After a long day at the gym, you’re likely hot, sweaty, and stinky. That grossness may then get trapped in your duffel bag when you put your damp clothes and towel inside. It’s enough to make you deeply ashamed of your own body odors.

Still, all hope isn’t lost! With the right cleaning method, and a few tried-and-true hacks, you can get your gym and travel duffel bags smelling fresh as daisies. Let’s get going!

What is a Duffel Bag?

A duffel, also known as a duffle or kit bag, is a large bag made from a soft, flexible material like canvas or leather. The bag will either zip or cinch closed with the help of drawstrings and is typically spacious enough for everything you need to carry.

The history of duffel bags starts in 1677 in a Belgian town named, fittingly enough, Duffel. The word “duffel” originally referred to a coarse woolen cloth that was made in the town and was then eventually sold all over Europe. This cloth went on to become canvas, a material that we still use today to make everything from clothes to furniture to canvas bags!

Poet E.E. Cummings was the first to use the phrase “duffel bag” during World War I. He was serving in the military as a volunteer ambulance driver and wrote the phrase in a letter he sent back home.

What Are Duffel Bags Used For?

With their lightweight, compact design, duffel bags are often thought of as “weekenders.” These bags come in handy for short vacations and as useful bags for the gym, sports practice, and even laundry.

Duffel bags can be used for any of the following:

Road Trips

It’s time to pack the cooler full of snacks, roll down the windows, and cruise from the west to the east coast! Save space in your car during your next road trip by using duffel bags instead of bulky suitcases.

Air Travel

Do you want to avoid the hassle of luggage fees by traveling with one carry-on bag? Choose a roomy duffel bag to take onboard your flight. As long as your bag is within the airline’s size requirements, you’re clear for liftoff!


Fitness experts recommend packing a gym bag the night before you plan on working out. A large duffel is the perfect choice as it can fit your towel, water bottle, headphones, and a change of clothes without having to cram it all inside.

Sports & Dance

If you’re part of a sports league, golf course, or dance studio, you can’t go wrong with duffel bags as gifts. Each one can be stitched with the athlete and/or team’s names. Your squad will then always have an easy way to bring their gear and uniform to and from practices and games!


The duffel bag was originally created for the military, so it only makes sense for the troops to still use them today. A camouflage print with large carrying straps and plenty of pockets will get a ton of use during boot camps and training.


You can’t go camping without all the right gear, which includes not only your tent, but also large gallons of water, lanterns, hiking boots, and of course, ingredients for s’mores! Pack it all up in a spacious duffel bag, preferably one made from a weather-resistant material.


Nylon duffel bags are great to use as swim bags. You can keep your wet bathing suit inside to bring home after you do a few laps. These bags are also great if you’re going to the beach with your family and want an easy way to carry everyone’s beach towels and dry clothes.


It’s laundry day! If you live in an apartment or have to go from your dorm to the campus laundromat, a duffel bag is a good way to transport your dirty clothes. The best part is you’ll be able to carry it completely hands-free, which is handy if you have a long distance to travel.

Whether you bring your duffel bag to a football game, load it into your trunk for a road trip, or take it through the wilderness on an epic hike, it’s likely going to get dirty and worn over time. That’s exactly why it’s important to roll up your sleeves and dedicate an afternoon to cleaning!

Are Duffel Bags Washable?

Yes, duffel bags are washable. In fact, you can wash them either by hand or throw them directly in the washing machine! The key is to avoid any harsh chemicals or detergents.

*DISCLAIMER: Quality Logo Products® is not responsible for any damage caused by washing your duffel bags. If you’re at all unsure on how to properly clean them, contact the bag’s manufacturer directly for more information.

Which Types of Duffel Bags Can You Wash?

The material makes a huge difference as to whether or not you can wash your duffel bags. It’s not a good idea to get leather or suede wet as this could damage the look and feel of the material. However, there are plenty of other fabrics that are safe for washing. This includes:

  • Canvas (wash by hand)
  • Nylon
  • Polyester
  • Cotton (check the label)
  • Acrylic
  • Vinyl
  • Linen

As long as your duffel bag is made with one of the materials listed above, you’re safe to start cleaning. Each fabric has its own care process, so do your research before scrubbing away!

How to Clean a Duffel Bag

If time allows, you should deep clean your duffel bags. You can do this by hand in your bathtub using a mild detergent, scrub brush, and plenty of cool water.

Follow these steps to wash your duffel bag by hand:

  1. Step One: Put your empty duffel bag in your bathtub. Do not fill it with water!
  2. Step Two: Mix ¼ ounce of mild detergent and cool water in a separate bucket.
  3. Step Three: Dip a scrub brush in the bucket and use it to thoroughly clean the outside of your bag.
  4. Step Four: Gently rinse the suds away using the showerhead.
  5. Step Five: Remove the bag from the tub and let it air dry on hooks or lying on a clean towel. It could take up to 1 hour for it to completely dry.
  6. Step Six: Get rid of any dirt or debris inside of the bag by using a handheld vacuum or a lint roller. Don’t forget inside of the pockets!
  7. Step Seven: Use antibacterial wipes to clean out the inside of the bag.
  8. Step Eight (optional): If necessary, apply a stain remover to the outside of the bag in any areas that are particularly stubborn.
  9. Step Nine: Hang the bag up so that it can finish completely drying.
  1. Step One: Put Your Duffel in the Tub

    The first step is to put your empty duffel bag inside of your bathtub. This gives you more space for cleaning. Be sure the tub is empty as you never want to overly saturate your bag during cleaning.

  2. Step Two: Mix Soap & Cool Water

    Mix ¼ ounce of mild detergent and cool water in a bucket. Start by filling the bucket only a quarter of the way and then adding more water if needed.

  3. Step Three: Scrub Your Bag

    Dip a scrub brush into the bucket and thoroughly clean the outside of the duffel bag with the soapy solution. Start on one side of the bag and work your way to the other. Don’t forget the straps!

  4. Step Four: Rinse Away the Suds

    Use your showerhead to gently rinse away the suds. Keep in mind, you don’t want your duffel bag to get too wet or it will take forever to dry. The pressure should be relatively low, so adjust the nozzle accordingly.

  5. Step Five: Let the Bag Dry

    Take your duffel bag out of the tub and set it down on a clean towel to dry. This could take about 1 hour, so use the time to do other chores or take a nap – whatever works better for you!

  6. Step Six: Clean the Inside of the Bag

    Once your duffel bag is fairly dry, you can start cleaning out inside the main compartment and the pockets. Vacuum out any dirt or crumbs hiding at the bottom. You can also use a lint roller.

  7. Step Seven: Use Sanitizer Wipes
  8. Step Eight (Optional): Apply Stain Remover

    Do you have stubborn stains on the outside of your duffel bag? Get rid of them by using a heavy duty stain remover. Repeat until the stain is totally done. You can also try using white vinegar!

  9. Step Nine: Air Dry

    Turn your duffel bag inside out and hang it up to air dry. It shouldn’t be too saturated at this point, but this is a good way to make sure your duffel is completely dry before you use it again.

Can I Wash a Duffel Bag in the Washing Machine?

Good news! Duffel bags made from a safe material like nylon or polyester can go right in the washing machine. Prevent the zippers and buckles from getting snagged by putting your bag in a pillow case before washing. It’s also a good idea to use a gentle cycle with cool water and a mild detergent.

A few other tips while machine washing duffel bags:

  • Turn your duffel bag inside out before washing.
  • Avoid bleach as it could discolor your duffel bag during the cycle.
  • Wash your duffel with a load of towels or blankets. Duffel bags are heavy and could damage more delicate items.
  • Reshape your duffel bag after the rinse cycle and let it air dry.

This is the fastest way to clean your duffel bags, but it’s important to make sure the material is safe for the washing machine. Check the care tag first before proceeding. When in doubt, you can always wash your duffel by hand instead!

Pro Tip
Did you spend a week in saltwater on a beach vacation? Salt is very corrosive and could damage your duffel bag’s zipper. Avoid this issue by mixing mild dishwashing soap and cool water in a spray bottle and spraying it down!

Can I Put a Duffel Bag in the Dryer?

You should never put your duffel bag in the dryer. The bag may wrinkle, soften, shrink, or lose its structure as a result. Hang your duffel up to air dry instead.

How to Wash a Duffel Bag With Wheels

Nobody likes a squeaky wheel! Make sure your duffel bags roll smoothly by cleaning the fabric and also washing down the wheels.

Here’s how to clean a duffel bag with wheels:

  1. Remove any dried dirt using a sponge dipped in warm water and soap.
  2. Rotate the wheels while washing to make sure you get the entire area.
  3. Dry immediately to prevent water damage.
  4. Apply lubricant if the wheels are squeaky.

It’s worth the extra effort to ensure your rolling duffel bags glide smoothly in a busy airport or crowded train station. Show some love to your wheels, and you’ll always have a way to let the good times roll!

How Do You Get the Smell Out of a Duffel Bag?

The more you use your duffel, the more funky it will start to smell over time. Luckily, there are a ton of great solutions when it comes to deodorizing a duffel bag!

Use any of the following cleaning solutions to get the bad smell out of your duffel bag:

  • Liquid soap
  • Antibacterial wipes
  • Dryer sheets
  • Crumpled newspaper dipped in essential oil
  • Baking soda
  • Lemon juice
  • Tea bags
  • Scotch Guard

Liquid Soap

Dab a small drop of liquid soap on a damp washcloth and use it to wipe down the inside of your duffel bag. Dr. Bronner’s, Dial, and Dawn are all good brands to use. It’s easiest to do this while the bag is turned inside out. Let it hang to air dry when you’re done.

Antibacterial Wipes

Wipe down the inside of your bag with a few sanitizer wipes. If you need to take care of a bad odor in a hurry, this is the fastest way to deodorize your bag. You can even keep the antibacterial wipes inside of your duffel for easy access when you need them!

Dryer Sheets

Here’s another easy way to get rid of odors inside of a duffel bag! Just toss in a few dryer sheets at the bottom. It won’t keep smells out of your bag forever, but it’s a good temporary solution.

Crumpled Newspaper & Essential Oils

The paperboy may have just delivered a great way for you to deodorize your duffel bag! Crumple up a few sheets of newspaper and douse them in your favorite essential oil, whether it’s citrus, lavender, or vanilla. Keep the newspaper in your empty bag overnight and remove in the morning.

Baking Soda

Is your bag really, really stinky? Sprinkle 1 tbsp. of baking soda inside and let it sit for about 30 to 45 minutes. Vacuum away the grains and enjoy the fresh new scent!

Lemon Juice

If you want your bags to be literally lemony fresh, mix ½ cup of lemon juice and ½ cup of water in a spray bottle. Spritz it in the inside of the bag and let it sit overnight. The bag should dry naturally, but if you need to speed up the process, place it outside in the sun.

Tea Bags

Who knew your evening cup of tea could also help deodorize your duffel bags? Place a few unused bags at the bottom. let them sit overnight, and remove the next day. You can also do this with smelly gym shoes!

Scotch Guard

Your bag is now smelling wonderful. Make sure it stays that way by using a protective spray like Scotch Guard. This will help keep future odors at bay.

How Do You Remove Mold From a Duffel Bag?

Do you have mold inside of your duffel bag? Your best bet is to put on rubber gloves and tackle the mold with a scrub brush dipped in a solution of water and a cup of white vinegar, baking soda, or rubbing alcohol. Afterward, leave the bag outside in direct sunlight. The combination of acidity and heat should help break up the mold.

If the mold persists, it may be time to dispose of your bag. Contact your local recycler to see if they accept travel bags in curbside pickup. You can also buy a Zero Waste Box from TerraCycle, and they’ll take care of the recycling for you. This is much better for the Earth than just tossing your moldy duffel bag in the trash.

How Often Should You Clean a Duffel Bag?

Aim to clean your duffel bags at least once a year, but use your best judgment. If your bag is smelly or caked in mud, it might be due for a good washing as soon as possible.

Do you use your duffel bag every week, whether it’s for swim lessons, baseball practice, or heading to the gym? It’s much better to do a deep cleaning once every 3 months instead. If you go too long without cleaning your bag, it may start to smell or even grow mold!

Why Should You Clean Your Duffel Bag?

You should clean your duffel bags as regularly as you would your t-shirts, jeans, and dirty socks. Not only does this prevent the bags from deteriorating and growing mold, but it also helps you avoid bed bugs crawling into your bag. Yikes!

Inside Edition released a report about the gross germs that could be hiding inside of your gym bag. They tested 15 bags and discovered that different forms of bacterium, including E. coli and Staph aureus, were lurking inside. These bacteria are known to cause skin, bone, and joint infections. This is why it’s important that you practice good hygiene and regularly clean your duffel bags.

The Bottom Line

Duffel bags are made from fabrics that are known to get dirty and absorb odors. Why pay for expensive dry cleaning or buy a bunch of expensive over-the-counter products? You have everything you need right at home, so get to washing!


Online Etymology Dictionary. Duffle (n.) Retrieved from,

Pandev, A. (2018, July 27). The History of the Duffle Bag. Retrieved from,

Beck, J. How to Pack a Duffle Bag for Carry-On Only Travel. Retrieved from,

Kalinowski, R. (2017, October 5). How to Clean Duffle Luggage Bags. Retrieved from,

Ottawa Wedding Network. Can I Wash My Adidas Gym Bag? Retrieved from,

Topo Designs. (2020, January 16). How to Care for Your Pack. Retrieved from,

Kerr, J. (2017, May 24). How to Clean an L.L. Bean Boat and Tote. Retrieved from,

Her Packing List. Why You Should Clean Your Luggage After a Trip. Retrieved from,

Travel Bag Quest. How to Clean Luggage: Remove Mildew, Mold, Stains, and Dirt. Retrieved from,

Waits, S. (2015, February 11). 6 Tricks to Keep Your Gym Bag Fresh. Retrieved from,

Garcia, M. (2020, December 23). How to Clean a Suitcase. Retrieved from,

DIY Network. How to Care for Different Types of Fabrics. Retrieved from,

Inside Edition. (2018, October 19). The Dangerous Bacteria That May Be Lurking in Your Gym Bag. Retrieved from,

Ylisela, M. How to Get Mold Off Canvas Bags. Retrieved from,

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.