September 13, 2021

How to Wash Backpacks: Step-by-Step Guide

by Kevin

Table of Contents

For years, a backpack was necessary for school goers, but it has evolved into a hiker essential and a fashion statement with time. Outdoor enthusiasts use it to pack their gear, clothing, food staff, and much more to make their outdoor experience count. 

After a period of use, the backpack gets dusty and dirty, moisture, and even food particles accumulate inside and over, making it smelly. That’s why you need to learn how to wash backpacks as soon as possible. 

Getting a properly designed backpack is an investment that lasts for years of adventure and travel. You can only maintain the lifespan and durability of the bag after a thorough cleaning. 

The well-designed backpacks are critically vital to occasionally clean and spot clean after use. Keep in mind that to regularly wipe the backpack will minimize the amount of dirt that builds up. 

Clean out the Backpack

How to Wash and Clean Backpacks

Before you even start the process, you should empty and detach anything that is in that backpack. Make sure that you open all the zips, turn them upside down and shake them up to eliminate any grit and rubble. 

It’s a step that you should do patiently and carefully to remove any item that could be damaged by water. Remember to take off any additional clip-on accessories, metal parts, or removable straps, if possible. 

For the debris, you can use a vacuum cleaner to effectively get rid of them. Once you finish with the pockets, leave the zippers open. 

Read the Label Carefully

Mostly, backpacks come with care labels that instruct on how to handle your bag. They are often located inside your bag along the side seam, near the main zipper compartment, with cleaning instructions that you should follow carefully. 

Not following them will cause a lot of damage to the fabric. So, the instructions will ensure that you clean the backpack in the required manner. These care labels on your backpack have recommended details on cleaning and drying your bag to maintain sustainability. 

Pre-treat any Stains

At times the backpack will have stains that are hard to let go of with just dusting; in such a case, using a grease or stain remover will work magic. 

Wash Backpacks

The stain remover of your choice will get the target dirty spots off, but you should avoid using bleach. You can spray the remover directly on the affected area and allow it to be on for about 40 minutes, then scrub gently with an old toothbrush to get rid of the most stain residue. 

Fill a Basin with Lukewarm Water

Add around 6 inches of lukewarm water in a basin and avoid hot water; it might damage your backpack fabric. Then, add some gentle detergent, and begin scrubbing the bag using a soft brush, especially on the spot stains or dirty areas. 

Using a toothbrush is great; you tend to remove the hard-to-reach crevices and ground-in stains. A sponge is another washing tool that works better on the mesh areas than using a cloth. Now, you should turn your bag inside-out and clean its interior too.

Use a Gentle Detergent

Your choice of detergent should be a gentle cleanser, which is free of fragrances or dyes. Using industrial or harsh chemicals could cause adverse effects on the fabric of your backpack and probably chip off or diminish the efficacy of the waterproof coating on the fabric that protects it from damages. 

It would be best to have a neutral smell on your backpack to avoid smelling the strong detergent since you might trek for hours on end. The dyes and fragrances might be irritant to your skin. 

How to Clean Backpacks

Submerge Your Backpack

You should not fully dip all bags in water; some require you to use lukewarm water to dip the cleaning rag or scrub brush in since the washing instructions forbid submerging. But you can lay out others in water for cleaning. 

You can scrub using a sponge on the inside and outside and brush to remove the zipper’s buildups. While cleaning, you can alternate using a hand brush and a sponge. The washing tool you settle for should depend on the fabric of the bag.

For instance, you can use a hand brush on a piece of canvas fabric; if it has a lot of mesh, a sponge is good enough. The hard-to-reach areas are well cleaned using a toothbrush. In this process, take the longest time possible until you feel satisfied with the results. 

While cleaning, you should not skip the bag straps. They tend to be discolored and dirty and could transfer the residue to your skin or clothes. 

Rinse Your Backpack

It’s time to rinse your back after doing the most task of getting rid of stains and dirt. Rinse out the detergent or soap with lukewarm water to remove any soapy residue on the backpack fabric. Rinse it thoroughly and wring out the most water without causing any damages to its shape.

 Some people will fold it inside a thick towel to soak the excess water to avoid messing with its shape. You should go ahead and drain the dirty water and replace it with clean water. 

Backpacking Packs 35 ltr and 45 litr pros and cons

Air-dry Your Backpack

After rinsing the water and detergent out of your backpack, you need to take the next step. Hang your bag outside in the sun and allow it to dry naturally.

While hanging it, ensure that it’s upside down. Before you unhang it, make sure that it is 100 percent dry for storage. 

Final Thoughts on How to Wash Bakcpacks

Following the above instructions keenly will leave your backpack smelling fresh after a year or years of use without cleaning. After the cleaning and drying, you should now treat your zippers.

Apply lubricants to them to prevent them from rusting. It shouldn’t happen now and then when it comes to cleaning the backpack, but wiping it is a great idea to reduce dirt.

You can clean it every one or two years since excessive cleaning could cause damages to the fabric and its layers of water-resistant coating if they have any. If you have too many backpacks, learn what to do with old backpacks sustainably.

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About the author 


Kevin loves bouldering. Mainly because he can practice it alone without considering other people. Although he rediscovered this hobby in the last three years, the boulders turned out to be his most visited landmarks.

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