If you wear a backpack all the time, it’s likely exposed to situations that will make it super dirty. It could be a hike through a muddy forest or an epic food fight in your school cafeteria. Either way, you can’t expect your bag to stay squeaky clean forever.

The good news is it’s not too difficult to wash your backpack. Follow this guide to make it happen. You’ll have a bag that looks and smells fresh and clean before you know it!

Can You Put a Backpack in the Washer?

Some backpacks can go directly into the washer, while others are not safe for the machine. It really depends on the material and how the bag is made. Be sure to check the care tag, or ask the manufacturer for more information.

If you can throw your backpack in the washing machine, congrats! This is the easiest way to get it nice and clean. Keep these tips in mind while washing:

Empty your backpack

You obviously don’t want any pens, notebooks, or spare change clunking around in the machine. Take everything out before putting your backpack in the washer.

Remove detachable accessories

Before you start washing, remove any detachable pockets, straps, wire frames, or mesh. This helps ensure that everything gets clean without any damage.

Cut loose threads

Another way to prep your backpack for the washer is by snipping away loose threads. You don’t want them to get snagged in the machine or stuck in the zippers.

Place it in a laundry bag

The straps, zippers, and buckles can get tangled in the machine. Avoid this issue by placing your backpack into a mesh laundry bag or an old pillowcase.

Use gentle detergent & cold water

Now’s not the time to bust out the bleach! Stick with a mild detergent and fabric softener and rinse with cool water. Hot water may cause shrinkage!

Set to delicate or gentle

Most washers have a “gentle” or “delicate” cycle. Use this setting when washing your backpack in the machine.

*Disclaimer: Quality Logo Products® is not responsible for any damage caused by washing your backpack. If you’re at all unsure, reach out directly to the bag’s manufacturer for more information.

Pro Tip

Leather backpacks should never be machine washed. Always clean these bags by hand!

How to Wash a Backpack By Hand

It’s a good idea to spot clean your backpack, especially if it’s extremely dirty. This is very easy to accomplish, and all you need is a clean towel, a brush, cold water, and a gentle detergent.

Follow these steps to wash your backpack by hand:

  • Step One: Empty out your backpack, making sure no items are left inside.
  • Step Two: Scrub the stained and dirty areas using a brush and mild washing detergent.
  • Step Three: Let the solution sit for at least 30 minutes.
  • Step Four: Rinse the solution from the backpack using cool water and a clean towel.
  • Step Five: Hang your backpack up so it can air dry.
  1. Step 1

    Empty the Backpack

    It goes without saying that you shouldn’t have anything inside of your backpack while you’re cleaning it. Be sure to remove everything, including items that are in the zippered pockets.

  2. Step 2

    Brush With Mild Detergent

    Dip your cleaning brush into a bowl of mild detergent and gently scrub away the dirt. Don’t forget to also get the straps!

  3. Step 3

    Allow the Solution to Sit

    Wait for 30 minutes so the detergent can really seep into the stained areas. This is a good time to grab a cup of coffee, read a book, or catch up on the latest episode of your favorite TV show!

  4. Step 4

    Rinse

    Rinse all the suds away using cool water and a clean washcloth. Your kitchen sink or bathtub is a good place to do this so you don’t make a mess. Be sure not to totally submerge your bag in the water as it could take a longer time to dry!

  5. Step 5

    Let Air Dry

    Your backpack is clean and ready to go! Repeat the steps if necessary. Once everything looks good, hang your bag on a hook or hanger and let it air dry.

How to Dry a Backpack

Never put your backpack in the dryer! The heat can damage the bag and could affect its overall strength and structure. It’s much better to hang your backpack up to air dry instead.

How Long Does it Take to Dry a Backpack?

Backpacks, like any items made from fabric, take up to 48 hours to completely dry. You can cut down on this time by using only a little water while washing your bag. It also doesn’t hurt to avoid wearing yours out in a rainstorm!

How Can I Make My Backpack Dry Faster?

If your backpack gets wet, you can dry it faster by hanging it in the fresh air on an overcast day. Is it cold outside? Plug in a fan and have it blow directly onto your backpack instead. Air circulation is key to making your backpack dry quickly!

How to Waterproof a Backpack

Are you using a backpack outdoors for hiking? It’s not a bad idea to waterproof it before your next big adventure! Here’s how:

#1: Buy a Rain Cover

Many hiking backpacks come with a rain cover, but if yours is MIA you can buy a replacement. A disposable poncho also works in a pinch!

#2: Line the Inside With Plastic

Stuff the inside of your backpack with plastic grocery bags or garbage bags. This will cut down on the mess if you put dirty boots or a wet jacket into the bag after your hike.

#3: Use Ziploc Bags for Electronics

You’re likely going to bring your phone and maybe a camera with you on your expedition. Keep your tech gadgets safe by storing them in Ziploc bags.

#4: Try a Water-Repellant Spray

Look for a water-repellant spray and spray the outside of your backpack. You can find this cleaning solution at most outdoor supply stores, or buy giant bottles online through Amazon.

#5: Store Your Backpack in a Dry Bag

Are you kayaking or white water rafting? It’s not a bad idea to purchase a dry bag for your backpack. These bags float in water and will protect the gear inside from getting wet or damaged.

By being proactive and waterproofing your backpack, you can worry less about having to dry it later. These tips also work well if you’re bringing your backpack out on a rainy or snowy day.

How Do You Get Dirt Stains Out of Backpacks?

If the stains on your backpack are stubborn, try spaying them with white vinegar. The acidity will help break down any nasty buildup. You can mask the vinegary scent by mixing in a few drops of lemon.

Pro Tip

Do you have ink stains on your backpack? Remove them by first using hair spray and then following up with rubbing alcohol. Blot the area with a dry towel until the ink is gone.

How Do You Clean the Inside of a Backpack?

Is the inside of your backpack a nightmare? You don’t have to go through the entire process of washing it! Simply turn it inside out and use a handheld vacuum cleaner to remove any crumbs, debris, or dust that have accumulated inside.

You can then go a step further and wipe down the inside of your bag with antibacterial wipes. This is a quick way to get rid of any gunk that may be hiding in the shadows.

How to Deodorize a Backpack Without Washing It

Let’s say you left an old ham sandwich in your backpack, and now it smells kind of weird. No worries! It’s super easy to make it smell fresh as a daisy once again.

Follow these steps to deodorize your backpack:

  • Step One: Empty out the backpack so there’s nothing left inside.
  • Step Two: Pour a 1⁄4 cup of baking soda into your backpack. You can also add a few drops of essential oil for a nice aroma.
  • Step Three: Leave the bag open in a safe area for at least 12 hours.
  • Step Four: Vacuum any remaining baking soda grains in the bag.
  • Step Five: Dip newspaper in vanilla extract, wad it up, and put it in the bag for the next couple of days.
  • Step Six: Remove the newspaper and replace it with a few dryer sheets. Your backpack should now be free of any gross smells!
  1. Step 1

    Empty the Backpack

    Start by removing everything from the inside of your backpack. After all, you don’t want to ruin your journals, textbooks, or other supplies.

  2. Step 2

    Sprinkle in Baking Soda

    Pour only about a 1⁄4 cup of baking soda into the bottom of the backpack. If you want a pleasing aroma, add a couple of drops of your favorite essential oil to the baking soda.

  3. Step 3

    Leave the Bag Open

    Leave your backpack open for at least 12 hours. It’s better to do this on an overcast day since the sun can damage or discolor certain materials. If it’s too cold outside, you can keep your bag open in a safe area.

  4. Step 4

    Vacuum Up the Baking Soda

    Suck up any grains that still remain at the bottom of your backpack. This is why it’s important not to pour too much baking soda during Step Two.

  5. Step 5

    Dip Newspaper in Vanilla

    As an extra precaution against odors, dip newspaper in vanilla extract, wad it up, and put it into the backpack. Leave it in there for a few days.

  6. Step 6
    Source: downy.com

    Replace Newspaper With Dryer Sheets

    Take the newspaper out of the backpack. Avoid any funky smells in the future by keeping a few dryer sheets tucked into the bottom. You should notice that the gross smells are gone!

Are you deodorizing your kid’s backpack? Do this project on a Friday when they get home from school. This gives you plenty of time to let the baking soda and newspaper work their magic!

Pro Tip

Remove mold from a backpack by mixing 1 qt. of water and 2 tbsp. of bleach or lemon juice. Wipe down the bag with the solution, scrubbing vigorously until it’s gone.

How Often Should I Wash My Backpack?

It’s not necessary to wash your backpack all the time, but aim to give it a good cleaning every 6 to 12 months. If you travel often or go on hikes, you may want to wash it more frequently.

How Can I Make My Backpack Look New?

Now that your backpack is clean, it’s time to give it a makeover! Try any of the following ideas to make it look brand new:

Pins & Keychains

One of the easiest ways to make your bag look new is to attach a few keychains or pins. You can even trade them out every week, so you always have a new look!

Glitter

A little bit of sparkle can go a long way! Cover your backpack with Mod Podge and then sprinkle on glitter in your favorite color. Be sure to add a sealant to the top so the glitter doesn’t end up all over the place!

Iron-On Decals

If your backpack is made from cotton or denim, you can use an iron to add decals to the front. It’s also a good way to hide any holes, tears, or stains that won’t come out.

Fabric Markers

Are you an artist? Draw a picture on your backpack, or doodle a few designs in key areas like by the front pocket. This is a cheap, easy way to bring some personality to your bag!

Duct Tape

Craft stores are your best bet for unique duct tape! You can find a ton of bright colors and unique patterns. Grab a few rolls and get busy sprucing up your backpack!

Rhinestones

Make your backpack look edgy by sticking on rhinestones. You just need a hot glue gun and a little bit of time to do this project!

Monogram

Bring a personal touch to your backpack with a monogrammed initial. Fabric letters or stickers are available at most craft stores!

Ribbon

Ribbon makes your backpack look like a present that’s just waiting to be opened! Tie a little bow to the grab handle or straps. You can even sew a bow smack dab in the middle.

Remember, you don’t have to run out and buy a new backpack when yours is looking worn out. Try any of these DIY ideas to breathe new life into your bag!

What to Do With Old Backpacks

Sometimes backpacks are beyond cleaning or DIY projects. You can donate old bags to a ton of great organizations such as:

Green Guru Gear

This company repurposes old backpacks into new eco-friendly gear like bike tubes, wetsuits, billboard materials, and even more updated backpacks. It’s upcycling at its finest!

Source: aba.org/store

American Birding Association

Birdwatching is a hobby that’s enjoyed by millions of people. Keep this activity alive by donating your old backpack to the American Birding Association. You can also donate other gear like jackets, rain ponchos, and binoculars!

Source: facebook.com/RoseHavenPDX

Rose Haven

Based in Portland, this non-profit donates backpacks to kids, impoverished people, and at-risk women. You can also send them gently used clothing, blankets, books, pens, and notebooks.

Source: voa.org/operation-backpack

Operation Backpack

Operation Backpack helps kids get the school supplies they need in 11 states across the country. Donate your child’s gently used backpack to this non-profit organization.

Source: kinf.org/donateproduct

Kids in Need Foundation

Do you have a ton of clutter from old school supplies? Bundle up your crayons, rulers, facial tissues, and backpacks and then donate it all to Kids in Need Foundation. Visit their website to get the full list of products they need!

Source: facebook.com/sharethewarmthashe

Share the Warmth

According to the 2019 U.S. Census, 10.5% of people are living in poverty in the United States. Share the Warmth helps give them what they need, which includes essential school supplies like backpacks, crayons, and notebooks.

Source: backpacksforkids.net

Backpacks for Kids

The name says it all! This non-profit donates backpacks to kids in the Greater Boston area. Your old bag could be just what these students need to be successful in the classroom!

Source: developafrica.org/donate-or-collect-school-and-office-supplies

Develop Africa

Thousands of students in Africa don’t have the supplies they need for their education. Develop Africa accepts gently used backpacks, folders, markers, and other gear.

Source: schoolonwheels.org/donate/school-on-wheels-virtual-supply-drives

School on Wheels

Last year, School on Wheels sent over 7,000 backpacks filled with school supplies to kids in need. Donate your bags to their virtual backpack drive, or start your own in your local community!

Source: boxed.com/m/terracycle

TerraCycle

Do you have a backpack that’s just not usable? Purchase a “Waste Box” from TerraCycle and send in your used backpacks. This non-profit will then take care of the recycling for you.

You should never throw away old backpacks. Clean them, give them a makeover, or donate them to a worthwhile cause!

The Bottom Line

Just because your backpack is dirty, that doesn’t mean it’s time to replace it with something else. A deep cleaning, and maybe a little bit of glitter, can go a long way in making your bag look brand new. So roll up your sleeves and get to work!

References

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Perry, C. How to Clean a Backpack With and Without a Washing Machine. Retrieved from,
https://littlethings.com/home/how-to-wash-a-backpack

Ossola, A. (2019, August 3). What is Vinegar and What Makes it a Good Cleaner? Retrieved from,
https://www.thekitchn.com/what-is-vinegar-and-what-makes-it-a-good-cleaner-236459

Cooley, J. How to Get Marker Out of Backpacks. Retrieved from,
https://www.hunker.com/13423782/how-to-get-marker-out-of-backpacks

Descott, M. How to Get a Smell Out of a Backpack. Retrieved from,
https://www.hunker.com/12565406/how-to-get-a-smell-out-of-a-backpack

Goodsell, P. (2016, July 21). 5 Tips to Waterproof Your Hiking Bag. Retrieved from,
https://www.snowys.com.au/blog/5-tips-to-waterproof-your-hiking-backpack/

Hamburg, D. 5 Step Guide on How to Waterproof a Backpack. Retrieved from,
https://www.globosurfer.com/how-to-waterproof-any-backpack/

Howcast. (2010, September 13). How to Make Your Backpack Look Cool. Retrieved from,
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-If6Hgiuaw

wikiHow. (2018, September 3). How to Make Your Backpack Look Unique. Retrieved from,
https://www.wikihow.com/Make-Your-Backpack-Look-Unique

Johnson, J. How to Get Mold Off of a Backpack. Retrieved from,
https://www.hunker.com/12505554/how-to-get-mold-off-of-a-backpack

Nims, B. (2018, July 15). Here’s Where to Do All of Your Back-to-School Recycling. Retrieved from,
https://www.huffpost.com/entry/where-to-do-all-of-your-back-to-school-recycling_n_5b744c68e4b0182d49af9d5b

About the author

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa is a promo expert with over four years of experience in the industry. She is the Lead Copywriter at Quality Logo Products and has had work published for the Promotional Products Association International and the Advertising Specialty Institute.