How To Get Musty Smell Out Of Sleeping Bag

You have just come back from your trip to the grand canyon. You unpack your stuff, unroll your sleeping bag and prepare to store it when you notice a musty smell coming from it. You begin to wonder where this smell came from. You figure maybe it has to be your sweat. You could be right. 

What causes your sleeping bag to have a musty smell? How can you get this odor out of your bag? How can you prevent your bag from developing a musty smell? Read on to find out.

What Causes A Musty Smell In Your Sleeping Bag?

Most hikers would be able to relate to the following reasons why a sleeping bag may smell musty. 


If your sleeping bag traps moisture inside of it, this can develop into a musty smell after a long time. Almost everyone has experienced storing clothes that are not properly dried. We are also familiar with the smell that follows. It’s the same with sleeping bags too. 

If you slept in the bag without drying out after a shower, or if you slipped into it after a long day in the sun without cleaning sweat off your body, then you can be sure that a musty smell will develop soon. If you wash the sleeping bag and you don’t allow the bag to dry properly before storage, it can also cause smells. Furthermore, a mix of moisture and accumulated dirt can spark off the growth of bacteria that cause musty smells in your bag. 

Delay In Drying After Washing

If you left the sleeping bag in the washing machine for days after washing it without drying it, there’s surely going to be a smell.

It would interest you to know that poorly maintained washing machines can become a haven of ell-causing bacteria. If you repeatedly leave grimy water from washes in your washing machine, bacteria will converge and it will smell. When you do your sleeping bag in for washes, it’s going to come out with the musty smell latched to it. 

Too Much Detergent When Washing

Applying too much detergent when washing your sleeping bag can also cause musty smells. It happens when you don’t properly drain or clean out the excess detergent from the machine, which in turn causes residue in the bottom of the machine. The residue traps bad smells in the machine which can be transferred to your sleeping bag. 

Improper Storage Practice 

Do you air your sleeping bag after your trips? Do you wash and dry properly too? If you are fond of missing this very important part of maintenance practice, you expose your bag to the risk of smells.

Depending on how frequently you use it, every time you sleep in your bag, you leave body fluid and dirt in there. When you get home and simply pack it without airing or drying it out, bacteria act on the residues and this leads to musty smells. 

How To Get Musty Smell Out Of Sleeping Bags

A smelling sleeping bag soon becomes unpleasant to sleep in. In fact, it can lead to skin problems to sleep in a bag that’s infested with bacteria. So how do you get the smell out of the bag? Follow these tips: 

Wash The Bag

Simply dip your bag in the washing machine and wash it. This is one of the best ways to deal with the musty smell in your bag. If your bag smells, wash it. 

Spot Washing

Yeah, it’s actually a thing where you wash the spot where the musty smell exists alone. Before doing this you have to be certain where the musty smell is coming from by sniffing the spot out. It is possible for only a part of the bag to smell. One instance is where a kid urinated while sleeping in it or where you spilled water on a spot by mistake. 

Air The Bag Out

You can try hanging the sleeping bag out in the opening to let the smell out. You’d be surprised what natural air does to the smell in your sleeping bag; for one thing, smell-causing bacteria are averse to natural air and sunlight. The moisture that harbors the bacteria dries out and the increase in temperature kills them. 


You can try this right after airing the bag and you notice the smell has only reduced. Deodorants would swallow the smell entirely. They do not leave residues; they are not harmful to you. You can find deodorants that are user and environmentally friendly in stores. 

How Do You Prevent A Musty Smell In Your Sleeping Bag?

Preventing musty smells from occurring is easy if you follow a careful care routine for your bag.

Bathes And Washing After Hiking

Do not go to sleep in the bag with your sweaty body. If your circumstances permit, have your bath before sleeping in the bag. Wash clothes that have been soiled by sweat immediately. This prevents them from smelling and transferring musty smell into your sleeping bag. 

Use Bag Liners

Bag liners act as barriers between your body and the sleeping bag. They are ideal for when the temperature is very high and you don’t want to sleep with your clothes on. They are also ideal for when you have to unavoidably sleep with moisture on your body. Bag liners are made from different materials like silk, cotton, or polyester. Liners can be washed right after the trip. 

Avoid Direct Contact With The Ground

Before leaving for your destination, ascertain what kind of terrain is available where you are going. If it’s a place like the grand canyon where most of the ground is dirt, carry a pad or tarp. You can lay the tarp on the floor before laying on your sleeping bag.

The tarp acts as a barrier, protecting the sleeping bag from dirt that can get into the bag, mixed with moisture, which makes it smell. Also, a tarp of the pad protects the bag from the moisture buildup that occurs the night from mists. 

Store Your Bag Properly

In the end, it is what you do with your bag after the trip that determines if your sleeping bag will have a musty smell or not. Proper storage practices will help you avoid this fate for your bag. 

Unroll immediately, air, or wash and then dry properly before hanging it or boxing it up. This leaves very slim chances for dirt, moisture, and bacteria to cause smells in the bag. 

Final Thoughts

Most smells are natural. A number of them are pleasant. But the ones that are unpleasant are the ones we aim to get out of our bag. Keep in mind all the cleaning tips mentioned here. They can either help you preserve the pleasantness of your bag or leave it condemned to have that musty smell always. Take care of your sleeping bag, as much as it takes care of you.

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