How to Wash a Backpack - Simple Cleaning Methods

Published July 14, 2020
Boy Washing is backpack with a washing machine

You can learn how to wash a backpack either by hand or by a washing machine. When you follow a few simple cleaning methods, you can end up with a new-looking backpack.

Can You Really Wash a Backpack in the Washing Machine?

You may wash a backpack in the washing machine if the care label says the backpack is machine washable. Some backpacks can easily stand up to a wash cycle, while other weren't made for that kind of treatment. It's always best to follow the direction on the care label to ensure you don't end up ruining your backpack.

Clothing tag

Materials Needed

Before you toss the backpack in, grab your supplies:

  • Vacuum with handheld wand or upholstery attachment
  • Mild detergent of your choice
  • Cloth
  • Toothbrush
  • Mesh laundry bag (for polyester backpacks)

How to Wash a Backpack in a Washing Machine

Whether you're cleaning a school backpack or a hiking backpack, you need to use guideline for washing a backpack. If you decide your backpack will hold up under a washing machine cycle, you need to do a few things before you toss that nasty backpack into the washer.

  1. Remove all items from the backpack.
  2. Double check all pockets and zipper pouches to ensure you have everything out of the bag.
  3. If the backpack is secured to a frame, remove the frame before placing the backpack in the washing machine.
  4. Remove any detachable pockets, padded waistband, straps, insulated cooler, wrist buckles, and other detachable components.
  5. Brush or wipe off superficial dirt.
    Teenage boy removing clothes from backpack while mother doing laundry

Vacuum Inside Backpack

You can use an upholstery brush attachment or a wand attachment or a small hand vacuum to clean inside the backpack prior to washing. This will ensure you get all the loose dirt and debris, so it doesn't get wet, dry hard to cake inside pockets or along seam lines.

Perform a Test Patch

You want to use a small amount of detergent for a test patch. You can always do a detergent test patch somewhere on the backpack where it won't readily be seen should the test patch fade or worse.

Remove Dirt in Creases and Seam Lines

If your backpack has places where dirt has collected between creases or seam lines, you can use a toothbrush or other soft yet firm bristled brush to sweep it out. Any dirt, grime or mud on the backpack should also be removed. Stains can be treated with a dab of liquid detergent and a cloth. Allow to soak in for 10 minutes before washing.

Dirty Backpack

Setting for Washing Machine

Once you've prepared the backpack, you can safely place it in the washer. Use only a small amount of standard detergent, steer clear of extra strength or stain removing detergents.

  1. Set the washing cycle to gentle or delicate.
  2. Select the water temperature to cold or 80°, depending on setting choices.
  3. Opt for a short cycle to ensure you don't over wash your backpack.
  4. Once the cycle is finished, remove the backpack, place it upside down on a towel with all zippers open to allow it to dry properly or hang on a clothesline.
  5. Do not put your washed backpack in the dryer.

How to Wash a Polyester Backpack in the Machine

You'll use the same guidelines for preparing a polyester backpack. The only difference is you'll want to place the bag in a mesh laundry bag or inside a pillowcase to ensure the fabric isn't snagged by self-hardware, zippers, or other trimmings. Tie a knot in the open end of the pillow case. You'll use a gentle detergent, gentle/delicate cycle, and cold water. If your backpack features any felt or leather trim, don't place it in the washing machine.

How to Clean a Backpack Without a Washing Machine

If you choose to hand wash your backpack, you'll need to follow the basic preparation guidelines listed above. You'll need to fill a sink or tub with cold water deep enough to submerge the backpack.

Materials Needed

  • Sink or tub
  • Cold water
  • Small amount of liquid detergent (1-2 teaspoons)


  1. Add a small amount of detergent to a tub or sink of cold water.
  2. Gently submerge the backpack.
  3. Gently swish the backpack back and forth or in a swirling motion for several minutes to loosen the dirt.
  4. Allow the backpack to soak for 20 minutes.
  5. After 20 minutes, begin agitating by swirling and swishing it about the water for several minutes.
  6. Once the soil and debris has loosened, drain the sink or tub.
  7. Refill the sink or tub with clean cold water.
  8. Once more, swirl and swish the backpack in the water to rinse.
  9. If you feel the backpack isn't completely rinsed of the detergent, you may prefer to place it under gently flowing water from the faucet.
  10. When the detergent is thoroughly rinsed away, you can drain the sink or tub once more.
  11. Hold the backpack over the sink or tub to allow excess water to drain away.
  12. Do not wring or squeeze the backpack since this could damage the fabric.
  13. To dry, you can hang the backpack over the sink or tub. If you have an outdoor clothesline, you can hang the backpack upside down by the straps.
  14. You can use a fan to quicken the drying time.

Alternative to Washing a Backpack

If you can't submerge your backpack in water, the next best thing is to follow the preparation guidelines. In addition to these steps, you can spot clean areas with a dab of detergent and cold water, using a soft washcloth.

Materials Needed

  • Deep bowl
  • 2 soft cloths or washcloths
  • 2 drops of liquid detergent
  • Cold water (fill bowl halfway)
Washing backpack by hand


  1. Fill a deep bowl with cold water.
  2. Add a couple of drops of liquid detergent and mix with a spoon or fork.
  3. Dip the soft cloth into the soapy mixture.
  4. Gently rub the solution into the fabric.
  5. Allow to mixture to soak into the fabric for 10 - 20 minutes.
  6. Empty the bowl and rinse with clean water.
  7. Fill bowl with cold clean water and using a fresh cloth, begin to rinse the spot.
  8. Continue dabbing the washed area with clean water alternating with a dry cloth until all the detergent is removed.
  9. If you fail to remove all of the detergent, the area can become a magnet for dirt and grim.

Simple Ways to Wash a Backpack

There are a few simple ways you can wash a backpack. Once your backpack is clean and dried out, you can return all items and resume using it.

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How to Wash a Backpack - Simple Cleaning Methods