How to Wash a Backpack: A Step-by-Step Guide
By hand or in the washing machine, washing a backpack is easier than you think. Learn how to clean your backpack with this step-by-step guide.
PROTECT YOUR GEAR: HOW TO CLEAN YOUR BACKPACK
Does your backpack smell like it just ran a marathon? From gym clothes to midday snacks and school supplies, we use our backpacks to tote around anything and everything. Most of us have jammed sweaty running shoes or a damp bathing suit into our backpacks—maybe once or twice, or maybe on a regular basis. Stuff like food or muddy soccer cleats can leave residue and funky smells in your bag, which could transfer to other items you carry. Washing your backpack once or twice a year is an easy way to extend its lifespan and ensure your gear stays clean, so you don’t have to worry about your laptop having a fatal run-in with that pack of energy gel from four months ago.
Luckily, your average nylon backpack can go in the washing machine with just a little bit of prep. Check out our guide to learn how to wash and spot clean your backpack, to make it feel like new.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED: SUPPLIES FOR CLEANING YOUR BACKPACK
• Laundry bag: If you don’t have one, you can use an old pillowcase instead.
• Non-bleach detergent: Use a gentle disinfecting laundry detergent that doesn’t have bleach.
• Stain remover: A non-bleach stain remover is handy for stains and extra-dirty patches.
For spot cleaning:
• Gentle disinfecting detergent
• A few washcloths or clean rags
• Cleaning brush: For stubborn spots, try an old toothbrush or fingernail brush.
MACHINE-WASHING A BACKPACK
1. Empty your backpack. Remove all your essential items and set them aside. If your backpack has any removable attachments or pockets, remove them. They can be washed separately.
2. Remove dust and debris from the inside of the empty compartments. A small hand-held vacuum cleaner—or a hose attachment on a standard vacuum cleaner—works really well. Or, take the backpack outside, turn it inside-out and shake it thoroughly.
3. Read the care instructions: Check the tag on your backpack for instructions on washing. Many nylon or canvas backpacks can be machine-washed, but it’s important to check the label. For example, leather can’t be washed, so any backpack with leather accents should be spot cleaned instead.
4. Spot clean: You can spot clean your backpack if it isn’t washable, or to treat stains before you put it in the machine.
HOW TO SPOT CLEAN YOUR BACKPACK:
To spot clean, use a cloth or a soft brush to apply non-bleach detergent or stain remover to the stain. Allow the solution to sit for up to 30 minutes, then scrub gently. Rinse the detergent away with cold water and a clean washcloth or continue with machine-washing instructions.
1. Prepare your backpack for the washing machine: Unzip all the zippers and set aside any removeable attachments or pockets (You can wash those separately, either by hand or in a separate laundry bag in the machine). Secure the unzipped backpack inside a mesh laundry bag or an old pillowcase, or turn it inside-out. This will protect the hardware on the backpack.
2. Using a small amount of bleach-free gentle detergent, wash your backpack on your washing machine’s gentle or delicate cycle with cold water.
3. Remove the backpack from the washing machine and turn it right-side-out.
4. Air dry your backpack. Leave all the pockets open and hang it up to dry in a place with plenty of air circulation, preferably outside. Sun and fresh air will help dry the backpack faster.
TIPS FOR REMOVING COMMON BACKPACK SMELLS
If you’ve ever toted around something like a sweaty softball mitt or a leaky sports drink, your backpack might benefit from a little extra love. To tackle smells like mildew, sweat or old food, here are few pointers:
- Treat extra-dirty patches with an enzyme cleaner, like the kind for treating your dog’s mishaps on the carpet. The enzymes break down the kinds of bacteria left by sweat or oil, without harsh effects.
- For a cleaning agent that’s friendly to the planet and your budget, try plain white vinegar diluted with water. Use a spray bottle to spray the vinegar solution on your dirty pack and then let it sit until it’s dry. Any lingering vinegar smell will go away in the washing machine.
- Don’t skip the straps: Straps on a backpack or gym bag can get dirty and discolored, possibly transferring residue to your clothes or your skin. Prep them for washing by spraying them with vinegar solution, enzyme cleaner or another gentle disinfectant.
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