Cleaning Tips, Guides & Resources

The Safest Way to Wash a Dirty Backpack in a Washing Machine

Adriana Aziz
November 20, 2022
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safest way to wash a backpack in the washing machine

For school, college, work, travel, and just about any situation that requires you to pack a bunch of stuff with you, a backpack is invaluable. The ease of being able to carry around more than enough supplies for the day, or for your travels, is something many of us take for granted. With that said, backpacks are designed to withstand a lot of wear and tear, so you can expect to use yours for a few years, at least. In fact, thanks to their brilliant design, some of us still use backpacks from over a decade ago, with little to no damage caused to the piece. 

Regular use, however, brings dust, dirt, sweat, oil, and numerous other things in contact with the bag, thus causing it to get fairly dirty over time. While this might be disappointing to see, it's actually a lot easier to wash most backpacks than one would think. With a washing machine, some gentle detergent, and a non-bleach stain remover, you can get your backpack looking and smelling brand new again!

Keep reading to find out how to wash a backpack in a washing machine.

Step-by-Step Instructions

man placing gray bag into washing machine

The cleaning method below should work with most backpacks since they are often made with hardy materials and therefore, can afford to be placed in a washing machine. On the other hand, if your backpack seems to be made of a delicate material, is slightly damaged, or features stitched or stuck-on embellishments, it’s best to avoid machine-washing the bag.

For everything else, use the guide below to wash your backpack.

Step 1: Prepare the Backpack for the Wash

Begin by dusting and wiping the outside of the backpack. Any loose dirt, dust or debris must be gotten rid of before the actual washing. This ensures that no large particles get stuck in the washing machine, the wash is more thorough, and that you don't have to wash or rinse twice if it is very dirty.

From there, remove the metal frame if the backpack has one. Any detachable straps or pockets must be removed as well. If any of these things go into the washing machine, they could do damage to the machine, as well as the bag; therefore, you must remove and wash them separately by hand. If you see any loose threads around the seams or zippers, snip them off before the wash since these threads can get pulled and cause more damage.

Step 2: Check Backpack Wash Care Label

Pretty much every backpack comes with a wash care label somewhere. This is most likely found inside the main zipper of the bag, and is worth taking a look at before washing. As much as possible, you will want to adhere to the instructions provided on the label, since this helps lower the possible damage done from washing which, in turn, extends the life of the bag.

Most backpacks are made of canvas or nylon, making them quite safe for machine washing. With that said, some harsh detergents, and even the harsh washer cycles coupled with warm water can actually cause damage to the fabric. The water-repellant nature of the cloth can be lost in this process, so it's a good idea to stick to the wash care label's instructions.

Step 3: Pre-Treat Stains

Using any non-bleach, commercial pretreatment stain remover, you can begin to loosen up the dirt or stained patches before the wash to make it easier on the wash cycle itself. Follow the instructions on the label of the stain remover itself to ensure that you are using it safely and appropriately. If there are no indications on how to use it (particularly for a backpack), consider scrubbing the stain remover into the stained patch with an old, soft toothbrush. Once the area has been worked, let the remover sit in the fabric for about 20-30 minutes before washing.

If you do not have any such commercial cleaner, you may use a 50-50 solution of a mild, liquid detergent and water to pre-treat the stains. Just like you would do with a store-bought stain remover, brush the solution into the fabric and let it soak before washing. 

Step 4: Wash the Backpack

At this point, you can begin washing the backpack. Start by placing the backpack into a mesh bag, or into a pillowcase if you do not have that option. This ensures that the sides of the washing drum are protected, and the bag will not snag anywhere as well.

While filling the washing drum with cold water, add about 2 tablespoons of mild, liquid laundry detergent to the wash. From there, set the washer to the gentlest possible cycle on your machine. It may be called a "gentle" or "delicate" cycle. Then add the bag, and begin the wash.

Keep in mind that through the washing cycle, the backpack might get bunched up and cause the washing drum to get lopsided. This imbalances the machine and even causes harm to it. If you find it bunching up on one side, pause the cycle for a moment, adjust the backpack so that it is spread evenly, and restart the cycle again. Ensure to check that the backpack is spread out evenly throughout the cycle, since you do not want to risk damaging your machine either.

Step 5: Drying the Backpack

Finally, at the end of the wash, remove the mesh bag or pillowcase, and take out the washed backpack. At this point, keep in mind that you do not want to dry the bag in a dryer, but rather let it air-dry. Hang the bag up with its zips open to let it dry well. You may hang it outside if you have shade to prevent direct sunlight from reaching it, or you may hang indoors if you do not have that option. Whatever you do, do not begin using or store the backpack away before it is completely dry. This helps prevent mold from growing on the material. 

While sticking to the instructions on the care tag is the appropriate way to address washing a backpack, you can afford to use this method for most sturdy backpacks. So, with that, you now know how to wash a backpack in a washing machine!

Adriana Aziz is the operations manager at MaidForYou. With over 6 years of experience managing cleaning operations, she knows all the best hacks when it comes to cleaning residential and commercial buildings. With expert experience in managing house cleaning operations, interior design and logistics. She spends her free time with her family and as a freelance food critic.

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