How to Clean a Backpack (Detailed Instructions)

How to Clean a Backapack

Backpacks have become a modern-day necessity. It is used widely by children in schools, adolescents in college, working men and women, holiday/picnic goers, hikers, and the list is endless.

Backpacks are good investments and they don’t come cheap.

So we must take care of it in order to increase its longevity. Once it stays in good shape we can use it for a long long time.

In this article, I will share some tips on how to clean a backpack and what you need to do in case you decide to clean/wash yours.

Backpacks tend to get dirty over time.

The reasons can be numerous – be it a usage on rough terrain while on a trek, rough weather, frequent use, long duration of use causing sweat and oil from our body to stain the backpack, etc.

Anything man made does get dirty with time. And to make sure you making the best of your investment in a backpack, it important that you take some time out and clean the backpack.

Usually, in most cases, there is a slip in the seam of the main compartment with instruction on how to clean. Read it carefully before choosing the method of cleaning.

Backpacks which are made of nylon, canvas, or synthetic are usually safe for machine wash. Those having leather should be hand washed.

In most cases, it is recommended to clean the backpacks by hand washing, as in the machine tumble drying can cause ruptures at the corners and may damage the padding of the bag.

It is safe to machine wash a backpack if it does not have a waterproof treatment done on it.

One way to check this is to feel the fabric if it is smooth and one side and not smooth at the other side then it is waterproofed. In that case, it is better to wash it by hand.

If your backpack has leather, the technique is to work up a lather with a gentle soap or baby shampoo and then wipe with damp cloth. Do not rinse the leather.

A denim or hemp material backpack can be washed in a machine safely. However, sometimes there is a risk of loss of color as denim tends to bleed.

A cotton backpack should be washed in cold water as it tends to shrink.

Another important tip is to never put a backpack in a dryer. It can cause zippers to break, stitching to come apart, and can cause straps to fray or tear.

To avoid frequent washing and prevent wear and tear, store the backpacks in backpack covers and liners when not in use.

If you are using regularly, a good idea is to wipe down with a damp cloth and then hang up for drying. Keep removing debris, gym socks, lunch boxes as soon as you get home.

A great tip to deodorize your backpack is to keep in the sun for 20 minutes to remove bad odors. Make sure not to keep it for a long duration in the sun as that can damage the bag.

Another tip for deodorizing the bag is to take a bowl put a  drop or two of essential oil/scent and fill it halfway with water. Next, dip your napkin in it for ten minutes or so. Wring it dry and hang for drying. After it has dried place it in the bottom or side of the backpack. It will make the backpack smell great.

If some stain or food spill occurs immediately wipe it with a damp cloth which will avoid staining of the backpack. Give it a good wash once you reach home.

Make sure to read about how much load your backpack can carry. Take care to seal all food/drink items before placing it inside the bag to avoid spillage.

Pack sharp objects sensibly before placing them inside the bag. They can rip and damage the bag. Pack them tightly. It is a good idea to restrict their movement by placing them between cloths and other commodities.

There are two methods of cleaning a backpack

  1. Light cleaning
  2. Deep cleaning

Light Cleaning of a Backpack

Light cleaning can be done every time one uses the backpack.

Here’s is how you can do this:

  • Open the zippers
  • Empty the backpack.
  • Shake it upside down.
  • Use a sponge to clean the interiors.
  • Use little soap only if there is spillage and then wipe it away with damp cloth. Otherwise, use it dry.

On the exteriors, use a light sponge.

If there is any dirt use mild soap along the sponge. Wipe it away with damp cloth and hang to dry.

Deep Cleaning of a Backpack

Deep cleaning is done once in a while or when coming back from a long vacation or when there is sufficient time between the hikes.

Here is how you can do this:

  • Open the zippers
  • Empty the backpack.
  • Give it a good shake so all debris can fall out.
  • Use a vacuum or old toothbrush to remove debris from hard to reach corners.

Remove the shoulder straps, pockets, and hip belts if they are detachable. We can wash them separately. Cut out the threads near zippers as they can cause a snag or rip the material of backpack.

If the backpack has a removable metal frame, take it out and set aside. Use a damp cloth to wipe out any solid dirt/dust from the exterior or interiors.

Pre-treat any stains with a pretreatment solution. Avoid bleach.

If the pretreatment solution is not available, make your own solution. Use a 50:50 solution of one part detergent liquid and one part water. Apply on the stain and rub it with the help of a toothbrush. Let the solution stay on the stain for 30 mins. Rub again gently.

The backpack is now ready for a wash.

Methods of Washing a Backpack

Read the instructions written inside the backpack on washing.

It will be either written machine wash or hand wash.

If the backpack is too large for the machine then washing it by hand works best.

Machine wash

It is a good idea to run the machine through an empty wash to clean the machine from any unwanted debris/extra detergent used previously.

Place the backpack in a laundry sack or a pillowcase Alternatively one can turn the backpack inside out.  This will ensure the backpack, straps, and zippers stay safe.

Set a gentle cycle and use a gentle/mild detergent. Do not use overly hot water. Cold or Lukewarm water works well for backpacks.

At times the backpack might bunch up during spinning. In that case pause, the cycle spread the bag out and start the cycle.

Once washed hang it upside down to dry naturally. It is recommended to dry indoors or outdoors. Some do not recommend drying outdoors. This is because sunlight can damage some fabrics.

Some recommend drying outdoors as sunlight will remove all bad odors. Leave the pockets and zip open.

Once it is totally dry, store it in a cool place preferably with a backpack cover or liner.

A waterproofing spray is an option to use after wash. This will recoat the fabric. Another option is to use zipper lubricant. This coat should be applied on the inside along the length of zippers and then open and close the zippers repeatedly for the lubricant to reach everywhere along the zip line.

A zipper lubricant can be bought from a garage or from any hardware store where they deal with motorbikes.

Hand Washing a Backpack

If there is no label attached to the backpack it is a good idea to test the washing detergent in a small area prior to washing to find out if it has any bad effects on the fabric.

Fill a large bathtub, sink or bucket with lukewarm water.

If the label suggests not to fully submerge then do not submerge in water. use a piece of cloth or sponge or brush to wet, lather and wash it.

Add a detergent which is free from harsh chemicals as they can damage the fabric. Mild baby shampoo works well.

Use a toothbrush to clean hard to reach areas, corners, and zippers. Use a soft sponge for the mesh. Use the hard side of the sponge for difficult stains and soft side of the sponge for other areas.

Start by cleaning outside and turn it inside out to wash the interiors. Keep rinsing with a shower head or a mug from time to time to avoid the dust to go deeper into the zip areas and other places. Once the water coming out of the bag is cleaner and not murky, it is time to stop.

Lay the backpack on a big towel and roll the towel and wring out water. Wring it gently to avoid damage to zippers and straps. The other detachable parts can also be cleaned by the same method.

Leave the pockets unzipped and hang it to dry naturally upside down.

If the backpack says it should not be washed, then use the spot cleaning method. Use one part detergent and one part water. Use a piece of fabric to rub and wipe with the help of fabric dipped in plain water. Blot until no water is left. Hang to dry.

To disinfect a backpack, mix a solution of one to one with warm water and disinfectant. Do not use chlorine bleach. Use a pine oil or phenolic disinfectant instead. Use a clean sponge or cloth to wipe the inside and outside surface. Hang to dry.

If there are molds growing inside the bag, take the bag outdoors. Remove the mold with a disposable cloth. Sponge the area where the mold was located with alcohol. Sponge again with plain water a couple of times. Pat dry. Allow it to dry in the sun. sunlight will kill any remaining spores of mold.

If the backpack is exposed to bugs, lice or other pests during camp or hikes,  put the backpack in a garbage plastic bag. Tie the top of the plastic bag in a knot. Leave it tied for a couple of weeks or leave it in a hot car in summers for a couple of days. Once the bugs are killed, wash as usual.

Following the above tips and methods, we can increase the lifespan of the backpack for a really long time.

Happy backpack cleaning!

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