How to wash a backpack

Backpacks often accompany us through life’s adventures. And while those adventures can be filled with memorable moments, an appreciation of beautiful vistas or a sense of being one with nature, they’re also often full of mucky trails, wet weather and the need to carry all sorts of essentials.

As such, our backpacks are constantly being pawed at, soaked and can end up accumulating dirt over time. So that means we need to regularly clean them, wipe debris away and keep them in good condition. Thankfully, many backpacks and rucksacks tend to be machine washable. But, if not, they are generally hand washable. In this short guide, we’re going to walk you through the best and easiest way to wash your backpack.

Washing a backpack in the washing machine

So, first of all, you’ll want to empty out your backpack. Seems obvious but even the best of us can fall foul of absent-mindedness! Make sure to clear any dirt that’s easy to wipe away or empty it out over a bin. Then you’ll want to make sure your bag can actually fit into the drum. If not, then jump down to the hand washing section.

If it fits okay, you’ll want to unzip any zips when you’re done emptying the contents. This is because zipping up not only creates the potential for pressure that can wear a zip down, it will also stop the innards of your backpack getting properly cleaned. Also, make sure to remove sections that aren’t made of fabric – such as a frame – before the wash. You can always wash this in the sink rather than have it rattling around the drum!

If there’s a way to tie down straps, or you can turn your bag inside out to trap the straps inside, it can be good idea to do so as they can clank and clunk against the drum and can end up damaging your bag and the innards of your washing machine. That’s no good and you’d need to call our lot at Repair Aid to come out and fix your machine if the damage affects its functions. For better protection, stick it in something like a laundry bag or another type of container (like a pillow cover).

When it comes to detergent, you’ll want something more gentle as there are a lot of different materials within backpacks and some are going to be more sensitive than others. Using too strong a detergent or fabric softener can end up damaging these materials. As such, you won’t want to wash it on a warm cycle – rather, put it through a cold water cycle. When it’s done, just leave it to dry as you would your clothes. Upside down is best (still unzipped) to ensure moisture doesn’t get trapped and to help it dry faster. When it’s bone dry, it’s ready to go on another adventure again!

How to hand wash backpack

Handwashing a backpack

If you need to (or you’d prefer to) handwash your backpack, it’s something that can be done in your sink or, if it’s a bigger, then a bath. But although most backpacks will be okay with being submerged, just make sure to consult the label or manufacturing guidelines before you do so.

As with the washing machine method, empty out the bag of its content – including as much of the dirt and debris as possible and any metal frames. Fill your container of choice with a good volume of water (lukewarm is ideal) and, as above, you’ll want to avoid warm water due to it being a sure fire way to have some colours run (especially if there are white or bright colours contrasting darks).

Stick in some soap with the water – a non-detergent (or free of detergent) type – as, again, regular detergents and softeners can cause damage. Given that there’s a good chance that your non-machine-washable backpack or rucksack is more on the sensitive side, you’ll want to clean it gently. Use a cloth or a brush (even a toothbrush works) to really get into those areas where the dirt has set up a stronghold.

When you’re done, hang the backpack upside down, make sure the zips aren’t zipped and allow it to dry on its own. And you’re done!

Extra questions

How do I keep my backpack clean without cleaning it?

Well, one way is to buy a cover for your backpack to protect it from the effects – and after-effects – of rain. Backpack liners can also offer inner protection too. You’ll still need to clean this cover though and it won’t keep your backpack clean forever. At some point, you’ll still need to clean the actual bag.

What if my backpack can’t be hand-washed or machine-washed?

If you can’t put your backpack in the washing machine or it cannot be fully submerged, simply take some detergent-free/non-detergent soap and gently rub it into the backpack with a wet, lukewarm cloth.

Can I use the dryer?

No. It’ll likely damage the backpack. Let it dry naturally away from heat.

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