Sleeping mats spend almost as much time as your boots surviving intense ground contact in the outdoors. But – despite their essential function in your gear arsenal – these durable little bits of kits are often bottom of the pile in the pack as well as the ‘to clean’ list. But they need some TLC now and again. The Great Outdoors advises on how to clean a sleeping mat to ensure it’s longevity.

Sleeping mats are designed to fulfil a number of functions in the outdoors. Most importantly, sleeping mats provide padding for comfort and all-important protection from the cold ground. This means they get a fair amount of use and abuse and can easily develop mould and mildew which will negatively impact their performance – not to mention producing a few musty smells.

And if you’re in the market for a new mat, The Great Outdoors’ expert gear reviewers have tested the best sleeping mats so you can find the right fit for you.

How to clean a sleeping mat

When should I clean my mat?

Cleaning a sleeping mat doesn’t take long – see below. You should air and store your mat appropriately after every camp so if you do have a moment to wipe it down as you do, we’d recommend it.

Otherwise, ensure you clean your mat should it develop any dirt or grime that can hinder the effectiveness of coatings and cause mildew and mould to develop. Similarly, should your sleeping mat be subjected to a drenching, you should reproof its coating.

Can sleeping mats be washed?

Manufacturer’s guidance should be checked as a first port of call but generally, no, the materials used to construct sleeping mats aren’t suitable for machine washing or drying. Excessive water can hinder DWR coatings and seep into valves while intense heat can warp lightweight materials. You wouldn’t want your sleeping mat exposed to torrential rain or extreme heat unless it’s designed to be – so don’t subject it to these extremes while giving it some TLC.

Cleaning your mat

With that said, here’s a step by step cleaning guide which would suit most sleeping mats.

  1. Unpack your sleeping mat and shake it out, making sure to close all valves
  2. Prepare some soapy* water and dampen a wash cloth
  3. Wipe down the surfaces of your mat ensuring you don’t drench it and keep any water out of the valves
  4. Air dry your sleeping mat in a warm, dry place away from direct sunlight (to avoid excessive UV exposure) with the valves open

* Use non-detergent specialist washes such as Nikwax and Grangers to protect the mat coatings and fabrics. Some manufacturers also sell their own specialist formulas. If mould and mildew has already developed, look for a cleanser with odour eliminating qualities.

How to store your mat

First and foremost, upon returning home after every camping trip, you should allow your sleeping mat to dry out fully in a cool environment. It’s a faff but it’s better than the smell of mildew and mould.

Once clean and dry, find somewhere cool and dry to store the mat ensuring you keep the valves open. Avoid hot or potentially damp locations such as a garage or the boot of your car.

The stuff bag your sleeping mat came in may serve as a very handy compression sack for transporting kit into the hills, but it’s not necessarily the best storage method for your mat.

In fact, you should avoid compressing the mat for storage at all as constant compression over time can damage insulation qualities. Ideally, you’d store your mat by hanging on a line or laying flat but if space is minimal, a mesh bag large enough for the mat to be packed away loosely is ideal. An ordinary pillowcase will also do.

Learning how to clean a sleeping mat should save you from having to repair or even replace your gear further down the road. If your mat is beyond saving, take it apart and dispose of it carefully using a recycling or upcyling service.

If you need more help with cleaning and maintaining your outdoor kit, our gear team has shared their expert advice on how to clean your tent, how to clean your backpack and how to clean your camping stove.