For years, a backpack was necessary for students, 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 regularly wiping the backpack will minimize the amount of dirt that builds up. 

How to Wash Backpacks by Hand and in the Washer
How to Wash Backpacks by Hand and in the Washer

Can You Wash a Backpack?

You can wash most backpacks in the washing machine. However, look for machine washability signs on the instructional tag. Some tags give instructions to clean the backpack with hands only.

Checking the wash instruction tags is essential for learning how to wash backpacks.

You can also judge the backpack by reviewing the material if you have some experience.

Some backpacks come with instruction manuals.

You can find the instruction about washability in that manual.

Techniques for Cleaning Your Backpack

Most manufacturers allow you to submerge the backpack in water.

Some do not allow it due to specialized backpack material components.

You can check the instructions on how to wash backpacks to prevent fabric damage during washing.

Most manufacturers include these guidelines.

  • Do not wash the backpack in the washing machine at high settings or dry with the rotational dryer.
  • Prevent damage by cleaning the surface with a sponge instead of a hard brush.
  • Never place the backpack in direct sunlight to dry for a long time as UV rays from the sun can damage the backpack fabric.
  • You can clean the zipper with a soft brush to remove dust and avoid damage to the water-resistant coating of the zipper.

Light Cleaning Backpacks

You can lightly clean your backpack after coming back from a short hike.

You keep some points in mind when light cleaning.

  • Remove all the sand from the inner parts by shaking it upside-down.
  • Clean all parts with a soft sponge.
  • Use soap to remove the stains and dirt.
  • Use a wet cloth for soap removal.
  • Keep it ready by putting equipment after drying.

Deep Cleaning Backpacks

It is better to deep clean your backpack if you come from a long hike.

Deep cleaning can also help you increase the backpack’s life.

  • Use a vacuum cleaner to remove all the dirt from the crevices of the backpack.
  • You can wash and clean the hip belt by detaching it from the backpack if there is a detachment option.
  • You can check the manual to detach the frame for deep cleaning.
  • Submerging the backpack in lukewarm water for a few minutes will remove most dirt and debris.
  • You can rinse off all the soap water and allow it to dry for some time.

How to Wash a Backpack by Hand – Step-by-Step Instructions

When it comes to cleaning backpacks, hand washing is the most effective method.

It is possible to damage the protective coatings on some backpacks, such as climbing packs, if you wash them in the washing machine.

You should hand wash leather bags, leather-trimmed bags, or bags with iron-on patches or embroidery.

This method will show you how to hand wash your climbing backpack or any other backpack.

A list of washing materials you will need.

  • Detergent or mild soap
  • Washcloth or a sponge
  • Soft-bristled cleaning brush
  • Towels (use old ones)

1. Step One – Clean Out the Backpack

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. 

2. Step Two – 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. 

3. Step Three – 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. 

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. 

4. Step Fourth – 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.

5. Step Five – 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 damage. 

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. 

6. Step Six – 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. 

7. Step Seven – 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. 

8. Step Eight – 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. 

How to Wash a Backpack in the Washer: Step-by-Step Instructions

It is better to use the hand washing technique to remove the dirt and debris from the backpacks.

You can check the manual for water resistance.

The top resistant layer can damage if you put it in water for a long time.

If there are metal buttons on the backpack, handwashing is the safest method.

A list of washing materials you will need.

  • Mild detergent or soap with mild ingredients
  • Wet cloth with soap water
  • Cleaning brush with soft bristles
  • Laundry bag
  • Old towels

1. Step One – Use a Brush to Clean the Empty Backpack

You can start cleaning by opening all pockets and unzipping all compartments.

It will give you access to all parts of the backpack.

You can clean all areas of the backpack when they are open.

Most dirt comes out when you turn the backpack upside-down to remove all the dirt and debris.

You can also use a brush to remove dirt from the crevices and narrow areas.

2. Step Two – Understand All Parts of the Instructional Label

Most backpacks have an instructional manual to help you with the cleaning process.

You can find this label on the inner part of the backpack.

You may find many signs showing safety with different cleaning methods.

It may have signs of handwashing or machine washing.

If you do not know about the sign, you can search it on the internet.

Some backpacks may come with an instructional manual.

You can also test a small part of the backpack by placing it in soap water if it does not have a label.

You cannot put it in water if some areas show wear and color fade when exposed to water.

3. Step Three – Look for the Areas with the Most Stains

You can inspect all parts of the backpack for stains.

Most stains will appear on the outer surface of the backpack.

You can also look for stains near the zipper or internal parts.

It is better to use lukewarm water and a soft brush to remove the fabric stains from the backpack.

If your backpack is composed of soft fabric, you can use the sponge to remove the stains.

4. Step Four – Using Low Setting to Machine Wash Backpack

Some backpacks are safe for machine washing.

You can check the internal label to find out about the machine washing.

You can start the process by filling lukewarm water in the washing machine.

Add adequate water to allow the backpack to submerge completely.

Set the washing machine to low settings.

You can let the washing machine run for a few minutes.

If you have an automatic washing machine, you can set the machine to wash only as rotational drying will damage the backpack fabric.

You can also place it in the laundry bag during washing for extra protection.

5. Step Five – Air Dry the Backpack

If you washed the backpack inside a washing machine, you need to submerge it in lukewarm water without detergent a few times to remove all the soap.

You can place the backpack for air drying.

It will take many hours to remove all the moisture from the backpacks.

If you only cleaned the backpack with a wet cloth, you can place it for air drying.

It is better to clean with a damp cloth without detergent before air frying to remove detergent from the backpack surface.

How Often Can You Clean a Backpack?

There is no need to clean the backpack often as it consists of durable material.

The fabric can also resist dirt accumulation.

You can clean one or two times in one year.

It does not mean you should wait for a specific time when your backpack is full of dirt.

You can use the light cleaning method to clean it every time you take it for a hike or outdoor adventure.

Can You Put a Backpack in the Dryer?

You cannot put the backpack in the dryer as it can damage the fabric.

Most experts recommend drying the backpacks using air drying techniques.

Placing it in a heating environment can damage the fabric structure.

You can check all parts to ensure the backpack is dry before placing them in storage.

How to Quickly Treat Stains on a Backpack?

You can use a brush and some non-bleaching detergent to treat stains on a backpack.

You can also learn how to wash them when there are stains on all parts.

You can put some detergent in the lukewarm water and put it on the backpack in the area with stains.

You can keep it there for thirty minutes and use a brush to remove the resistant stains.

You can use a wet cloth to remove the detergent after cleaning.

Final Thoughts on How to Wash Backpacks

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 damage 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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