Can I wash an Army Modular Sleep System in my top-load washer?
January 20, 2014 4:38 PM   Subscribe

I just got a set of surplus unused Army sleeping bags (called the Modular Sleep System) and want to wash them. The tags say to use a commercial, front-load washer; can I use my modern, top-load washer that does not have an agitator?

The two sleeping bags can nest inside each other, and they come with a heavy GoreTex bivy sack that can stand in for a tent. (There's also two stuff sacks.) They are awfully sweet.

The care tag specifically says to use a front-load machine. But is this just a relic of an earlier age, before home washers without a central agitator were common? Or is there something different about the way those machines work?

(It is new, but smells of cigarette smoke. I would like to wash it on principle they same way I wash anything new. I have already aired it out, and after washing it I will try to swamp any remaining smell with cheap coffee grounds. :7)
posted by wenestvedt to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I would go ahead and wash it. I've washed plenty of sleeping bags before (only synthetic fill, never wash down-filled bags) and while it's never good for them as it will gradually reduce the fluffiness and therefore the insulation value of the stuffing over time, it's also never destroyed one. I always just do it on a gentle cycle and they dry on low.

Don't do it more than you have to, though. Like I said, a sleeping bag has a limited number of washes in it before it becomes considerably less warm than it was originally. The general rule is to only wash 'em if they have an annoying smell, like yours does.
posted by Scientist at 4:44 PM on January 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Wash each of the sleeping bags separately. (Patrol bag and main bag). Don't put the bivouac cover in the washing machine. Use a sponge and soapy water to clean it. Follow up with ScotchGuard if you want to keep it in the best shape.

Air dry the bags, then tumble over low heat once dry. Never put the bivouac cover in the dryer. Ever. Make sure to store them in their bags and in a cool, dry place until needed.

This is after a 20 year career of using military sleep systems.
posted by Master Gunner at 4:45 PM on January 20, 2014 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: The way I figure it, the item was given its NSN (8645-01-547-2757) in 1994, so the instructions are just outdated.

The bivy sack is coated with Gore-Tex, right? The other day I found a description of how to clean Gore-Tex that made sense to me, even though the source gave me pause.

I plan to store both bags in a big storage tub, instead of being wadded up in the stuff sacks. Will this help extend their life?
posted by wenestvedt at 4:54 PM on January 20, 2014

I suspect that you are right, and the care instructions are mostly about not using a washer that has a central agitator that might tear up the bag's fabric. However, I'd be a little concerned about washing it in a HE / low-water-usage machine because it might not rinse the detergent out thoroughly enough. At the very least I would try to set the machine to use a full load's worth of water and then wash each bag separately, to ensure it gets rinsed out thoroughly. Some detergents can attract insects so for that reason alone I wouldn't want any residue.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:16 PM on January 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I am washing them today, using the Bulky cycle and a Low Spin setting with cold water. The first one came out in good shape and I hung it up to dry, and the second one is in now. I will tumble them later to fluff them up.

Thanks for the advice!
posted by wenestvedt at 11:40 AM on January 22, 2014

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