How to Clean a Backpack

How to Clean a BackpackCleaning your pack extends its life and keeps the materials fresh and durable. Following a few simple tips to clean and maintain your pack will ensure that your investment lasts a long time, and through all kinds of outdoor experiences.


Difficulty: Easy

Step 1
If you notice a stain, food spill or plant matter (like tree sap or berry stain) on your backpack, wipe it off immediately with a damp cloth (and mild antibacterial soap or detergent if you have some with you). This will prevent staining and will also prevent buildup, which can draw ants and other bugs and cause the material to wear through.
Step 2
When you're home, give the pack a thorough cleaning (but only when you know there'll be a few days between your hiking trips). Remove the detachable pockets and clean them separately from the main pack. Brush off or vacuum the pack outside and inside to remove dust, dirt, rocks, sticks and debris. Wipe down the outside and inside with a damp cloth, using mild soap or detergent that is chemical- and dye-free. The chemicals and dyes in traditional soaps can wear through the layers of waterproofing on your pack and increase the chances of rips and tears in the material.
Step 3
To clean corners, use an old toothbrush to scrape out debris, and remember to check between the fabric and the frame for dirt and dust. For zippers, trim all excess threads and remove debris with an old toothbrush. (It doesn't hurt to use a small amount of silicone spray on the zippers each time you clean your pack to keep them lubricated and prevent rusting or sticking.)
Step 4
Once you've cleaned both inside and out, rinse off all traces of soap. You can do this by submerging the pack briefly in a bathtub filled with cold water, but it's easier on the material and on you to hose it out with a detachable showerhead or a garden hose. Make sure all suds are out and that no soap has built up in corners or small pockets. Hang the pack upside down to dry in a cool, dark area. Hanging it up outside on the line is best, particularly if you can avoid direct sunlight; indoor drying will work if the area is well-ventilated. A circulating or ceiling fan will speed up the drying process, but at least 2 to 3 days of drying is recommended. If smell persists, use a backpack-safe spray that won't eat away the laminate on the material to freshen it up.
Step 5
It is possible to wash a backpack in the washing machine, but it is certainly not recommended and should be used only as a last resort in cases of mildew, mold or old, smelly food stains. If you've tried all the steps above and still feel the pack needs to be washed more thoroughly, you can try the washing machine, but there's no guarantee it won't ruin your materials, clasps and attached elements, forcing you to buy a new pack anyway. If using the washer, never soak the pack in soapy water. This can cause holes and tearing in the material. Clean out all debris from corners and seams and remove the frame, all metal stays and detachable pockets. Wash on the delicate cycle in cold water only, and only use a mild or chemical-free detergent. Never tumble dry the pack--always place upside down to drip-dry in a well-ventilated, cool area.

Article Written By Emily Elder

Emily works as a Greenway coordinator and parks project manager in her local community, and has been hiking, camping, fishing and riding all over the mountains of western North Carolina. She enjoys being outside with her family, especially her two children, Creedence and Mason, and her husband, James, and lives on a small farm surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Don't Miss a Thing!

All our latest outdoor content delivered to your inbox once a week.



We promise to keep your email address safe and secure.