How to Wash a Backpack

Keeping your backpack clean and well-maintained helps to ensure that your belongings can travel with you through all your adventures safely. Over time, food, moisture, and daily wear and tear can make it filthy and leave a funky smell to it, and if you don’t wash your backpack, this grime could transfer to the clothes and other items you keep in there. 

Regular cleaning can also help to extend your backpack’s lifespan, which is good news for anyone who has forked out a lot of money for a high-quality model. Most backpacks are not that complicated to wash, and depending on the backpack material, they can be cleaned by hand or put in a washing machine.

In this guide, we take you through two different methods of how to wash a backpack so you can be sure your bag is spick and span before your next adventure.

How to Wash a Backpack by Hand

Depending on the materials they are made from, most backpacks can be machine washed. However, hand washing is still the safest method because some bags may come with a protective coating that could get damaged while in the washer.

Handwashing a backpack is not that complicated. Here’s a step-by-step guide to washing a backpack by hand.

1. Empty your backpack

First of all, you need to make sure that your backpack is empty. The last thing you want is to end up washing your passport and other important documents! 

Check every pocket and turn the bag inside out to ensure that it’s empty. You may also want to use a small vacuum to clean any hard-to-reach areas that may have dust and small dirt particles. Do not start washing unless you are sure that the backpack is empty.

2. Read the care instructions 

All bags come with care labels that indicate the safest and best way to clean a backpack. Before you start washing your backpack, take time to read the care instructions on the label, so you’ll have an idea of how to clean a backpack safely.

You’ll usually find the label at the side seam of the main zipper compartment. It will also indicate whether your backpack is safe for machine wash or not, as well as tips on how to dry it safely after washing. 

3. Pre-treat stains

If your backpack has stains, apply a pre-treat stain remover to the stained areas before you start washing it. You can use any stain remover, but make sure to avoid those that come with bleach. 

Leave the treatment for 30 minutes and use a soft brush to scrub the stain residues away. Don’t worry if some of the stain residues will not disappear completely; they should come off once you start washing the bag.

4. Fill in a basin with water

Next, get a laundry basin that’s large enough to accommodate your backpack. You can just use a sink, but make sure there is enough space to wash the entire bag, including all its pockets. 

Fill the basin with lukewarm water and place the bag in it. Avoid using hot water since the heat could cause the colours of the backpack to bleed. 

If the care label advises against submerging the backpack into the water, this step will not apply to you. Instead, use a rug soaked in water to wet and clean the bag.

5. Add gentle detergent to the water

Pour a gentle detergent into the water in the basin. Make sure to use a detergent that’s free from chemicals and dyes that could potentially damage the fabric material, as this could shorten the life of your backpack after you wash it.

6. Scrub your backpack with a brush

Once the detergent is in the water, get a soft brush or a cloth to start scrubbing your bag. The brush can help clean up any particularly dirty sections of the bag and will work the detergent into the fabric to ensure a deeper clean.

7. Rinse the backpack thoroughly

After scrubbing the bag, rinse it thoroughly with lukewarm water. You may have to wash the bag with water several times to ensure that there are not any soapy residues left in it. 

Wring out the bag to squeeze out any remaining liquid. Watch out for the small accessories when wringing out the bag, such as the zippers and straps, as they could get damaged easily.

8. Hang the backpack to dry

Finally, it’s time to hang the backpack out for drying. The best way to dry the backpack is to hang it upside down while leaving the pockets unzipped.

Be sure to leave it to dry naturally instead of putting it in a drying machine, as the heat from the dryer could easily damage your bag. 

Washing Machines

How to Wash a Backpack in the Washing Machine

One of the questions people have when learning how to clean a backpack is, “Can you wash a backpack in the washing machine?”. 

The answer will mainly depend on the type of backpack and the backpack material. 

To be safe, refer to the care instructions of your bag to determine if it’s machine washable or not. If it is, then follow these steps on how to wash a backpack in the washing machine.

1. Empty your backpack

The first step to washing your backpack is to remove everything inside and make sure that the bag is empty before placing it into the washer. If possible, use a handheld vacuum to clear out all the small debris and crumbs in the bag. Leave the pockets unzipped for washing so everything will get cleaned once the bag is in the washer.

2. Read the care label

Take time to read the care label instructions of the backpack before you start washing it. You will usually find this tiny label along the side seam of the bag. 

Read the instructions very carefully and make sure you follow everything that’s written in it, as sometimes you will need to remove some straps and accessories before placing the bag in the washer.

3. Pre-treat the stains

Next, check the bag for stains. If there are stains, apply pre-treatment stain remover to the stained areas. Do not use bleach, as it will ruin the fabric. Get a brush and scrub the stain residues away.

4. Wash the backpack in the washer

Now, it’s time to wash the backpack. Get a laundry sack or an old pillowcase and place the backpack inside it before putting it into the washer. This is to prevent the zippers and straps from getting caught in the machine as it washes the bag. 

Add about 2 tbsp of gentle detergent to the washer and wash the bag in cold or lukewarm water. Set the washer to a delicate or gentle cycle. 

When done, remove the backpack out and wipe the inner and outer compartments.

5. Dry your backpack

The final step is to let your backpack dry. You might be tempted to place it inside a dryer to dry it quickly, but avoid doing this at all costs. The heat from the dryer could damage your backpack.

Instead, leave your bag to dry outside naturally. Hang it upside down and leave the pockets unzipped. Before you store the bag away, make sure it has dried completely. 


Can you wash a backpack in the washing machine?

Yes, it is possible to wash a backpack in the washing machine, but first, check its care label instructions to ensure that it is machine washable. Some backpacks are not safe for machine wash since they are made from materials that could get damaged while in the washer.

Can you put a backpack in the dryer?

No, it is not advisable to place the backpack in a dryer because the heat could damage the fabric and accessories such as the zipper pulls. Instead of putting it in the dryer, leave the backpack to dry naturally in the air by hanging the bag upside down.


Hopefully, these steps on how to wash a backpack can guide you into the proper way of washing your backpack by hand or in the washing machine. Always remember to read the care label instructions very carefully to determine which method you will use for washing, and ensure that you leave enough time for the bag to dry before filling it with your belongings again, to avoid getting anything damp or mouldy!

If you’d like to read more suggestions and advice about backpacks, check out the rest of our guides below!

The Ultimate Guide to the Best Backpacks

How to Pack a Backpack

How to Waterproof a Backpack

Some of the links on this page are affiliate links, which means we can earn a small commission when our visitors click on them. This helps us to keep our content free and accessible for everyone, but you’ll never be charged for engaging with them.