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How to Effectively Clean Your Backpacking Sleeping Pad

Read Time: Approximately 6 minutes

One constant in managing gear is ensuring you take care of it to lengthen its lifespan, and sleeping pads are notorious for mold and bacteria growth due to the warm air you blow into them nightly. Let’s discuss how to clean a sleeping pad on the trail and in town.

Mold grows easily when contained, and in a closed system breeding ground like a sleeping pad, they can thrive and grow near unfettered. So consistent quality maintenance is needed to lengthen your gear’s life.

Let’s take a look at why cleaning matters in more detail, and then we can discuss some general cleaning steps and then some for both on the trail and in town to keep your backpacking sleeping pad in good condition.

blue inflatable sleeping pad inside a red tent

Why Cleaning Your Sleeping Pad Matters

Cleaning is vital to give you the best life on your gear, extending the lifespan and halting additional growth while traveling in areas that may help mold and crap to grow quicker than normal, like warm and humid spots.

Mold and bacteria can cause skin irritation, respiratory problems, and other infections, so it’s best to avoid them if possible by keeping a clean sleeping pad.

In terms of how long you can go without cleaning your sleeping pad depends on how often you’re using it and how well you take care of it when not in use.

Extend Gear Lifespan

For most, this is the key, and most quality sleeping pads will set you back around $150 or more, and having to throw one away is just a waste, so do what you can to take care of them.

Cleaning them often allows them to be used for much longer and allows replacements to be done when they physically fail, not because they are a health hazard and need to be thrown away.

Abate Mold and Mildew Growth

While it’s impossible to prevent mold from ever growing on your sleeping pad, there are ways you can reduce the amount that accumulates over time.

Inflating and deflating your sleeping pad properly with an inflatable pump sack or electric pump and regular cleaning and drying will help extend its lifespan.

Keep an eye out for small dark spots or stains on the inside surface of your pad when you hold it up to the light, which may indicate an internal mold problem starting.

It’s difficult to remove much mold from within since you have just a simple mouth valve to fill it with air in the first place; it is hard to get anything inside and to the mold to combat more growth.

You can’t use chemical mixtures to eliminate mold because you can’t put anything inside. This is what leads people to make a new purchase instead; it’s just easier.

General Cleaning Instructions

  1. Wipe down the entire outer surface of your pad with a soapy damp cloth (use a non-detergent, mild soap can work like liquid dish soaps)
  2. Keep all excess water out of the valves by keeping the air valves closed
  3. After fully washing, allow the pad to air dry as flat as possible on a tree or clothesline with the pad valves open
  4. For many pads, you may need to avoid direct sunlight, as the UV can harm the fabrics and cause other deterioration
  5. Once a pad is fully dry, store it outside its storage sack, preferably flat or loosely rolled in a cool, dry place, and always leave the valves open during storage.

Sleeping Pad Cleaning and Maintenance on the Trail

There are some solid cleaning and maintenance tasks you have to accomplish while out hiking and seeing the beautiful sites, these little things will help you enjoy 1000% more of your trek and leave you with less worry.

External Pad Maintenance

When you’re done using your sleeping pad for the night and are ready to pack it up in the morning, make sure you give it a good brush-off with your hands first.

Check for any excess dirt, leaves, pine needles, or other things that could have gotten on there during the night that could puncture or tear the fabric.

Once you’ve brushed everything off, give it a good shake to loosen any smaller things that are clinging on before rolling it up, or folding depending on how you store it within your pack.

In-Field Repairs On a Sleeping Pad

If you’re in the field and don’t have the time to let a patch dry overnight, use the following patch method:

  • Clean and dry the area around the puncture. If you have a alcohol pad this can help clear away problem areas first.
  • Use the Tear-Aid patch included in the patch kit to cover the leak.
  • Press firmly in place.
  • Wrap a piece of duct tape around the patch to hold it in place until you can properly dry and repair the pad later.

If you’re using an inflatable sleeping pad, you’ll want to keep an eye on the valves as well.

Make sure they close tightly to avoid any air leaks, and if they do start leaking, use a small amount of duct tape around the valve to help hold it in place until you can replace it.

Sleeping Pad Cleanup In Town

Once you reach town you may want to do more permanent repairs on your sleeping pad or just give it a good cleaning.

Washing Your Pad

First will be to really clean the pad fully even if you don’t have issues take the time at town to really clean out gear, this is when you can find tree sap and other more sticky crud to remove.

  • Unroll your sleeping pad and set it up how you would normally use it.
  • Wipe down the entire outer surface of your pad with a soapy damp cloth (use a non-detergent, mild soap can work like liquid dish soaps)
  • Rinse the sleeping pad thoroughly to remove all soap residue.
  • Once you’ve cleaned the sleeping pad, allow it to dry fully before storing.

This will help make it ready for the next time you use it and help keep it in good condition.

Never Put Your Pad Into a Washing Machine

This may seem silly but it happens often where the expectation is that a better and more thorough cleaning will happen in a washing machine on delicate.

This is not the case, pads aren’t machine washable and inflatable sleeping pads especially can be easily damaged by the agitation and warm water heat from a washing machine.

The best way to clean your sleeping pad is by hand as described above.

Checking For Necessary Repairs

In town you can do more thorough testing for any developing super small leaks or holes and patch them correctly to increase the lifespan of your sleeping pad.

You will also have more time to let the patch dry and set before using your pad again which will help avoid any further damage.

Locating Leaks with The “Tub Test”

Inflate your sleeping pad and check for leaks by submerging it in a tub or sink of soapy water, looking for bubbles coming from small punctures.

If you do find any leaks, follow the instructions above for in-field repairs.

Once you’ve found and repaired any leaks, allow the sleeping pad to dry completely before storing.

Locating Leaks With the “Listening” Method

If you don’t have a tub, you can instead use the “listening” method to find leaks.

Inflate your sleeping pad and put your ear close to the surface, moving around until you hear a hissing noise.

Once you’ve found the leak, follow the instructions above for in-field repairs.

Once you’ve found and repaired any leaks, allow the sleeping pad to dry completely before storing.

Final Thoughts on Cleaning a Sleeping Pad

Hopefully, you now know more about managing your sleeping pad while on the trail and how to effectively clean a backpacking sleeping pad when you reach the town.

By following the above tips, you can help extend the life of your sleeping pad and avoid any unnecessary damage.

As with all gear, it’s important to inspect your sleeping pad regularly for any worn spots or developing leaks before each use.

By taking good care of your gear, you can help ensure that it will be there to take care of you when you need it most.