Backpacks are a common style of bag among people of all ages. They are incredibly versatile and an ideal choice for anyone going to school, work, or travelling.
As with any bag, leftover dirt and debris will accumulate inside your backpack with use. No matter how well you try to take care of your backpack, it’s almost inevitable that exploding pens, spilled drinks, and crumbs will start to build up.
Fortunately, it is possible to give your backpack a deep clean to return it to its original state. This can be done in two ways: handwashing or machine washing.
We suggest cleaning your bag using one of these methods at least once a year to prevent the fabric from becoming overly soiled.
Read on to learn how to wash a backpack, along with some valuable tips for caring for your bag between washes.
How to Wash a Backpack by Hand
The safest way to wash a backpack is by handwashing it. This gentle way of cleaning the material is ideal for bags that are embroidered or have patches sewn on them.
It’s also the best cleaning method for bulky backpacks that won’t fit in a washer.
To handwash your backpack, you will need the following:
- Mild fragrance-free soap or detergent
- Pre-treatment stain remover (if the backpack is stained)
- A sponge
- An old toothbrush
- A towel
Step 1: Empty your backpack and remove loose dirt
Before washing your backpack, you need to remove its contents. Make sure to open all the pockets to check for forgotten items, then leave them unzipped to facilitate the cleaning process.
Once you’re sure everything has been taken out, remove as much loose dirt as possible, as this will only dirty your cleaning water at a later stage.
You can try shaking your backpack to discard most of the debris, but we suggest vacuuming along the seams to ensure it is all removed.
Step 2: Spot treat stains
When used regularly, your backpack is likely to accumulate some stains. Therefore, we recommend using a pre-treatment stain remover on these discoloured patches to increase the chances of them disappearing during the wash.
Following the instructions on the label is always the best practice when using a stain remover. However, most will require you to apply the liquid to the stain, let it sit for a few minutes, and then continue with the steps below.
Step 3: Gently wash the backpack
Dissolve a tablespoon of your soap or detergent in a sink full of lukewarm water. Then, submerge your backpack in the soapy water and use a sponge to gently scrub the fabric until it comes completely clean.
We suggest using an old toothbrush to remove any build-up in hard-to-reach places or on the zips.
Some backpacks will become damaged if fully submerged in water. If this applies to your bag (check the care label to find out!), you can dip your sponge or toothbrush in the cleaning water and lightly rub at the fabric instead.
Step 4: Rinse and air dry
When you’re satisfied that your backpack is clean, drain away the cleaning water and thoroughly rinse the fabric in cool water to remove any lingering detergent.
If your bag cannot be submerged, you can soak your sponge in clean water and use that to remove the detergent instead.
The final step is to use a towel to remove any excess moisture from the backpack.
This will help to speed up the drying process and reduce the chances of mould growing on the fabric. Make sure to allow your bag to fully air dry before using it again.
How to Wash a Backpack in the Washing Machine
If you want to avoid going through the hassle of handwashing your backpack, your other option is to put it in the washing machine.
However, in some cases, this will cause damage to the fabric, so you must check the care label first to ensure the bag is safe to put in the washer.
To wash a backpack in a washing machine, you will need the following:
- Mild fragrance-free detergent
- Pre-treatment stain remover
- A pillowcase or laundry bag
- A towel
Step 1: Empty your backpack and remove loose dirt
Like with handwashing, the first step in cleaning a backpack in a washing machine is to empty everything from the inside.
This is especially important when putting the bag into the washer, as any forgotten items could cause damage to the fabric or appliance.
Remember to open all the zipped pockets to check the contents, then remove as much loose dirt as possible.
We suggest shaking the bag upside down first and then using a vacuum to take care of the remaining debris.
Step 2: Spot treat stains
Although your washing machine may be able to remove any stains from your backpack, we still recommend that you apply a pre-treatment stain remover to any discoloured areas first.
This will increase your washer’s cleaning power and help return your bag to its original state.
Once again, you must always follow the product instructions when using stain remover to achieve the best results.
Most will need to be left on the fabric for at least 10 minutes before washing, although this time can increase with specific brands.
Step 3: Wash on a gentle cycle
When cleaning a backpack in a washing machine, you will need to place it in a laundry bag or pillowcase before putting it in the drum. This will help prevent the straps and zippers from tying together or catching in the machine.
Add a small amount of mild detergent to your washing machine’s dispenser, then set the appliance to a gentle cycle.
Although your backpack may be able to withstand higher temperatures, this cycle is the least likely to cause any damage to your bag while it is being washed.
Step 4: Air dry
Once your wash cycle has finished, remove the backpack from the laundry bag or pillowcase and use a towel to remove any excess moisture.
Some of this liquid will have been removed during your machine’s spin cycle, but it is still a good idea to remove more if possible. You can then hang your backpack up to dry.
How Long Does a Backpack Need to Air Dry?
Depending on the material your backpack is made of, it could take up to 48 hours to fully air dry.
We highly recommend washing your bag when you know you can manage without it for this long, as using your backpack when it is still damp could cause damage and lead to mould growth.
If you need to cut down on this drying time, your best option is to handwash the material with a sponge rather than fully submerging it in water.
Leaving all the zips undone and hanging the bag upside down will also speed up the process.
Unfortunately, you shouldn’t use a hair dryer or tumble dryer to dry a backpack, as the high temperatures are likely to cause damage.
Other Care Tips for Your Backpack
Backpacks are handy accessories for carrying a lot of stuff while you’re out and about. But unfortunately, this means that they are prone to wear and tear.
Aside from washing your backpack, some of our top tips for keeping it in good condition are:
- Protect your packpack against water: Backpacks are prone to getting wet. When they don’t get a chance to dry out properly, this can cause mould to grow on the fabric. To avoid this, we suggest waterproofing your backpack. This can be done using a rain cover or by coating the material in a waterproofing spray.
- Treat your backpack with care: When using your backpack, avoid dragging it on the ground, pulling it through brambles, or packing anything that could damage the fabric. These can all cause holes to appear in the material. If you need to carry sharp items (e.g., tent pegs, knives, or boxes), try to pack them in a way that won’t cause a puncture in the bag.
- Get ahead of the cleaning: Remove any potentially dirty or damaging items from your backpack as soon as you get home. This includes food, drink, dirty clothes, shoes, or sharp objects. If you notice any marks on the fabric, use mild soapy water to remove them to reduce the chances of them staining.
If you use the same backpack every day, whether it be for school, work or hiking mountains, it will inevitable get dirty.
Regularly wiping it clean will help prevent a build up of dirt, but eventually you will have to give it a proper clean.
Choosing which method to use to clean your backpack will be largely impacted by the size of the bag.
Read on for instructions on how best to wash your backpack.
Important Things to Know Before Washing a Backpack
Will washing a backpack fade it?
If you’re worried about your backpack’s colour fading after you wash it, then stick to hand-washing it. This applies more to new bags, as they’re more susceptible to losing their colour.
Try your chosen detergent on the inside of the backpack to see if any fading occurs.
Will washing a backpack ruin it?
If you follow the steps below, your backpack will be smelling new and fresh in no time! Just empty the bag, follow one of the methods and leave it upside down to air dry, preferably outside.
The following two methods are great ways to clean your backpack, revitalising it for your next great adventure.
Is it safe to put a backpack in the dryer?
It’s not a good idea to put your backpack in the tumble dryer, as the high heat and tumbling will cause damage to the material.
It’s much better to dry it naturally in open air, such as outside or in a well-ventilated area. Hanging it upside down stops water pooling in any pockets or corners.
Hannah is a freelance content writer with a passion for cleaning. She worked her way around Australia by cleaning hostels in exchange for free accommodation and used her cleaning skills to bag her a job as a chalet host for a luxury ski company in France.