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How to Wash a Backpack: Keep Your Pack Fresh With These Tips

Backpacks are bound to get dirty. Dust, dirt, spills, and germs are just some of the things you don't want to carry around on your backpack.

Photo credit: Backcountry
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Washing a backpack is an often overlooked but important task. Whether you’re a regular backpacker, a day hiker, or simply a parent with kids who tend to get their gear dirty, giving your backpacks a thorough cleaning is something worth doing a few times per year.

Even when you’re not doing a deep clean, you can still keep your pack clean daily. Remove any trash and food daily and wash out any stains or marks. But every so often, you’ll find you need more than a spot clean.

Before cleaning your backpack, make sure you read any care labels on the pack. If the tags say the backpack can’t be submerged in water, then wipe it clean with a wet cloth. If the tags don’t say anything, you can test clean a small part of the bag to make sure the rest can be submerged in water.

Once you know your backpack is okay to be submerged, it’s time to get cleaning! Read on for a step-by-step guide on how to clean a backpack by either machine or handwashing.

People Backpacking on Beach in Sunshine
Photo credit: Backcountry

How to Machine Wash a Backpack

1. Empty the backpack. Make sure you check every compartment, as you don’t want to forget any. Next, use a vacuum to clean out any dust, crumbs, or dirt. And make sure you leave all the zippers unzipped before moving on to the next step.

2. Remove any stains. If you find any stains, remove them before washing the rest of the backpack. To remove the stains, gently apply some stain remover with a brush and then let it sit for about half an hour.

3. Turn the bag inside out or place it in a pillowcase. You don’t want the pack’s zippers and straps getting caught in the washing machine. It’s a personal choice whether you want to flip the backpack inside out or place it in a pillowcase. Either way, make sure there aren’t any loose straps or other parts of the pack dangling loose when you put it into the washing machine.

4. Machine wash the backpack. Use a little bit of gentle detergent (don’t use regular detergent or fabric softener) and wash the pack on a gentle cycle with a cold water setting.

5. Air dry the backpack. Finally, the last step is to let the backpack air dry. Leave it unzipped and dry it hanging upside down. If possible, dry it outdoors, as that will help get rid of any remaining odors.

backpacking grand tetons

How to Handwash a Backpack

1. Empty the bag and remove stains. Follow the same first two steps as when machine washing a backpack. Take everything out, unzip all the pockets, and remove any stains.

2. Wash the bag. Fill a basin, bucket, or tub with about 6 inches of lukewarm water and add a little bit of gentle detergent. Then, you’re going to softly scrub the bag with a towel or brush. You can even use a toothbrush for hard-to-reach spots and a sponge for any mesh areas.

3. Drain and rinse with cool water. Remove all the dirty water and fill the basin with 6 inches of cool water. Rinse the backpack thoroughly and then gently wring it out so the backpack can dry.

4. Dry the backpack. Just like when machine washing a backpack, allow the pack to air dry. Then, once it’s dry, you have a clean backpack for all your upcoming adventures!

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How often should you wash a backpack?

If you maintain your backpack well, it should only need one to two thorough washes per year. But if your backpack gets dirty or you use it regularly in tough conditions, it may require more frequent washings.

In addition to washing, you should be sure to regularly remove any stains and odors so your pack stays fresh.

Can you machine dry a backpack?

You should never put your backpack in the dryer. Putting it in the dryer can cause damage to both the bag and the dryer. To get the safest and best results, you should always air dry your backpack.

Can you deodorize a backpack without washing it?

Yes, you can deodorize a backpack without washing it. To do this, put a small amount of baking soda into the bottom of the pack and then let it sit wide open in the sunlight for a whole day.

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