Protect Your Gear: How To Clean Your Backpack
Does your backpack smell like you just ran a marathon? From gym clothes to midday snacks and school supplies, we carry everything in our backpacks. Most of us have sweaty running shoes or wet swimsuits stuffed in our backpacks — maybe once or twice, maybe regularly. Things like food or muddy football boots can leave residue and unpleasant odors in your bag that can transfer to other items you’re carrying. Washing your pack 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 break-in with that pack of energy gels from four months ago.
Luckily, your regular nylon backpack can be put in the washing machine with just a little preparation. Check out our guide on how to wash and spot clean your pack to make it feel like new.
What you need: Supplies to clean your backpack
• Laundry bag: If you don’t have one, use an old pillowcase instead.
• Non-bleaching detergents: Use mild disinfecting laundry detergents that do not contain bleach.
• Stain Remover: Non-bleach stain remover is suitable for stains and especially dirty patches.
For spot cleaning:
• Mild disinfecting detergent
• A few towels or clean rags
• Cleaning brush: For stubborn spots, try using an old toothbrush or nail brush.
Machine wash backpack:
1. Empty your backpack:
Take out all the necessities and set them aside. If your pack has any detachable accessories or pockets, remove them. They can be washed separately.
2. Remove dust and debris from inside the compartment:
The hose attachment on a small handheld vacuum or a standard vacuum works very well. Alternatively, take the backpack out, turn it over, and shake it thoroughly.
3. Read Care Instructions: Check the label on the backpack for washing instructions. Many nylon or rucksacks are machine washable, but it’s important to check the label. For example, leather is not washable, so any backpack with leather trim should be spot cleaned.
4. Spot cleaning: If the backpack is not washable, you can spot clean it, or treat the stain before putting it in the machine.
How to clean your backpack:
For spot cleaning, use a cloth or soft brush to apply a non-bleach detergent or stain remover to the stain. Let the solution sit for 30 minutes, then scrub gently. Rinse off the detergent with cold water and a clean towel, or continue with machine wash instructions.
1. Prepare your backpack for the washing machine: Unzip all zippers and set aside any detachable accessories or pockets (you can wash separately, by hand, or in the washing machine’s separate laundry bag). Secure the unzipped backpack inside a mesh laundry bag or old pillowcase, or turn it over. This will protect the hardware on the backpack
2. Using a small amount of a mild bleach-free detergent, wash the backpack in cold water on the mild or fine cycle of the washing machine.
3. Remove the backpack from the washing machine and turn it right side out.
4. Air dry the backpack. Leave all pockets open and hang to dry in a well-ventilated area, preferably outside. Sunlight and fresh air will help dry the pack faster.
Tips for getting rid of common backpack odors
If you’ve ever carried things like sweaty softball gloves or leaky sports drinks, your pack might benefit from a little extra love. To address odors such as musty, sweat, or old food, here are a few suggestions:
Treat particularly dirty patches with an enzymatic cleaner, like the kind that treat your dog’s unfortunate rugs. These enzymes can break down various bacteria left behind by sweat or oil without serious effects.
For a cleaner 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 the dirty bag and let it sit until dry. Any lingering vinegar smell will disappear in the washing machine.
Don’t skip the straps: The straps on a backpack or gym bag can get dirty and discolored, potentially transferring residue to your clothing or skin. Prepare to wash by spraying them with a vinegar solution, enzymatic cleaner, or other mild disinfectant