daytime clothing to bed depending on temps outside. While this saves the quilt from a buildup of my taint sweat and face grease, filth still accumulates over time from my clothing, exposed skin, and the environment itself.
After reading the how-to, I was really not excited about this, but I will damn sure not pay to have it professionally cleaned. I picked up some Nikwax down wash which I had used before on my last sleeping bag. I cleaned and rinsed my bathtub out.
First you have to completely soak the quilt and all the down, which is much more of a pain than you think it would be. Use hand hot/warm water. You have to constantly push it down, trying to drown it. However its like playing whack a mole, because air bubbles just move all over the place. It took forever to really get it soaked with very few air bubbles left. Try pressing the air out carefully through the seams.
Then I added in the downwash, and gently agitated the quilt with my hands. I let it sit for 20 minutes and came back to see some pretty nasty bath water. It also stank, not in the downy/gamey way either. I hope you can tell from this pic:
Then for good measure I agitated it some more, really working it over. After agitating it for the second time I drained the water out of the tub. This parts a little tricky because the waterlogged quilt really wants to go DOWN THE DRAIN. Sometimes its a little hard to hold it back and let the filth water drain. At this point you want to start pressing and squeezing out the water that remains in the quilt. I found that if you gather up the quilt along one side of the tub makes it easier.
Now I filled the tub back up with WARM water. Let it soak in the water again. I agitated again in order to give it a good rinse. At this point the water is a little cloudy still, so I’ll drain the water and fill the tub back up again. I can also still smell the downwash.
For the third time, I fill the tub up with COLD water. I did this unintentionally, but it taught me a little trick you may find useful. This time when I agitate the quilt, you can tell what areas HAVEN’T been properly rinsed because its still warm to the touch. If you’ve properly rinsed it, it’ll be cold like the water you filled the tub with. I really agitated it this time, and put in lots more water to really get out the rest of the downwash. The water looked ok, and not cloudy or dirty so I drained it out.
This next part really sucked. Basically you sit there awkwardly bent over your tub, squeezing and pressing out the rest of the water. Its unbelievable how much water this thing soaks up, you really have to see it to believe it. Here’s what your quilt will look like once you’ve drained the water out (but still need to press out the rest):
After I press it out, I carefully pick it up and put it in a small container to carry it too my dryer for the most dangerous part. The dryer can melt the fabric, so you must put it on low heat. I tried it in fluff/no heat mode which did nothing. After being in the dryer on low heat, I check on it to see how its doing. Its horribly twisted up, and all the down has accumulated into 5-6 large heavy lumps. I have to break them up as best I can, realizing that redistributing the down properly is going to be the most annoying task of 2016. You can see how one of the lumps accumulated here, its swinging there like a pair of bulls balls:
Every 10-15 minutes, I open up the dryer and quickly take it out so it doesn’t rest on any hot surfaces. Using the dryer has the potential to melt the fabric and completely destroy your quilt. I continue to break up the big clumps of down, slowly redistributing it as I go along. Also, I put in two tennis balls to help in the process, but honestly they keep getting caught in the quilt and dont move around much. The idea is that they do the job of beating out the clumps of down. That process works better as the down dries and starts to fluff out.
Four hours later, here is the result:
It feels so light and fluffy, like the day that I first got it. I really couldn’t tell how dirty it was until I saw it again as clean. With moderate use, I think I’ll be washing it every six months instead of every 18. It was dirty enough that it was starting to affect the temperature rating.
One mistake I made was not really squeezing and pressing enough water out before putting it in the dryer. The tutorial on EE’s website says as much and stressed this point. It took over 4 hours to completely dry it alone. Total clean time was around 5.5 hours, however I was really thorough in my washing. Next time I bet I could get it down to 3.5 hours total by squeezing out more water.
Its a chore, but a necessary one that will help keep your quilt in good shape and extend its useable lifetime.