How to Wash a Backpack

Once the nationwide quarantine began in March, people everywhere put their backpacks away in a closet where they haven’t been touched in months. Now, with the school year starting up again and people returning back to work across the country, you may find a dirty or smelly backpack in that closet where you left it. Don’t let your face mask block out the smell — it’s time to clean that backpack up.

Many people don’t think about how to clean a backpack, but if you have the right tools and technique, it’s a quick and pain-free process! Check out these tips and get your backpack ready for its next big day! 

We'll cover:

What you'll need to clean your bag

How to machine wash your backpack

How to clean a backpack by hand

How to dry a backpack

What You’ll Need to Wash a Backpack

Before you go to wash your backpack, the first (and most important) thing you need to do is read the tag of your backpack. The tag is filled with all the information necessary to clean the backpack safely and successfully — straight from the manufacturer of the backpack itself. It will also give you any warnings or restrictions you may need to consider, such as if it can or can’t be put into the dryer, detergent types to avoid, etc. 

Once you’ve seen what you need to avoid, here is a handy list of the items that are essential to the cleaning process:

  • Damp rag
  • Pre-treatment stain remover
  • Old toothbrush or makeup brush
  • A gentle laundry detergent
  • Cold/lukewarm water (either in a tub or in a washing machine)

And here’s a list of items that are optional, but will also help you get the best results:

  • Old pillowcase
  • Vacuum with hose nozzle
  • Large Ziploc bags (for holding the contents of the backpack)

How to Machine-Wash Your Backpack

Once you’ve gathered your materials, the first thing you’ll want to do is empty the backpack. If you have them, put the contents of the backpack in large Ziploc bags so that they don’t get wet or dirty in the process. Be sure to check all of the backpack’s hidden pockets and compartments — you don’t want to miss anything! If the backpack has a metal frame, remove that as well. 

If you have one, take a vacuum cleaner with a hose nozzle and vacuum up any crumbs or dirt inside the backpack that you can’t get out by yourself. Run the vacuum over any embroidery pattern to remove any dust, dirt or crumbs that may be stuck in there. Remove any accessories, leave all the pockets unzipped and cut away any threads that are near zippers that could get tangled or pulled during the washing process.

After you’ve completely emptied the backpack, it’s time to start cleaning it. Wipe the backpack down with a damp rag to remove any loose dirt or dust. If there are any stains that you want to pre-treat, do so with an old toothbrush or makeup brush and use whichever pre-treatment stain remover you prefer — however, be sure to avoid using bleach. Scrub the stain and let it sit for 30 minutes.

Once the stains are removed, the backpack is ready to be machine-washed! Place the backpack in an old pillowcase before you put the backpack in the washing machine — this will help keep the zippers and straps from getting caught in the machine and will keep both the bag and machine from getting damaged. If your backpack is embroidered, this will add an extra layer of protection to the embroidery so that it won’t get damaged or torn up in the washing machine.

Use cold to lukewarm water and mix in a small amount (1-2 tablespoons) of gentle detergent. Set the machine to a gentle or delicate cycle so that the backpack won’t get tossed around in the machine.

How to Clean a Backpack by Hand

When you go to wash a backpack by hand, many of the first steps will be the same as the process for washing it in a washing machine. Empty the backpack, make sure all the compartments and pockets are emptied, and keep everything unzipped.

Next, it’s time to start brushing. Use a damp rag to clean off any dust or dirt on the backpack, and then use a pre-treatment stain remover and an old toothbrush or makeup brush to work on any stains. Let the treated stains sit for 30 minutes or so before moving on to the next step.

Fill a large sink with lukewarm water and add in a gentle detergent. When picking a detergent, you’ll want to pick something that doesn’t use dyes or chemicals and doesn’t give off a strong scent — this will keep your backpack safe and will give you the best chance to return it to pristine condition while avoiding any overwhelming odors. Put the backpack in the water and using a rag or a soft brush, scrub the backpack thoroughly.

Be sure to scrub any embroidered patterns, but not too hard (you don’t want to cause any fraying of the pattern). A toothbrush may be a better option for cleaning an embroidery pattern — the fine bristles will help you get the spot clean without damaging or fraying the pattern. Once you’re done scrubbing, rinse the backpack thoroughly. Be sure to make sure there isn’t any soap left in any pockets or compartments —  that will just lead to a mess down the road.

How to Dry a Backpack

If possible, you’ll want to avoid putting a backpack in the dryer. The high heat from a dryer could shrink your backpack, ruin the glue that holds things together and do damage to the zipper — plus having it tumble around the machine could cause more problems than it’s worth. When it comes to drying, the air drying method works far better — especially if you have an embroidered pattern on your backpack.

Hang the backpack upside down on a clothesline with all the pockets unzipped. Leave it out to dry for a few hours so that the interior and exterior of the bag gets dry. Make sure it’s completely dry before putting it away — if it gets zipped up again while still damp, you can end up with mold in your backpack. 


A nice, clean backpack can be the perfect thing to get you excited about the upcoming school year, a new job or any occasion! Check out Thread Logic’s selection of backpacks to find the next bag of your dreams — and while you’re there, take a look at all our apparel so that you can stand out during the back-to-school or return to work season!

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published

About Jeff Taxdahl

With over 20 years’ experience in embroidery and business ownership, Thread Logic owners Jeff and Wenda Taxdahl, and the Thread Logic team, know what it takes to make custom logo embroidered apparel that people are proud to wear.