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Can You Wash a Backpack in the Washing Machine? Is It a Good Idea?

washing and cleaning backpack in washing machine

If you have kids, you know all about dirty backpacks. They suffer exploding pens, squished snacks, and much more abuse, so you are probably wondering how to clean them. If you are apprehensive about whether backpacks are machine washable, don’t fret—most canvas and nylon backpacks are machine washable.

However, don’t go chucking any hiking or leather backpacks in the wash. Hiking bags, in particular, have protective coatings that washers can destroy, while leather needs to be carefully cleaned by hand.

With all that said, you should check the tag of any backpack before you wash it. If it needs to be cleaned by hand, can’t be submerged, or needs cold water, the tag will state it.

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How to Clean a Backpack in Your Washing Machine

The first step is to empty the backpack, unzipping and emptying every compartment of any loose items. You don’t want pens in the washer—trust us! Small metal items like paper clips and binder clips can rattle around and potentially damage the backpack, so be thorough.

If there’s smushed food inside, remove as much as possible with a paper towel. Next, hold the backpack upside down with all the compartments open and shake it out. We’d suggest doing this outside or over a trash can, so you don’t have an explosion of chip crumbs, dirt, or other debris.

If you want to spot-treat stains, this is the time. Pour a tablespoon of detergent on the stained area, add a bit of water, and scrub it with a soft-bristled nylon brush. Toothbrushes work great, too. Once you are satisfied, it is time to move on.

For best results, put the backpack in a laundry bag or pillowcase before machine washing. This will help prevent physical damage to the backpack while getting it clean. Before throwing it in the wash, though, check the care label. If it doesn’t specify to only use cold water, go ahead and wash it as you see fit.

Once washed, remove the backpack from the bag or pillowcase and hang it to air dry.

person holding a backpack
Image Credit: Luis Quintero, Pexels

How to Hand Wash a Backpack

For backpacks made of special materials, they’ll often state you need to clean them by hand. Fill a basin or bucket with lukewarm or cold water (as specified by the care label) and pretreat any stains using the method detailed above.

Add a tablespoon of laundry detergent to your vessel and submerge the backpack, but only if the care label says it’s safe. Give it a good shake in the sudsy water and grab your sponge or soft nylon brush.

Scrub the outside first, paying special attention to any creases where dirt and debris can accumulate. Next, scrub inside the main compartments and other pockets, then give the zippers a good once-over with the brush. Gunk can build up there and prevent them from operating correctly, so it’s important to keep them clean.

Once you’re satisfied with your efforts, rinse the backpack with cold or lukewarm water. Let the water flow into the compartments, too, and check to make sure all the detergent washes away. Repeat this as necessary and hang the backpack to air dry.

backpacks soak in water with detergent in blue basin
Image Credit: pas_td 4425, Shutterstock

How to Keep Backpacks Clean

The best way to clean backpacks is to prevent them from getting filthy in the first place. By following a few simple tips, you can keep them as clean as possible for longer. Let’s check out some of those tips below.

How to Keep Backpacks Clean:
  • Spray the inside and outside with a stain-repellent spray when clean
  • Spot clean small stains or messes with detergent and a toothbrush as necessary
  • Avoid overloading the backpack with heavy items
  • Avoid storing unsealed food in the backpack

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Backpacks are an essential item for lots of people, including kids, people at college, hikers, and more. Cleaning them is not as difficult as you might think, but it pays off to pay close attention to any instructions on the care label. Now that you’ve read this article, you should know exactly how to clean a washer-friendly backpack.


Featured Image Credit By: G.Tbov, Shutterstock


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