How To Wash A Backpack (Step-By-Step Cleaning Guide)

Backpacks are useful for everyday activities and are an easy way to carry all of your essential items. Headed to the gym? Need to bring a snack? What about books to read for school or a laptop for your corporate job?

A backpack can carry all of these items in style and even take a load off during your commute (throw it over both shoulders rather than one arm). Unfortunately, all types of backpacks can be prone to smells and can easily get dirty. Washing your backpack can solve this problem and keep your pack smelling fresh, ready for everything that life throws your way!

How to Machine Wash Your Backpack

Most backpacks are made from washable materials, such as nylon, polyester, cotton, or canvas. You can safely wash these materials in the washing machine. Backpacks with leather lining or leather accents cannot be machine washed.

When washing your backpack, however, we recommend washing your backpack once per year (no more than twice per year). Washing your backpack too often can damage the waterproof lining and also destroy the threading that holds the backpack together.

Empty the backpack

Making sure the backpack is empty first is crucial. You wouldn’t want to run a permanent marker through your washer! Check all the pockets, fold it inside-out, and give it a good shake.

Apply stain remover

You can find a good stain remover in any store that sells laundry detergent. It’s easy for backpacks to accumulate stains from ink pens, pencils, snacks, and so much more. Apply a good stain remover to each spot, let it sit for a few minutes, and then run it through the washer.

Turn the bag inside out to prevent damage

It helps to turn the backpack inside-out when running it through the washer. This will help prevent the zippers and straps from damaging the inside of your laundry machines.

Add gentle detergent

Be sure when selecting your detergent to go for a gentle one. If you use too harsh of a detergent, the zippers can gather gunk and become challenging to use. These detergents can also fade the colors faster.

Allow to air dry

It’s best to hang your backpack and let it air dry with all the pockets zipped open. Using a dryer could cause damage to the backpack as well as the dryer.

How To Machine Wash Your Backpack

How to Hand Wash Your Backpack

Not every backpack can be washed in a washing machine. Some backpacks are made with materials that are sensitive to harsh detergents and must be gently hand washed.

If your backpack has detachable straps, pockets, smaller bags, or leather accents, make sure you hand-wash it. If these pieces can be removed, you can hand wash the removable parts and machine wash the other components.

Empty the backpack

First, remove the materials from the backpack. You don’t want to have headphones, wallets, books, or other materials inside when you begin to clean.

Apply stain remover

Second, use a stain remover to get rid of the most obvious stains. If there are food stains or sweat stains, a stain remover can be used to limit their appearance.

Fill a basin/bowl with about 6 inches of lukewarm water

Next, fill a basin or bowl with lukewarm water.

Add gentle detergent to the water

Now you can add in a gentle detergent. Make sure that you choose something without harsh chemicals because this can remove the coloring of your backpack.

Scrub the bag with a cloth/brush

Use a soft cloth/brush to scrub the inside of the bag. This will help ingrained dirt get loose and also gently wipe out stains.

Drain the dirty water and replace with clean, cool water

Once you have allowed the backpack to soak, you want to drain the dirty water and replace it so that you can rinse the bag out in clean water.

Rinse the bag and wring out as best you can

Gently scrunch the bag inside of the clean water and then wring it out.

Allow the bag to air dry

Hang up the bag and let it air dry. Make sure that you do not hang it from the straps.

How To Wash A Backpack

How to Clean a Camping Backpack

When cleaning a camping backpack, you must first decide whether the backpack needs a light cleaning or a deep cleaning. A light cleaning is best for a small stain or a general smell. Deep cleaning is best for a backpack that is dirt-stained or has signs of mold. 

  • Light Cleaning
    A light cleaning requires few supplies. To lightly clean your camping backpack, grab white vinegar spray or a mild detergent spray. Then spray the stains on the backpack and other cloth areas. Let the bag dry by gently folding it over a single pole.
  • Deep Cleaning
    Fill up a small bowl or sink with clean water. Using a detergent, make sure the water is soapy and sudsy before you add your backpack. Wring the backpack around and use a small brush to scrub the interior. Finally, rinse in clean water and hang up to dry. For some backpacks, a deep cleaning may be accomplished by using the washing machine.

Tips to Increase the Life of Your Backpack

  • Store your backpack upside down
    Storing your backpack upside down can ensure you do not damage the straps. Too much weight on the straps can lead to rips and tears, which will ruin the pack.
  • Do not overload your backpack
    Adding too much weight to your backpack will keep it from being able to support the load.
  • Put a rain cover on your backpack no matter what the weather is
    A rain cover can protect your gear during rainfall but also during inclement weather. You don't know when rain or other wet weather will appear, so it is best to have your backpack protected at all times.
  • Do not over clean the backpack
    Cleaning your backpack frequently can create problems with the integrity of the fabric. Try to wash your backpack no more than once every six months.
  • Do not handle the backpack by carrying its shoulder straps
    Holding the backpack by its shoulder straps can lead to rips and tears. Hold the backpack from the bottom of the pack to avoid excess strap strain.
  • Do not force the zippers
    Forcing the zippers to zip when the backpack is stuck is problematic. It can lead to the breaking of the zipper, and the entire zipper may need to be replaced. Always pull gently on the zippers.

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The Jansport backpack can be washed in the washing machine on a low cycle. It can also be hand washed. Learn how to wash your Jansport backpack in our guide

How to wash vera bradley backpack?

Vera Bradley backpacks should only be hand washed when possible because of the quilted material. They can also be spot cleaned with a gentle white vinegar spray. If you own a Vera Bradley backpack, learn how to wash it correctly here.

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People Also Ask (FAQs)

How do you wash a Justice Sequin backpack?

The Justice sequin backpack can be machine-washed and this is the easiest way to wash the backpack. We recommend putting the cycle on the lowest speed and also using cold water to avoid sequin damage.

How do you wash a Fjallraven Kanken backpack?

Fjallraven Kanken backpacks should not be washed in a washing machine. They should be hand washed. A sponge can be used, along with a mild detergent or dish soap, to clean the backpack. Drying the backpack should entail hanging it up gently (keep it out of the sunlight). 

How do you clean mold out of a backpack?

Mold is difficult to clean out of a backpack. Start by using UV radiation (sunshine!) to kill the mold. Leave your backpack outdoors and spray white vinegar directly on the backpack material. A few days outdoors should kill the mold (bleach can also be used if the stain is more serious). If this does not work, it is time to buy a new backpack.

How do you deodorize a backpack without washing it?

To deodorize a backpack without washing it, make sure that you first begin by placing baking soda into the backpack and letting it rest in the sun during the day. This will help absorb some of the smells in the backpack.

Why does my backpack smell bad?

Backpacks smell bad because they accumulate smells over time, from placing dirty clothes inside the backpack to adding in smoking smells or old food smells. Over time, these smells sink into the fabric of the backpack and remain trapped. Gym bags are notorious for this 🙂

How do you get the smell out of backpack straps?

Getting the smell out of backpack straps is difficult. The best option is to gently soak the straps in soapy water. Then, you can also use a linen spray (spray directly on the straps) to help mask the scent. Combined, these techniques should remove some of the smell.


Most backpacks should be hand-washed, but a few can be washed on the gentle cycle (cold and slow) in a washing machine. Make sure that you clean your backpack every six months to maintain its condition while following the manufacturer’s recommendations.

  • Updated October 30, 2021