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Can You Wash a Backpack? Your Backpack Cleaning Guide

WriterAubrey McShan
12 min read
A man wearing a camo print jacket and a blue hiking/outdoor backpack holds a map in the middle of the woods

Your outdoor backpack endures everything nature throws its way. From muddy trails to rain showers, it's no surprise how it collects so much dirt and grime. But how do you clean it effectively without causing any damage? In this guide, you’ll learn all about how to wash a backpack — ensuring it remains in top condition for your next hiking adventure!

Key Takeaways

How to Wash a Backpack

Knowing how to wash a backpack is essential for maintaining its longevity and functionality. Before you get started, check the bag manufacturer's cleaning instructions for the best results.

  • Step 1. Assess the Condition + Gather Supplies: Inspect your backpack for specific stains, and gather essential supplies like mild soap, a washcloth, a soft brush, and a basin for soaking.

  • Step 2. Empty the Backpack: Remove all accessories, detach shoulder straps, and take out any metal framing.

  • Step 3. Shake Out Your Bag: Unzip your backpack, shake out debris outside, and spot-treat any stubborn stains.

  • Step 4. Soak Your Bag: Place your backpack in warm water and scrub and dirty areas with mild soap.

  • Step 5. Clean the Zippers: Scrub the inside and outside zippers with mild soap and a toothbrush.

  • Step 6. Rinse the Backpack: Rinse your backpack a few times to remove any leftover dirt and suds.

  • Step 7. Hang Dry the Backpack: Open all of the compartments, flip your backpack inside out, and hang it outside upside down in indirect sunlight to dry.

  • Step 8. Reorganize the Backpack: Once dry, reattach any straps or pockets that came with the backpack.

This graphic shows 8 steps on how to wash a backpack as well as a The North Face white backpack

Expert Tip:

Regularly spot-treat your backpack to remove dirty spots or stains. Utilize a 1:2 vinegar and water mixture to refresh your backpack's appearance.

1. Assess the Condition + Gather Supplies

Closely inspect the backpack for any stains. Determine if your backpack has caked-on dirt, blood, food stains, etc. Before diving into the cleaning process, make sure you have these cleaning supplies on hand:

  • Choose a mild soap that's free from detergents.

  • Have a washcloth on hand.

  • A soft brush like a toothbrush will be useful.

  • Prepare a large bucket or bathtub for soaking and cleaning.

2. Empty the Backpack

Remove any items inside plus any accessories attached to the bag (including any personal items like a wallet). Detach the shoulder straps if they are removable. If your backpack features a metal frame, remove it for a more thorough cleaning.

Detachable straps and pockets are removed from a green bag.

3. Shake Out Your Bag

Head outside with your backpack to avoid making a mess indoors. Unzip all compartments and pockets of your backpack to ensure thorough cleaning.

  • Hold your bag upside down and give it a good shake to dislodge any loose debris.

  • If shaking doesn't remove all the dirt, use a vacuum to clean out the remaining particles.

Crumbs are vacuumed out of a backpack. The backpack is on its side with its main pocket open.

4. Soak Your Bag

Before soaking, consider pretreating your outdoor or school backpack. This is especially helpful for stubborn stains that might resist a simple soak.

  • Fill a bucket, bathtub, or basin with warm water. Then submerge the backpack in the water to soak it thoroughly.

  • Once it’s had time to soak for a few minutes, use a sponge to wipe down both the bag’s interior + exterior. If necessary, add some mild, detergent-free soap to help with the cleaning.

  • Concentrate on areas around the zipper and places where your skin frequently contacts the bag (like the back panel).

  • Don't forget to thoroughly wipe down the shoulder straps and hip belt as well.

A backpack sits in a basin filled with water and non-bleach detergent. A brush and suds are visible all over the backpack.

5. Clean the Zippers

With a brush or toothbrush and some mild soap, gently scrub the zippers to remove any dirt or grime. Ensure you clean the zippers both when they are open and closed to reach every nook and cranny.

6. Rinse the Backpack

Using clean water, thoroughly rinse the backpack to remove any soap residue. Consider a second rinse to make sure all suds and cleaning agents are completely washed away.

7. Hang Dry the Backpack

Hang the backpack overnight for complete drying. Avoid using a dryer or any direct heat source, as it can damage the backpack's material. Ideally, clean your backpack a few days before you plan to use it so it's completely dry and not damp when needed.

A backpack hangs upside down on a clothesline to dry.

8. Reorganize the Backpack

Reattach the shoulder straps to the backpack. Place your accessories back in their respective compartments or attach them as needed.

How to Clean a Backpack Without Washing It

Looking for a way to clean a backpack without washing or soaking it? Spot cleaning is a perfect alternative method in a pinch. Just follow these instructions:

  • Mix one part vinegar with two parts water in a bowl.

  • Using a toothbrush, gently scrub the desired surface of the backpack.

  • After scrubbing, wipe away the solution with a clean cloth.

  • Allow your outdoor backpack to hang dry.

Someone sprays a pretreatment solution onto the front of the backpack.

Tips for Cleaning an Outdoor Backpack

If you want to learn how to wash a backpack without ruining its integrity — there are simple tips to keep in mind.

  • Avoid the Dryer: While it's tempting to speed up the drying process, avoid using a dryer as the intense heat can harm the backpack material.

  • Don’t Overscrub: Be gentle when scrubbing so you don't strip away any of the backpack's protective coatings.

  • Prevent Discoloration: Always opt for shade drying over direct sunlight to preserve the bag's material and color.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Can You Use a Washing Machine to Clean an Outdoor Backpack?

Yes! The washing machine is a safe and convenient option if your backpack is made of polyester, nylon, or canvas. Just follow these simple cleaning instructions:

  • Prior to machine washing, remove all attachments, shake out any crumbs, & spot clean as needed.

  • Ensure all zippers are unzipped, turn the backpack inside out, and place it in a large mesh laundry bag.

  • Opt for a non-bleach detergent, and set your machine to a gentle wash cycle.

  • After washing, hang the backpack to dry. Avoid using a dryer.

  • Once dry, reattach any accessories or components you removed earlier.

A backpack is turned inside out and placed inside of a mesh laundry bag. A washing machine is turned on gentle and cold.

Expert Tip:

Always consult the manufacturer's cleaning recommendations. Avoid machine washing if your backpack has leather or delicate components.

Q. How Often Do You Need to Clean an Outdoor Backpack?

For optimal backpack maintenance, give it a basic cleaning after every trip: empty its contents, shake out debris, and wipe down the exterior. Tackle deeper stains and lingering odors by giving the backpack a thorough deep clean at least 1-2 times a year.

Have Fun Out There!

Looking for the perfect backpack? Whether you're trekking through the wilderness or planning a challenging hike, a reliable backpack is key. At Academy, we offer a diverse selection of backpacks tailored for hunting, hiking, camping, and various outdoor activities as well as a wide range of school backpacks!