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How to Wash a Backpack + Easy to Clean Backpack Styles

published: September 11, 2020  |  updated: May 17, 2021

Backpacks can get grimy quickly, holding our papers, food and supplies on the inside and exposed to dirt, grime and the elements on the outside. It’s always been a good idea to keep your backpack as clean as possible, but since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever. With some of America’s students going back to school in person this fall, parents will be concerned with making sure that germs don’t come home with them from class. So, let’s take a look at the best the ways to wash backpacks, and answer some frequently asked questions as we go.

How to Wash a Backpack Infographic

How to Wash a Backpack

How to clean a backpack without washing it.

This is an important question because the care instructions for most backpacks only recommend spot cleaning.

How to Spot Clean a Backpack

Sport Backpack
  1. First, empty the bag and shake it out to get rid of dirt, sand, and any other small particles that may be lurking within.
  2. Use a scrub brush to remove any crusted dirt from the outside of the bag.
  3. Using a hand vacuum or vacuum cleaner attachment, clear the bag of smaller particles stuck in corners and pockets.
  4. Mix water with a little bit of detergent and wet either a sponge or colorfast washcloth.
  5. Wipe out the interior of the backpack.
  6. Gently scrub stains and spots on the outside of the bag.
  7. Use plain, cool water and a new washcloth or sponge to rinse the areas you cleaned.
  8. Blot with a dry towel.
  9. Hang up and air dry.

Can you wash a backpack?

Good question! Yes, you can, but if your bag’s care label doesn’t recommend it, use this method infrequently, understanding that you may shorten the life of your bag or damage its water repellent qualities. Washing a bag against label is still better than throwing it away!

How to Hand Wash a Backpack

Spacious Canvas Backpack
  1. Empty, shake out, vacuum and brush off as above.
  2. Remove any detachable parts like frames and straps to wash separately.
  3. Pre-treat stains just as you would for clothing. Let the treated bag sit for a half hour.
  4. Fill a sink or tub with cool to warm water – not hot.
  5. Add whatever gentle detergent you normally use to hand wash delicate apparel. It should not contain harsh chemicals or dyes.
  6. Submerge the backpack and use your choice of sponges, rags, brushes and even toothbrushes to scrub the inside and outside.
  7. Rinse the backpack in lukewarm water.
  8. Remove excess water from the bag by wringing it out and/or rolling it in a dry towel.
  9. With all compartments opened, hang the backpack up upside down to air dry.

Can you wash a backpack in the washing machine?

Yes, you can, but check your care label and if it doesn’t clear you to machine wash your bag, do so carefully and infrequently.

How to Machine Wash a Backpack

  1. Empty, shake out, vacuum, and brush off your backpack.
  2. Pre-treat stains just as you would when washing by hand.
  3. Detach removable parts. Any parts that are made of fabric and can be cleaned should be unzipped and put into a mesh bag for laundering, so that they don’t get stuck in the machine.
  4. Cut away any loose threads, especially around zippers, to prevent them from getting caught on your machine’s parts and causing rips, snags, and fraying.
  5. Either turn the backpack inside out, or place it inside a pillowcase or laundry bag, to further prevent catching and snagging inside the washing machine.
  6. Use the gentlest detergent you can find, and wash on the gentle (delicate) cycle in cold to warm water (not hot).
  7. During the spin cycle, check frequently to see if the backpack has bunched up. If it has, spread it out again, place it back in the machine, and continue the cycle. This will prevent your washing machine from becoming unbalanced.
  8. With all compartments open, hang up upside down to air dry.

How to Dry a Backpack

  • Hang up upside down, with all compartments open, and air dry, either inside from a towel rack or shower curtain rod or outside on a clothesline.
  • Can you put a backpack in the dryer?
    • We hate to say no, but its not the best idea. A backpack is typically made of synthetic fabric and parts that may be damaged by heat and by repeatedly hitting the sides of the dryer. It an also cause shrinkage of the fabric. In a worst-case scenario, it can even cause a fire to break out!
    • If you decide to tumble dry your backpack, put it inside a pillowcase first to protect it and use the coolest possible temperature setting.

Wipe Clean Backpacks for Easy Daily Cleaning & Disinfecting

  • If your child is returning to school this fall, you may want to clean and disinfect his or her backpack after school every day. The last thing you want your child bringing home with them is germs. But if most backpacks can’t stand up to the wear and tear of daily machine washing, what are your options?
  • PVC Plastic Backpacks
    • Clear plastic backpacks were developed as a security measure because they are transparent, and any weapons or other forbidden items inside can easily be seen and removed from the premises. During the COVID-19 pandemic, these bags can keep students and their families safe another way. They can be wiped clean with any common disinfecting household spray cleaner daily, suffering no wear, tear or damage.
    • Clear Drawstring Backpack
      Clear Backpack
  • Dry Backpacks
    • Dry backpacks were developed to keep contents dry in wet weather during outdoor activities like hiking and camping. Their water-resistant exteriors can also be wiped clean daily.
    • Dry Bag
      Backpack Tote Bag

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