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How to Clean a Backpack

Priscilla Greene |

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Backpacks are no longer exclusively an essential piece of hiking equipment. Many city dwellers now use drawstring bags and backpacks to carry around their groceries, school supplies, work essentials, and gym clothes on a day-to-day basis. So, when it comes to a backpack, upkeep is of the essence to prolong its life. Yet, if it’s really dirty, you’ll need to pull out the big guns and thoroughly clean it. But knowing or not knowing how to clean a backpack can make the difference between a bag that shows its age and one that looks nice and new. So, here are our tips to take care of your backpack.

Which Fabric Type is Most Suitable for Washing?

The usefulness of your bag is not only related to the quality of its fabric but also to how you care for it, maintain its cleanliness, and the environments in which you use it. Therefore, proper care for the fabric of your bag, tailored to its type, will not only extend its usability but also ensure effective cleanliness. However, it's important to note that the cleaning process is not the same for every fabric type. The characteristics of the yarn used in the fabric directly affect washing time and temperature. So, how should we wash each fabric type? Let's take a look together at the commonly used fabric types in bags and their care recommendations under this heading. 

Linen Fabric Backpacks 

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Tote bags, reusable drawstring backpacks and backpacks are often preferred in linen fabric due to their durable structure. Linen, being composed of natural fibers, is a textile that does not stretch. As a result, it resists weight and does not sag. However, if washed with the wrong products, the color may fade quickly. If you have a backpack made of linen fabric, you can wash it with a special detergent at 30 or 40 degrees Celsius. We do not recommend using fabric softeners for your bag, as they can alter the chemical structure of the fabric. 

Muslin Fabric Backpacks 

Similar to linen, muslin fabric is frequently used in bags to achieve a vintage look. However, muslin fabric is more delicate than linen and cotton, requiring more careful maintenance. Another point to note is that muslin fabric tends to shrink at high temperatures. Therefore, it is advisable not to wash it at temperatures exceeding 30 degrees Celsius. Plant-based detergents will help preserve the delicate structure of muslin fabric.

Cotton Fabric Backpacks 

Products made of cotton fabric are the most preferred natural-textured items due to their easy production and widespread availability of materials. Similar to caring for a linen fabric bag, you can wash your bag made of cotton yarn at temperatures up to 40 degrees Celsius. One advantage of cotton made cinch bag is that it can exhibit the same washing performance at low temperatures. However, to prevent color mixing, we recommend keeping your bag separate from other clothes or fabrics that may bleed dye. 

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Polyester Fabric Backpacks 

Due to its low-cost production and durable fabric, polyester is the most common fabric type in backpacks. Not all of them may be made of 100% nylon, as cotton-blend fabrics will significantly increase durability. Therefore, polyester fabrics, often mixed with different types, are preferred for their easy cleaning and long-term use. Polyester fabric can be easily cleaned by wiping, and it can also be machine washed at low temperatures. Due to its nylon structure, we advise against washing at high temperatures, as you may encounter stretching and deformation issues.

How to Clean a Hiking Backpack

Hiking equipment needs special care, as the materials, hardware, and special treatments applied onto the fabric may not fare well if regular cleaners and cleaning methods are involved.

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When it comes to hiking backpacks and any delicate drawstring bags or expensive bags, we recommend always washing them by hand. Some backpacks may be too large for your washing machine or they might wrinkle inside the drier. Plus, always follow the instructions before getting down to business.

Washing Your Hiking Backpack

 You’ll need:

-        A soap-based cleaner or another mild cleaner, such as baby shampoo

-        Clean sponge

-        A soft nylon brush (an old toothbrush should work too)

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Let’s get down to work:

  1. Empty your backpack and remove any dust, dirt, small particles from the interior. If it is really dirty, you can use a small vacuum cleaner to get rid of persistent debris.
  2. Remove the shoulder straps, metal frame, and any other detachable piece of hardware.
  3. Let the bag soak in warm water and a bit of soft cleaner. Baby shampoo is excellent at cleaning fussy fabrics because regular laundry detergent might damage treated materials. What’s more, baby shampoo has a more neutral pH than regular dish soap or cleaners and it is not as harsh on fabrics.
  4. Clean the interior of the backpack with the sponge.
  5. After you’re done with the insides, gently clean the outsides. Spot clean any areas with rough stains, add cleaner if necessary, but don’t overdo it as you don’t want to damage the material or accidentally wipe off the protective coating. Clean thoroughly the parts of the backpack that collect sweat such as shoulder straps, hip belt, and back. Pay extra attention to the bottom of the pack and the areas around the zippers as they tend to attract plenty of dirt.
  6. Use the toothbrush on the zippers to give them a nice scrub and to remove any leftover dirt and sand.
  7. Rinse out the detergent and hang the backpack upside down someplace indoors with plenty of ventilation or outdoors but in the shade. Do not expose it to direct sunlight, tumble dry it, or try to dry it with a hair blower on the high heat-setting. Any type of heat might irreversibly damage the chemical and thermal treatments applied to its fabrics.

How to Clean a Regular Backpack

Regular backpacks such as school backpacks, kids’ backpacks, reusable drawstring bags or laptop backpacks usually don’t need special care. But if the pack hasn’t been cleaned in a long time, there are some steps to follow to make it as good as new.

You’ll need:

  • OxiClean
  • Soft scrub brush
  • Toothbrush for those hard-to-reach places
  • Regular laundry detergent

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Let’s get down to work:

  1. If the backpack is really filthy, you’ll need to use a secret weapon, which should remove almost any stain: OxiClean. But before giving the bag a thorough wash check the cleaning instructions. You want to make sure that it can be washed before you actually do it. If it lacks a care label, do a test on a hidden area of the bag to see if it can make friends with water and detergent. So, the first step is to remove anything from the bag, get rid of all the crumbs, dirt, and dust from the interior and any hard-to-reach spots like crevices and tiny pockets. A handheld vacuum cleaner can work wonders here. For really stubborn debris use the toothbrush to loosen it but be gentle on the fabric. In the case of mesh material, replace the brush with a soft sponge.
  2. Remove any detachable pieces of hardware and straps before you submerge the pack into water.
  3. Add OxiClean to warm water and let the backpack sit there for 1 to 2 hours, depending on how dirty it is. The amount of dirt will also indicate how much OxiClean to use. For persistent stains, such as ink stains, you should use a special pre-treatment but ensure that it is bleach-free. For instance, pen and marker stains should come straight off with an alcohol-based aerosol hairspray. Nonwater-soluble ink stains should be first spot treated with rubbing alcohol or nail polish remover.
  4. Thoroughly wash the interior of the backpack with the sponge; look for any stains from spills, foods, sweat. However, be gently on the fabric as some backpacks come with a plastic lining which can get damaged easily.
  5. Use the scrub brush on the entire surface of the pack to remove stains. Pay special attention to the bottom, pockets and the areas around the zippers where spots and grime usually appear.
  6. Put the bag in the washing machine with the laundry detergent of your choice on the delicate cycle. It is advisable to place the backpack in a laundry bag or pillowcase first to prevent the straps and pieces of hardware from getting damaged or from damaging the washing machine. You can as well turn the pack inside out.
  7. Use the spin cycle to remove any excess water from the pack before air drying it. Don’t tumble dry. For the fastest results, hang it upside down to prevent the water from lingering in its interior and leave all zippers unzipped. It is a great idea to leave the bag a couple of hours in the summer sun to naturally deodorize it too. The sun’s UV rays will take care of the odor-causing bacteria and fungi that might start calling your damp pack their home.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does my bag's zippers and metal accessories require special care? 

Note that applying special care to your drawstring bag's zippers and metal accessories is a critical factor in backpack cleaning and preservation. Over time, metal accessories may oxidize or tarnish. To prevent this and maintain the elegance of your bag, you can regularly use a mild metal polish or a specialized metal cleaner. Additionally, to ensure smooth operation of the zippers, you can occasionally apply a few drops of light oil (such as baby oil). However, avoid excessive use of oil or polish, as these substances can soil the bag. 

Can I use cleaning sprays or stain removal products instead of washing my bag? 

Yes, you can use cleaning sprays or stain removal products on your bag before washing it. However, make sure these products are suitable for the fabric and material of your bag. Typically, mild cleaning sprays or stain removal products should be water-based and have formulations that protect colors. Before applying, carefully read the instructions on the product's label. It's also a good practice to test the product on a small, inconspicuous area of the bag to anticipate any undesired reactions. 

What can I do to maintain the shape of my bag after washing? 

To maintain the shape of your bag after washing, you can follow these steps: Empty the contents of your bag and remove any removable inner lining before washing. Avoid exposing your bag directly to sunlight after the washing process, as this can cause color fading and damage to the material. To preserve the shape of your bag, you can insert a light filling material (such as paper) or support the bag to allow it to air-dry while maintaining its original form. Lay your bag on a flat surface to dry, and periodically flip the bag to ensure both sides dry evenly.