How To Wash A Backpack

How to Wash a Backpack In Five Easy Steps

Whether for school or hiking, backpacks are used so often in our world. And even after a year of good use, backpacks can continue to be used, however usually what stops that is the layer of grime that always seems to build up, no matter how clean you keep your things. How to wash a backpack seems to be a little more complicated than one might think. But everyone knows new backpacks of good quality are expensive and it seems a little counterproductive to have dirty bags stacked in a pile in the basement. No one thinks to wash their backpack, but it isn’t as simple as throwing it in the washing machine alongside all your clothes, towels, and linens because it never is. Backpacks need special care because of their materials and how its washing may affect its use and lifetime. So everyone wants to know the answer to a seemingly complicated question, how to wash a backpack?

Machine Washing

backpack with books on floor

Warning! Do not machine wash your backpack if it has leather trim on it!

Even the best hiking backpacks get dirty, and that’s okay! If your backpack still has the tags on it, look around, see if it can be put into the washer, see what the manufacturers recommend for the washing. Though the answer is a typical yes, it can be washed. It can depend on the material, backpacks made of nylon or canvas are usually safe to put in the washing machine.

Step 1

Empty the bag. Put those things aside, no one likes wet paper. And maybe while the washer is running, do some cleaning and organizing in there, after all, working on this now could save you time later. Make sure to get into every compartment, even those hard-to-reach ones. No one knows how so many crumbs get into those crevices but they need to get out. A small handheld vacuum (or even the hose attachment on a larger one) would be great for this.

If you’re in a pinch, go outside, turn the bag upside down, and shake it, letting all that dirt fall out. Take out any metal framing that might be in the backpack at this stage. Leave all the pockets unzipped to ensure a thorough washing and cut any loose threads near zippers, so they don’t get snagged. All that should be left is what you originally bought, none of the personality it’s picked up on the way. Detach any extra pockets or side bags that came with your backpack, those can be washed similarly at a later time.

Step 2

If there are any stains on the outside or inside of the backpack, apply some stain remover with a soft brush or toothbrush and let it sit for about 30 minutes before washing.

Step 3

This might seem weird, but next, you’ll turn the back inside out or if that’s not your style put it in a pillowcase or laundry bag so both your bag and your washing machine stay pristine.

Step 4

On a gentle cycle, use a small amount of gentle detergent and cold water. If the backpack bunches, press pause and spread the bag back out to ensure a thorough clean and an even load. It is best to not use bleach as it could cause damage to the bag as a whole.

Step 5

Let the backpack air-dry, do NOT machine dry your backpack, that could do more harm than good. Zippers should be unzipped and the entirety of it should still be inside out, also to avoid mold in the bottom of the backpack hang it upside down as it dries. Let it hang outside if you are worried about the odors and let them be carried off into the wind. And no one likes a wet backpack, so make sure it is dry before restocking and using. But this is by far the easiest way to wash a backpack.

How to Hand-Wash Your Backpack

Because sometimes you’re in a hurry

Step 1

Empty the bag, it would be a tragedy to lose that good pair of gloves to the torrential rain of the washing machine. Every compartment needs to get emptied and vacuumed/shaken out. Any metal frame needs to be taken out and any detachable straps or pockets or backpacking accessories also need to be removed. And to avoid snagging cut away any loose threads near the zippers. Also, see if the manufacturer recommends a specific way of cleaning the backpack by checking the tags on the bag or visiting their website.

Step 2

Gently apply some stain remover with a soft brush or toothbrush to any interior or exterior stains and let sit for 30 minutes.

Step 3

Hot water will damage the fabric, so fill your basin with lukewarm water, about six inches should be enough. Add a small amount of gentle detergent to the water and soak bag or desired areas in the water. Scrub gently with a soft brush or cloth, paying close attention to the particularly dirty areas. If the stain persists, a toothbrush is a little more coarse but won’t damage the fabric of the bag, so it is good for those hard-to-reach stains. For mesh, a sponge might work better than a cloth or brush. Don’t forget to clean all the straps on your backpack and to turn the bag inside out and get the inside of it too! 

Step 4

Get rid of the dirty water and refresh your basin with six inches of clean cool water. Rinse the bag thoroughly, wring it out as best you can, and fold it into a thick towel to absorb extra water, do not do anything to accelerate this process, heat will damage the bag. 

Step 5

Allow the bag to air-dry, keep the zippers unzipped, and hang it upside down to avoid water pooling at the bottom of the bag. Letting it dry outdoors may help with any odor still on the bag. Make sure your backpack is completely dry before using it again.

 Not everyone has time for this sort of cleaning. Here are some quick and easy things you could do before or after your backpack use. 

Light Cleaning

backpack and boots on grass

Before an important school event or after any hike or an overnight trip, it’s probably a good idea to give a little love to your backpack.

Empty all pockets and then shake it upside down to get out sand and dirt and other trash that may have been floating in your backpack.

Use a clean sponge, without soap, to wipe out all the insides of the pockets and the straps on your backpack.

Scrub the desired areas lightly with a sponge and a little soap.

Use clean, cool water to rinse off the soap, make sure it gets out of the fabric as well, your sponge or cloth would be useful for this.

When your bag is dry, put your things back in so you’re ready for whatever comes your way!

Spot Cleaning

There’s only one spot, so don’t clean the entire thing! Not everyone has time for that.

Use a cloth or soft brush to apply your soap/detergent/stain remover to the desired stain. Allow the solution to sit for 30 minutes then gently scrub away the soap. Rinse the area with cold water to remove all the soap and dab with a towel to dry.

Tips for Removing Common Backpack Smells

Smells happen, but you don’t always need to wash your backpack. Whether they’re from sweaty gym apparel or your spilled lunch, no one wants their backpack to smell. So, let’s get rid of them!

Treat extra-dirty patches that seem to be the source of the smell with an enzyme cleaner, any good pet mess cleaner is good for this. The enzymes break down the kinds of bacteria left by sweat or oil, without harsh effects and sometimes even leave a pleasant smell behind. 

Or use plain white vinegar diluted with water to treat your stains if you are looking for a greener solution to clean your backpack. It smells a little less pleasant than some other things but that can go away after washing in the washing machine. You can either free-pour your solution or use a spray bottle to apply your vinegar solution. Let the solution sit on the backpack until it’s dry.

So, washing your backpack is not a difficult task, all it takes is a little soap, some water, and some elbow grease. Or a washing machine.

How to wash a backpack is easier to answer than it would seem, but you must treat it with care. It can never hurt to ask questions and be careful with something as useful as a backpack. But it is always good to learn how to clean a backpack to extend its life. This useful skill ends up saving you money and time. With the right care, you could never have to buy a backpack again.

Written by: Ashe Franta

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