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How to Wash a Backpack in the Washing Machine: And by Hand

Check out this bag of tricks for washing your backpack.

If you use your backpack or bookbag every day — for school, work or leisure — it can get pretty grimy. We’re talking scuffs, stains, dirt, and even foul odors.

Are you wondering how to wash a backpack in the washing machine? It sounds quick and easy, and we’re here to tell you that it is!

Our six-step method can bring your backpack from stained to spotless. Now, you can strut your favorite napsack without embarrassment once again.

Key Takeaways

  • Empty the backpack and vacuum pockets before washing.
  • Pre-treat stains with a 1:1 solution of laundry detergent and water for 30 minutes.
  • Use a cool delicate cycle in the washing machine with a small amount of laundry detergent.
  • Air dry the backpack to avoid damage from heat or shrinking.

Can You Put a Backpack In the Washer?

First things first: can it even go in the washing machine?

Good news, most backpacks and bookbags can. Even some hiking bags! This includes polyester, nylon, cotton, and canvas materials.

You should avoid putting your backpack in the washing machine if the bag is made from leather, suede, or vinyl.

We don’t recommend putting internal or external frame camping backpacks through the machine either.

No matter the material, always check the care label in case it advises hand washing only.

Last but not least, don’t wash water repellent or waterproof backpacks in the machine as it could dissolve the waterproof sealant.

Besides those warnings, you can wash your backpack in the washer, but it’s important you do it correctly. That’s where our handy method comes into play!

Take Note

If the label says dry clean only, we recommend honoring that and bringing it to your local dry cleaners.

Can You Put a Backpack In the Dryer?

Once your backpack is clean, you have to think about how to dry it out. You may be tempted to put it through the tumble dryer. But bad news: a tumble dryer can ruin your backpack.

The heat from the machine can ruin the material or shrink the bag. On the other hand, many backpacks have plastic parts which can melt in the dryer.

We recommend air drying your backpack.

How to Wash a Backpack In a Washing Machine

Let’s get into the easiest method for washing a backpack in the washing machine. As long as you have checked the care label and it’s safe for your appliance, it’s time to get cleaning.

  • Time: 1-2 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy

What You’ll Need:

1. Empty the Backpack

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as tossing the backpack into the machine and walking away. We have to do a bit of prep work.

First, it’s essential to empty the backpack. You don’t want to wash pens or yesterday’s lunch in the machine. Clear out the whole backpack, making sure you get into all the nooks and crannies.

2. Vacuum the Backpack

Use a vacuum cleaner to deep clean the pockets of the backpack. A nozzle attachment will work wonders for this. Once you’ve completed this step, leave the pockets unzipped for the rest of the cleaning process.

3. Prep the Bag

Dampen a microfiber cloth and wipe down the backpack’s exterior and interior. This will remove surface dirt and dust.

Other things to prep include:

  • Removing metal frames from the bag.
  • Removing detachable straps or pockets from the bag. They could end up getting caught in the machine and being damaged.
  • Cutting away threads so that the bag doesn’t fray.

4. Pre-treat Stains

Before washing, pretreat any stains. Mix a 1:1 solution of liquid laundry detergent and water in a small bowl. Dip a soft-bristled brush (or an unused toothbrush) into the solution. Apply it to the stain, scrubbing it into the backpack fibers, let it sit for 30 minutes.

You don’t need to rinse off the solution afterward. You can leave it on during the wash cycle. The cycle will work to scrub off the stains, increasing the chances of removing them completely.

5. Wash the Backpack in the Machine

Time to let the machine do the hard work!

First, put the backpack in a mesh laundry bag or a pillowcase. This will prevent it from rattling around in the machine too much and potentially becoming damaged.

Now put 1-2 tablespoons of laundry detergent into the machine and wash on a cool delicate cycle.

Top Tip

It helps to wash the backpack inside out, especially if the interior is dirtier than the exterior. If you want, you can wash the bag twice, once inside out and once normally. This ensures a deep clean of the exterior and interior.

6. Air Dry the Bag

Once the bag is clean, remove it from the machine. Blot it with a towel to remove excess water.

Either place the backpack on a drying rack inside near a radiator or open window. Or hang it outside on a clothesline.

Keep the pockets unzipped so they can dry well.

Make sure the bag is 100 percent dry before storing or using it again. If you put it away while it’s still slightly damp, you might end up with a moldy backpack! Yuck.

How to Clean a Backpack Without a Washing Machine

If you can’t wash your backpack in a machine, you can still get it sparkling clean by hand.

  • Time: 1-2 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy

What You’ll Need:

1. Empty the Backpack

Like the above steps, make sure you empty the backpack before handwashing. Remove all items and large pieces of debris. Don’t forget to check every pocket.

2. Vacuum and Wipe the Backpack

Use your vacuum’s nozzle attachment to clean each pocket of the backpack. This will remove dust, debris, and dirt. Then wipe down the entire backpack with a wet microfiber cloth, inside and out.

3. Pre-treat Stains

Create a 1:1 solution of liquid laundry detergent and water in a small bowl. Dip a soft-bristled brush or unused toothbrush into the cleaner and apply it to any stains. Scrub well before leaving it for 30 minutes.

4. Fill a Sink With Soapy Water

Now it’s time to fill your sink, tub, or basin. Fill with lukewarm water. Hot water can damage the backpack and cause colors to bleed.

Add 2 tablespoons of your laundry detergent. For this step, we recommend a gentle laundry detergent. A strong detergent could damage your backpack, and because you’re hand washing, you want something that will be gentle on your skin.

5. Wash the Backpack

Submerge the backpack into the soapy water. Use your soft-bristled brush or toothbrush to scrub the detergent into the backpack. Don’t forget all the pockets and the main interior.

Scrub harder where there are stains. This will help remove stubborn dirt and scuffs.

If your backpack is made of a more delicate material — such as a mesh — don’t scrub too hard.

Top Tip

This process may take 20-30 minutes, depending on how dirty your backpack is. You can opt to soak the backpack for 30 minutes before scrubbing, as this might make it easier to get it clean since the dirt and stains will have loosened.

6. Rinse the Backpack Well

Run the backpack under the tap to thoroughly remove all detergent residue. Once the water is running clear, wring the backpack out gently. Rolling it up and squeezing works well.

7. Dry the Backpack

Blot the backpack dry with a towel to remove as much excess water as possible.

Dry the backpack on a drying rack near a radiator or open window. Otherwise, you can hang it outside on a clothesline.

Keep the pockets unzipped so they can dry too.

Make sure the backpack is 100 percent dry before storing or using it again to avoid mold and mildew build-up.

Tips For Removing Backpack Smells

Maybe your backpack isn’t dirty, but just really smelly. It might not need to go through the whole washing regime, but you certainly need to remove those awful smells. Here’s how to remove odors without washing the whole backpack in a machine.

  • Wash the outside: Mix a 1:1 solution of warm water and white vinegar. Add a few drops of dish soap. Shake to combine, then spray the outside of your backpack before scrubbing with a clean cloth. The white vinegar will remove odors while the dish soap works to freshen it up a little.
  • Empty the bag: Empty all the contents before you deodorize the inside.
  • Fill with baking soda: Pour ¼ cup of baking soda into the backpack. If the pockets smell too, shake a few tablespoons into each pocket.
  • Let it air out: Place the backpack in a safe spot for 12 hours with the pockets open. If it’s a nice day, you can air it out outside. Otherwise, you can place it in the laundry room out of reach of kids and pets.
  • Vacuum: After 12 hours, vacuum out the baking soda.
  • Extra measure: If the bag still smells funky, dip some newspaper in vanilla extract, crumple it up and place it in the bag. After two days, remove the newspaper and replace it with a few dryer sheets. After a couple of hours, your backpack should be smelling as fresh as a daisy!

Washing Different Types of Backpacks

We mentioned that you can’t machine wash all kinds of backpacks. So when it comes to plastic, leather, or suede backpacks, how do you wash them?

Here are some important methods and tips to keep in mind:

  • Plastic or vinyl: When washing plastic backpacks, use cool water, so you don’t melt or damage the fabric. You can create your detergent solution in a tub or sink, but dip a cloth in the solution instead of submerging the backpack. Then apply it to the backpack, so you’re only cleaning a little at a time rather than soaking the entire bag.
  • Leather: Use a dry leather brush or microfiber cloth to remove surface dirt and stains. Then use a trusted leather cleaner, such as Chemical Guys cleaner, by applying it to a sponge or cloth. Then gently massage it into your bag. Leave the cleaner for a few minutes (or however long the manufacturer suggests) before applying a conditioner or leather protector. Leave on for however long the brand advises.
  • Suede: Gently remove dirt with a specialized suede brush before using an unused pencil eraser to rub away stains. Condition the bag with a suede conditioner to protect it from further stains.

How to Keep Your Backpack Clean

Although you know how to clean a backpack in a washing machine, prevention is always easier than fixing. It’s important to keep your backpack clean to prevent stains from ruining the material or odors stinking out your bag.

Here are our top tips for keeping your bag fresh between washes:

  • Pack it right: Don’t fill the backpack with too much stuff, as this can damage the material. Always make sure that food and drinks are in a sealed container. Keep pens with their caps to avoid leakage. Package cubes are handy here.
  • Empty regularly: Once a week, empty your backpack. Throw away any garbage. Then shake the backpack out to get rid of sand, dirt, and other debris.
  • Wipe regularly: Use a damp microfiber cloth to regularly wipe the interior and exterior of your backpack to remove dirt before they create stains.
  • Use rain covers: If you live in a wet area, rain covers can help prevent stains from natural elements. You can invest in a good protective rain cover if this appeals to you.
  • Vacuum and air the bag out: Vacuum the bag out every few weeks to remove dirt. Air it out for a few hours to let out any bad smells.
  • Disinfect regularly: Use disinfectant wipes at the end of every week to kill germs and bacteria in your bag.


How Often Should You Clean Your Backpack?

You shouldn’t overwash your backpack as this can wear down the material. Honestly, we only recommend deep cleaning your backpack like this when it’s really dirty.

Regular cleaning should only include: emptying it, vacuuming the pockets, treating stains, and airing it out. We recommend carrying this out weekly, or every seven uses of the bag.

Can You Wash a Backpack in the Washing Machine With Clothes?

Yes, if there is space. Don’t overfill your washing machine — always leave the top ¼ of the drum empty.

Keep in mind that you must make sure that you use a gentle and cool cycle. Regular loads of laundry will usually be washed on a daily warm cycle, so it might not be practical to wash the backpack with other clothes.

If you’re putting the backpack in the machine with other clothes, don’t forget to use your mesh laundry bag or pillowcase. You don’t want other clothes getting tangled up in the backpack.

Can I Wash My Laptop Bag In Washing Machine?

It’s safer to wash your laptop bag by hand since the machine can damage the foam padding in the bag. However, check the care label as it might allow for machine washing. If it does, always use a cool gentle cycle.

How Long Does It Take a Backpack to Air Dry?

It depends on the material and the size of the bag. We recommend factoring in at least 24 hours for the bag to dry. If you need to use your bag within that time, make sure you arrange a backup backpack.

Blotting the bag with towels before air drying can help speed up the process.

Bright Backpacks

Whether you’ve got a Nike or Adidas backpack, or some other trendy brand, it’s important to keep your bag clean. Now that you know how to wash a backpack in the washing machine, it’s easier than ever to spruce your carrier up.

Remember to check the care label before washing as your bag might not be machine-washable. In that case, you can follow our easy steps for hand-washing the bag.

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About the Author

Beth McCallum

Beth McCallum is a freelance writer & book blogger with a degree in creative writing, journalism, and English literature. Beth firmly believes that a tidy house is a tidy mind. She is always looking for new ways to sustainably clean and tidy her house, that's kind on the environment but effective in the house, too!