How to Wash a Backpack

How to Wash a Backpack in Under 5 Minutes (Ultimate Guide)

In this article, I share a step-by-step guide on how to wash a backpack by hand and using a washing machine. You don’t need to be a professional to do this.

First of all, can you wash a backpack? 

Backpacks are essential for students, hikers, and anyone who needs to carry around a lot of things daily. But like any other item that gets a lot of use, backpacks can quickly get dirty. 

And if they’re not properly cleaned, they can become a breeding ground for bacteria and other germs.

Washing your backpack is important for both hygiene and survival. If you use your backpack frequently, you should ensure it’s clean and free of harmful bacteria.

So how do you wash a backpack? Let’s find out. 

How to wash a backpack by hand

The most secure way to clean a backpack is by hand washing. Many backpacks are too large to fit in a washing machine or cannot be washed there. Certain bags, particularly hiking backpacks, have protective coatings that might degrade in the washing machine. 

However, you should only wash your backpack by hand if it is made of leather, has leather trim, or has embellishments like iron-on patches or embroidery.

Here are the requirements for washing a backpack by hand:

  • A sink or tub
  • Detergent
  • A towel
  • A brush (optional)

Follow these 5 easy steps if you’re hand washing your backpack.

Step 1: Empty the backpack and remove any debris that is visible. 

Open all pockets and storage areas, take everything out, and leave pockets unzipped. Brush off dirt and buildup from the outside of the backpack and shake out any crumbs or debris inside.

A vacuum attachment can also be used along the inner and outer seams. Take off any hip belts, detachable straps, and metal frames.

Step 2: Ensure to read the care instructions label that comes with your backpack. 

Typically, care labels are found inside the backpack. Observe the cleaning guidelines. 

To prevent fading or damage, test the fabric first in a less noticeable area with about 14 teaspoons of detergent if there isn’t a label. 

Step 3: Wash the backpack gently in warm water. 

  • A bathtub, large basin, or sink should be filled with warm water and a tablespoon of gentle detergent. 
  • Put the backpack directly in the water if it can be submerged (check the care label). 
  • With a sponge or washcloth, scrub the backpack’s interior and exterior. To eliminate any buildup, scrub the zippers with an old toothbrush.

Step 4: Remove any stains

Your backpack has probably traveled through difficult terrain so some areas may require a deeper cleaning. 

Such areas should be treated with stain remover before gently rubbing with an old toothbrush or a small soft brush to help remove any remaining dirt. 

Before rinsing it off, leave the stain remover for about 30 minutes.

how to wash a backpack

Step 5: Rinse and let it air dry.

Perhaps, this is the most important step in cleaning a backpack. If the backpack has been submerged, drain the soapy water and replace it with clean, cool water to give it a good rinse. 

If you use a cloth or sponge without immersing it, rinse the backpack with clean water after soaking the sponge to get rid of any detergent residue. 

Let it dry naturally, of course. In this case, the backpack must not be dried in a dryer or heated with a hair dryer. 

Alternatively, if the weather is favorable, you could just hang it outside (but not in direct sunlight). Before putting it back inside, make sure it is completely dry. Nobody desires a musty bag!

The following are the top suggestions for cleaning backpacks that you should keep in mind: 

  • A backpack should never be washed using hot water. Lukewarm water is most preferred. 
  • Dry the backpack outside. Fabric can be damaged by artificial light. 
  • It’s best always to keep zippers clean.

Related: How to Clean a Herschel Backpack: 5 Quick Steps

How to wash a backpack in the washing machine

You’ve probably been there before – your backpack is covered in dirt and grime, and you don’t have the time or energy to wash it by hand. Is it safe to put it in the washing machine? 

The answer is yes – but there are a few things you need to keep in mind to ensure that your backpack comes out of the wash looking as good as new.

First, check the care label on your backpack. Hand washing is probably your best bet if it’s made of delicate materials like leather or suede. Machine washing is fine for most other fabrics, including nylon and polyester.

So how do you wash a backpack in the washing machine? 

Here is a list of supplies you will need to wash a backpack in the washing machine:

  • A washing machine
  • A mild detergent
  • A laundry bag
  • A towel

Follow these 5 simple steps if you’re machine washing your backpack.

Step 1: Empty the bag and remove any visible dirt. 

Open all compartments and pockets, remove everything inside, and leave pockets unzipped. Shake out the bag to eliminate crumbs or dirt, and then brush the outside to eliminate buildup and dirt. 

Additionally, you can use a vacuum attachment along the inner and outer seams. Hip belts, detachable straps, and metal frames should all be removed.

Step 2: Run the washing machine with no laundry in it.

Make sure the washer is free of any traces of regular detergent that could harm your backpack before you start washing your bag. 

If the backpack has a metal frame, remove it. 

Nowadays, the majority of larger backpacks come with a built-in metal frame. They can easily slide in and out for washing but are made to help you carry more weight.

Look at this YouTube video for instructions if you’re having trouble removing the frame. It shows how to replace the side rods on an Osprey backpack, but the removal process is the same and will be similar for other backpack brands.

Step 3: Machine wash the backpack with a gentle cycle.

The best washing setting for backpacks is the cold one. Note that the bag will probably become saturated when using a gentle cycle. Any uncut threads near the zippers should be cut. 

Place the backpack inside a laundry bag or pillowcase to avoid straps or zippers becoming tangled or getting caught in the washer. Run a gentle cycle after adding a mild detergent (just enough to cover the top of the detergent cap).

Step 4: Air dry 

After the wash cycle is finished, gently pat away any remaining moisture with an old towel before hanging the bag up to dry air. 

Never dry a backpack in direct sunlight, as the heat can deteriorate the fabric and add-ons like zipper pulls.

Read Also: How to Organize a Backpack for Travel

How to Wash Different Types of Backpacks

All types of backpacks cannot be machine washed, as was previously mentioned. So how do you wash backpacks made of leather, suede, or plastic?


Avoid machine washing a leather backpack. According to Kali Shager of Land’s End, line drying is recommended as tumble-drying can damage the padding of the backpack and cause ruptures at the corners.

Instead, use a microfiber cloth or a dry leather brush to remove surface dirt and stains. Apply a reputable leather cleaner to a sponge or cloth next. After that, gently rub it into your bag. 

Before applying a conditioner or leather protector, let the cleaner sit for a few minutes (or for the amount of time the manufacturer recommends). Leave on for however long the manufacturer recommends.

Plastic or vinyl

Use cool water to wash plastic backpacks to prevent melting or fabric damage. Create your detergent mixture in a sink or tub, but dip a cloth in it rather than dunk the backpack. 

Apply it to the backpack next so that you are only cleaning a small portion of it at a time instead of soaking the whole thing.


Use a specialized suede brush to gently scrub dirt before rubbing stains with an old pencil eraser. To prevent additional stains, condition the bag with a suede conditioner.

How to take care of your backpack

Knowing how to wash a backpack is very helpful, but it is not advisable to do it frequently. Even with gentle detergents, the risk of causing harm to the seams and material increases the more it is washed. 

You can prevent the need for excessive backpack washing by following these care instructions. 

  • Consider putting some odor absorbers in there and storing your stinky clothes and towels in a thick laundry bag rather than directly in your backpack. This will prevent sweat and mud from penetrating the fabric.
  • When possible, pack food in sealed containers or ziplock bags. Also, make sure that there is a layer of protection between your food, and the material of your backpack in case your thermos spills, your fruit or sandwiches get crushed, or your sandwiches get squished.
  • Shake out the dust inside your backpack regularly, and use a hand-held vacuum if necessary. If debris like bread crumbs remains long, odors will soon develop.
  • After use, allow your backpack to breathe out. Make sure to let your backpack air out for a day or two after using it, ideally outside. Just empty it and hang it upside down in a windy area. This keeps it smelling fresh and stops bacteria from taking root.
  • Clean spots frequently. Small stains and dirt spots should be cleaned up frequently as they can seep into fabrics over time. It is much simpler to remove it when it is fresh. Have a pack of soft, non-toxic wet wipes on hand; these are great for quickly removing mud and other stains.

Related: How to Wash a North Face Backpack

How to Wash a Backpack: Final Thoughts

These instructions for washing a backpack should help you wash it correctly, whether by hand or in a washing machine. 

To avoid getting damp or moldy, read the care label instructions carefully before deciding which washing method to use. 

Additionally, ensure enough time for the bag to dry before re-filling it with your belongings. 

Check out the remaining sections of our guides if you want to read more tips and recommendations about backpacks.

Can I wash a backpack in the washing machine?

Always read the washing instructions on the label to determine whether the bag is machine washable. If it is, use our ultimate guide to guarantee the best outcomes. Alternatively, use our hand wash guide for an equally clean backpack.

Backpacks can develop stains or stains over time. Once or twice a year, when it’s time for deeply clean, spot-treat stains, gently wash per the care label instructions and allow items to air dry completely.

Can you wash a backpack in the dryer?

Never put your backpack in a dryer because it could get damaged. Instead, you should keep it away from direct heat sources and let it dry naturally. Make sure there is no water left in the pockets or corners of your pack by hanging it upside down.

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