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How-to-guide

How to wash a backpack: The ultimate guide

Want to clean your backpack but you're not sure how? Follow our guide on how to clean a backpack and your pack will look brand new in no time!

When was the last time you cleaned your backpack? Maybe you've never bothered. If this is the case, your backpack will probably have collected everything from dust and dirt, to sweat and grease spots.

Which is a shame, because a backpack can be a major investment and when cared for properly, they last a long time.

So why don’t we clean our backpacks more often? Most of us probably don’t even know how to clean a backpack and feel like it’s a complicated process.

The good news is, it's not! Just follow these steps on how to wash a backpack and your bag will look as good as new.

There are two methods for washing a backpack: washing it in the washing machine, or by hand. We will explain how to do both.

In this article we will explain the following:

 

Can you wash a backpack in the washing machine?

In most cases this information is stated on the care label, often found on the inside of the backpack. If this is missing, a good rule of thumb is to avoid machine washing backpacks that have pieces such as:

  • Unremovable frames
  • Protective coating
  • Bejeweled details
  • Iron details
  • Decals or patches
  • (Unremovable) leather trims and leather details

The material of your pack is another factor to consider before picking your cleaning method. Always refer to the care label. But if it’s missing, here's a short list of general guidelines when washing different backpack materials.

 

How to clean a nylon bag

Washing machine: Yes. Most nylon bags are safe to machine wash – although hot water may strain the fabric, making it less durable for future use. So use warm temperatures around 40°C (100 °F).

Hand wash: Yes

Mixed wash: No. A mixture of nylon and other fabrics can cause discoloring and graying of the fabric.

Dryer: No. The intense heat can damage the fabric as well as zipper pulls, straps, etc.

Bleach: No. Bleach can cause damage and yellowing of the fabric.

Hot water: No. When cleaning nylon, using hot water can cause damage and lead to wrinkles.

Detergent: Yes. Preferably use mild detergent when cleaning and removing stains from nylon. Stronger detergent may damage the coloring and the waterproofing of the backpack.

(In this picture: Thule Paramount backpack)

 

How to clean a polyester bag

Washing machine: Yes. Polyester can in most cases can be machine washed. Hot temperatures should be avoided, though. Go for warm temperatures around 40°C (100 °F).

Hand wash: Yes

Mixed wash: Yes. Polyester doesn't mix with the dye from other fabrics.

Dryer: No. The intense heat can damage the fabric as well as zipper pulls, straps, etc. Polyester is a quick-drying fabric, so just hanging it up will do the trick.

Bleach: No. Bleach can cause miscoloring and damage to the fabric.

Hot water: No. The high heat can cause the fabric to break down and lose its color. Warm water, on the other hand, will not harm the material and is more effective against stains in comparison to cold water.

Detergent: Yes. Average or mild detergent won't harm the fabric. Strong detergent should be avoided.

(In this picture: Thule Exeo backpack)

 

How to clean a canvas bag

Washing machine: Yes. Canvas can be machine washed, though this process should be done in cold water since the fabric is prone to shrinking.

Hand wash: Yes

Mixed wash: No. Canvas can become discolored when mixed with other fabrics.

Dryer: No.

Bleach: No. Bleach can cause damage and yellowing of the fabric.

Hot water: No. Hot water should be avoided since it can shrink the fabric.

Detergent: Yes. Mild detergent, soap or baby shampoo works just fine.

(In this picture: Thule AllTrail hiking backpack)


Now that we have figured out how to wash a backpack according to the material, let's get started!

Method 1. How to wash a backpack by hand


What you will need:

  • Water tub, sink or bucket
  • Soap/Non-bleach detergent (baby shampoo also works)
  • Sponge (preferably with a soft and a rough side), or a toothbrush
  • Vacuum cleaner
  • Dry towel or cloth

STEP #1 Empty your backpack


  • Be sure to remove everything from your pack that shouldn't be washed.

  • Take out removable pockets and straps which can be washed separately.

STEP #2 Rough clean your pack


  • For a more effective cleaning process, get rid of dirt and sand from your backpack. The best way to do this is by shaking your backpack upside down or by using a vacuum attachment..

STEP #3 Read the manufacturer’s label


  • The true experts on how to clean your backpack are those who manufactured it. Follow the instructions to ensure no damage is done during the washing process.

STEP #4 Pre-treat stains


  • For a particularly dirty backpack with stains, apply stain-remover on the problematic spots. Proceed by gently scrubbing the area with a sponge or a toothbrush, then let the applied treatment sit for about 30 minutes.

  • Go easy on the stain remover though. Enough stain remover to cover the spots should do the trick. Avoid bleach!

STEP #5 Wash your backpack


  • Fill up a tub, sink or bucket with lukewarm water. Make sure it’s at least twice the size of your backpack. This gives you plenty of space to clean all parts of the bag without making a mess.

  • Add gentle detergent, soap or baby shampoo (whatever you have at home). Gentle detergent or soap won't harm the fabric, and gives it a more natural smell.

  • Proceed by gently scrubbing the inside and outside of the backpack with a sponge or a cloth. Pay extra attention to the dirty areas and the parts that are in direct contact with your body when you have the backpack on.

  • If there are any removable pockets and straps that needs to be washed as well, these can be washed separately the same way.

STEP #6 Rinse and dry your backpack


  • Rinse your backpack until all the soap and detergent is removed. This is best achieved by using a shower head, but a tap works fine as well.

  • Pat the backpack dry with a towel or a cloth.

  • Allow the backpack to dry naturally by hanging it upside down in a suitable location, preferably in a shady place with high air circulation. This helps prevent fabric damage from too much UV light from the sun. It’s not advised to put your backpack in the dryer.

 

Method 2. How to wash a backpack in the washing machine


What you will need:

  • Washing machine
  • Non-bleach detergent
  • Sponge or a toothbrush
  • Laundry bag or pillowcase
  • Dry towel or cloth

STEP #1 Empty your backpack


  • Be sure to remove everything from your pack that shouldn't be washed.

  • Take out any detachable pockets, straps or metal frames to ensure no damage is done to the washing machine or the items.

STEP #2 Rough clean your backpack


  • Like washing the bag by hand, make sure to get rid of dirt and sand from your backpack. first get rid of dirt and sand from your backpack. Either shake your backpack upside down or use a vacuum attachment.

  • Leave compartments unzipped to enable all areas of the backpack to get cleaned.

STEP #3 Read the manufacturer’s label


  • Yet again, the experts on how to clean your backpack are those who manufactured it. Follow the instructions to ensure no damage is done during the washing process.

  • Most backpacks can be washed in the washing machine, but the recommended temperatures can vary. Always double check what the care label suggests.

STEP #4 Pre-treat stains


  • For a particularly dirty backpack with stains, apply stain-remover on the worst spots. Then gently scrub the area with a sponge or a toothbrush, and let it sit for about 30 minutes.

  • Go easy on the stain remover though – more isn't always better. Enough stain remover to cover the spot is enough. And avoid bleach!

STEP #5 Wash your backpack


  • Put the backpack in either a laundry bag or pillowcase in order to keep the pockets and zippers from damaging the washing machine and the backpack itself.

  • Add gentle detergent which won't harm the fabric and gives it a more natural smell. Bleach and fabric softener should not be used.

  • Use either cold or warm water and the washing machine’s most gentle cycle setting.

  • If there are any removable pockets or straps that need to be washed as well, these can be washed separately the same way.

STEP #6 Dry your backpack


  • When the cycle is done, pat the backpack dry with a towel or a cloth.

  • Allow the backpack to dry naturally by hanging it upside down, somewhere shady with high air circulation. This prevents damage from sunlight. Putting your backpack in the dryer is not recommended.


And that’s it! Now you know how to wash a backpack, you’ll never have to worry about dirt and grime on your favorite bag again.

 

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