How to wash a backpack

Keep your gear fresh, smelling right with these steps on how to wash a backpack

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123RF/AlexeyPoprotsky

After enough time on the trailhead — or a few simple commutes around town — a backpack naturally gathers plenty of muck. Like all outdoor gear, your backpack also needs a thorough cleaning every now and again to keep it in tip-top shape and to extend its lifespan. That said, a simple cleaning every few months ought to do the trick. Here are a few tips on how to wash a backpack.

Note: While some recommend machine washing your bag, we prefer a good old fashioned hand washing to prevent unnecessary wear and tear. You’ll also want to check the tag inside your bag to determine the manufacturer’s washing instructions. For example, some materials cannot be washed at higher temperatures. If you’re unfamiliar with these strange symbols you can learn more about them here.

A basic spring cleaning

For this task, you’ll need a sponge, soap, and some water. Before you get started, make sure you empty every pocket to prevent damaging any valuables you may have left inside. Next, unzip each of the pack’s compartments, turn it upside-down, and give it a few shakes to loosen up and expel any debris.

Wet the sponge in a soapy mixture and wipe out the interior pockets and compartments. Then, you’ll want to tackle the exterior of the bag. For denser materials, you may need to use a toothbrush rather than a sponge. Once finished, wring out the now grimy sponge and rinse the bag with a cool, wet sponge.

A more thorough wash

If it’s been a while since you last cleaned your pack — or you’ve just finished an exceptionally messy trip — your bag may require a more rigorous cleaning session. This process starts the same way as the previous method. First, empty the pack and give it a few shakes to loosen and expel debris. This alone may not be enough to sift away embedded materials. We recommend leaning on a basic vacuum and handheld attachment to remove these items.

If your backpack allows you to detach the belt and shoulder straps, do so after the initial shakedown. Cleaning these parts individually allows for a better overall cleaning. If your bag features a metal frame, you’ll also need to remove this. Now, grab a bucket of lukewarm water (you can use a sink or a bathtub for this step) then, using non-detergent soap, submerge your bag and give it a few undulations to ensure the soap covers all surfaces and compartments. Use a sponge or brush to wash away stains or dried sediments. Remember to be gentle when scrubbing or brushing more delicate materials.

Now, discard the dirty water and refill the bucket with clean, cool water and rinse the bag. It may take a few dips to adequately rinse away soap from the previous step. Do not machine dry the bag at this point. Instead, use clothespins or hangers which allows the pack to completely air-dry as stowing the bag prematurely may result in mildew growth and unwanted odors.