How To Clean Mold Out Of A Backpack (Step-By-Step Guide)

Backpacks are built to support us as we move through life. However, if not cared for correctly, they can have mold and mildew build-up that damages the backpack over time. These harmful spores eat organic material and can lead to health issues if not treated.  

Looking to learn how to clean mold out of a backpack? We have plenty of tips and tricks down below. 

Common Causes of Mold In Your Backpack 

  • Humid Environments 
    Spores and mold eat organic materials like leather, food, and skin tissue. If your dirty or damp backpack is left in a humid environment, these spores may cling to your backpack and begin to spread. Harmful bacteria thrive in humid conditions and survive by eating any crumbs or organic particles on your backpack. Remember to wash your backpack when they are regularly to avoid this.
  • Sweat & Water Stains 
    Sports and gym bags, in particular, face a lot of dirt, sweat, and damp conditions. If not washed and dried regularly, bacteria can become attracted to the minerals and dirt that have accumulated on your backpack. Damp conditions are another essential for bacteria to grow, and they leave lasting damage on your backpack if not taken care of. 
  • Non-Breathable Material  
    Stuffy conditions are another favorite for mold and mildew colonies. Making sure that you store your backpack in a well-ventilated area with plenty of air circulation can go a long way to preventing bacterial build-up. If your backpack is made of a non-breathable material such as polyester (which most travel backpacks are made of), you may find that it is more prone to bacteria or mold than others. 
mold on a small bag

What Can Get Rid of Mold In Your Backpack? 

UV Radiation 

While some recommend turning your backpack inside out and leaving it to hang in the sun, we would suggest being cautious. While it is true that UV rays can kill bacteria, they can also damage certain materials that are used in backpacks. To avoid damage, we recommend only leaving your backpack in the sun for a maximum of 24 hours and bringing it inside at night to avoid dampness and dew. 

Vinegar Solution 

White vinegar has been a pantry cleaning staple for years, and it is easy to see why. It is an excellent alternative to cleaning chemicals while being affordable and easily accessible. Mixing white vinegar with water can create a handy backpack cleaning solution. 

Lemon Juice And Salt 

Using a combination of lemon juice and salt to create a paste can make tackling mold a little easier. By combining these two, you get an acidic and abrasive mixture that can take on and remove spores from your backpack. 

Baking soda 

Baking soda is another powder that can help tackle dampness and mildew. By leaving a layer of it at the bottom of your bag for 24 hours, you can kill bacteria overnight and keep dampness to a minimum. It can also be mixed into a paste with water to create an abrasive mold solution. 

Laundry detergent 

It is possible that, after trying some of the solutions above, that you can wash your backpack in anti-mold detergent. There are specialist brands of detergent that can help kill mold and bacteria. If you want to try this, we recommend either soaking and scrubbing your backpack in hot water and detergent or by throwing it in a gentle wash with the detergent.  

different cleaning solutions

How To Clean Mold Out Of Different Backpacks

Before You Begin 

How you tackle your mold and mildew issue can depend on the material your backpack is made of. Before getting started, there are a few steps that you must follow before beginning the material-focused cleaning and drying anti-mildew steps: 

  • Gather your materials 
  • Go outside 
  • Put on protective gloves and face wear 
  • Empty every pocket of the backpack 
  • Turn it inside out and shake the bag thoroughly 

1. Nylon Backpack 

Materials Needed:

  • Soft-bristled brush 
  • Water 
  • Bathtub or large container 
  • Clean rag 
  • Detergent 
  • Lemon juice and salt 
  • Color-safe bleach 
  1. 1
    Once the backpack has been turned inside out and shaken, gently brush the mold spots with the bristled brush. 
  2. 2
    Hang the bag outside in the sun for a maximum of 24 hours. When night falls, bring the bag inside to avoid morning dew before hanging it back up. 
  3. 3
    Soak the bag in cold water. 
  4. 4
    Fill the container with warm water and detergent mixture. 
  5. 5
    Scrub the backpack in the warm, clean water. 
  6. 6
    Blot the mold stains with color-safe bleach or a mixture of lemon juice and salt.  
  7. 7
    Hang the backpack to dry for 24 hours. 

2. Fabric Backpack  

There are two methods to removing mildew and mold from a fabric backpack. 



  • Clean rag 
  • White vinegar 
  • Warm water 
  1. 1
    Dampen the rag with vinegar. 
  2. 2
    Scrub the mold patches until they are gone. 
  3. 3
    Rinse the bag with clean water and hang it to dry in the sun for a maximum of 24 hours. 

Baking soda 

Materials Needed:  

  • Baking soda 
  • Rag 
  • Water 
  1. 1
    Hang the inside-out bag in the sun to dry. 
  2. 2
    Turn it the right way around. 
  3. 3
    Fill the bottom of the backpack with a ½ cup of baking soda. 
  4. 4
    Zip the bag closed and leave it overnight. 
  5. 5
    Use a damp cloth to scrub the baking soda into the moldy areas until they are gone. 
  6. 6
    Dump out the excess baking soda. 
  7. 7
    Soak the bag in water or wash it on a gentle cycle. 
  8. 8
    Let the bag air dry completely. 

3. Leather Backpack 

Materials Needed:

  • Cotton wool or a clean cloth 
  • Water 
  • Vinegar, lemon juice, or denatured alcohol 
  • Baking soda 
  1. 1
    Soak the wool or cloth with a water and vinegar/lemon juice/denatured alcohol solution. 
  2. 2
    Gently scrub the spots with visible mold. When doing this, be sure that the cloth is just damp, not soaked, and that you are gentle with your leather backpack.
  3. 3
    Pour a half cup of baking soda into the bag. 
  4. 4
    Zip it closed and leave it overnight. 
  5. 5
    Dump out the excess soda. 
  6. 6
    Hang your bag out to dry while inside-out. 
leather backpack sitting next to a guitar

How To Protect Your Backpack From Mold (Tips For Prevention) 

Prevention is key when it comes to protecting your backpack from mold and mildew. Some key tips to follow include: 

  • If your backpack had mold and has been cleaned as above, store it in a new location. 
  • Store your backpack in a place with regular airflow and good circulation. 
  • Moderate the temperature to prevent it from being too hot or cold. 
  • Hang your bag up with other dry things. 
  • Use fabric or leather protectors and conditioners to prolong your backpack’s life. 
  • Don’t keep leather bags in direct sunlight. 
  • Control the humidity levels of the space by using a dehumidifier. 
  • Flip the backpack inside out and leave to dry after cleaning. 

People Also Ask (FAQs)

What laundry detergent kills mold? 

There are a few laundry detergents that will clean your backpack and tackle mold and mildew. Some examples include Oxiclean and Clorox; read the label of your chosen detergent carefully before purchase to ensure it does tackle mold. 

Does mildew also grow on backpacks? 

Mold and mildew can grow on any backpack when under the right conditions. High temperatures, high humidity, and dirty backpacks in dark spaces make a perfect environment for harmful contaminants to spread. 


While prevention is key to protecting your backpack, there are ways to clean mold and mildew if it is too late. If none of the tips above help, we recommend taking your backpack to a professional mold remover or cleaner for help.  

  • Updated November 8, 2021