wash clean backpack machine

How to Perfectly Wash a Backpack? The 8 Indispensable Steps

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A bag, whether it is a travel backpack, a canvas handbag or a duffel bag, is ultimately a part of us.

Backpacks are vital for students, travellers, kids and workers that need to carry their day-to-day stuff. We use them to store our belongings, entrusting them with our most precious objects.

However, over time and use (whether you use to carry your school gears or your sport clothes), your backpack can become smelly and dirty so you have to take care of it!

Luckily, nowadays, most backpacks can be washed in a washing machine, however, some of them require special care (hand-washing).

Follow our simple guidewith manageable steps—on how to clean your backpack! Let's dive into these indispensable cleaning steps! 


- Working time: 15 minutes
- Total time: 30-60 minutes
- Skill levels: beginner


- Mild soap
- Laundry detergent
- Disinfectant (wipes)
- Lukewarm water



- Washing Machine (OR) Sink/Bath/Container
- Soft Brush / Toothbrush
- Towel
- Mesh bag

DSLR Camera Bag
DSLR Camera Bag
Camera Backpack
Camera Backpack
Camera Rucksack
Camera Rucksack
Canvas Camera Bag
Canvas Camera Bag

1.The best way to avoid a dirty bag is upkeep

It is often said that prevention is better than cure... The maintenance of a bag is no exception to this golden rule.

And to be completely honest with you, a few simple daily actions can save you a lot of hassle and significantly increase the life of your backpack.

Wether you come back from your hiking outing in a foreign country like New-Zeland or you come simply home from your gym with your best friend: remember to remove your dirty clothes or leftover food when you arrive. This will prevent mould from growing.

If you notice any fresh traces, do not hesitate to use dish soap by rubbing the area gently and circularly.

Don't forget to let your bag (including the inside) dry well, leaving it open overnight.

⚠ If you have a leather backpack, please only refer to this article talking about how to care for a leather bag 

first step to wash your backpack correctly is upkeep and maintenance

2.Don't forget to empty your backpack before washing

Easy to say... but how many times have you found a forgotten object at the bottom of the machine?

It would be a shame to damage your new external battery or your carefully stored memory cards! You'll be amazed at what you find.

To avoid these preventable situations, open all the pockets of your bags to make sure that nothing remains hidden or stuck. Remove all the packing cubes if you have some, to wash them separately.

You can then vacuum to grab the rest of your geography exam from 4 years ago or the sticky piece of cheese from last month's hiking sandwich.

This will prevent clogging the pipes, your washing machine will thank you! Leave the pockets unzipped and turned inside out if possible.

At the end of this process, it is best to leave the pockets open and unzipped to maximize the wash.

💡Tips: According to trekkingsarawak.com, if you have a lot of stuff in your bag, pour the contents into a plastic bag or a tote bag and put it aside, so you can easily store back everything once the bag is washed and you will not lose anything during the process!  

Besides, if your bag has not been washed for a long time and you have travelled to dusty places, do not hesitate to use a computer-keyboard air blower. This will dislodge dirt, sand and other tiny particles in all corners, especially in the zippers. 

second step of how wash a backpack perfectly is to empty it

3. A first handy step, essential for a good wash

Washing your bag by hand or machine requires a little preparation. Start by rubbing the contours of your bag by hand.

You can then use a slightly dampened cloth. This removes coarse dust and optimally prepares your bag for washing.

Be sure to remove all detachable parts of your bag (zipper or straps for example) and clean them separately.

You can also use a pair of scissors to cut off small pieces of string and seams that protrude (useful to avoid blocked zips).

If you notice any significant stains on your bag, do not hesitate to use a pre-wash stain remover.

However, these are often aggressive products so caution should be exercised. To do this, we recommend the use of a soft brush or even a toothbrush.

Once the product is applied to the stain, let it work for 30 minutes to 1 hour. It is important here to use an active soap, which will allow the dirt to be molecularly attached so that it can be removed during rinsing.

💡Tips: If you do not have a stain remover or if you do not prefer to use this type of product, you can immerse your brush in a mixture of water and liquid gentle detergent (50/50) 

third step of how wash a bag correctly is to chose right and mild soap and detergent

4. Don't forget to use your eyes... and your brain

No one knows a bag better than the people who designed and/or manufactured it. It is therefore interesting to take a look at the care labels, which are full of good advice!

They are located inside the bag, most often on the sides, where the seams meet. They give washing advice but also sometimes indicate the products not to be used because they are potentially dangerous for the materials.

It is important to mention here that some products are toxic and can cause serious damage to your canvas backpack, whether it is the quality and characteristics of the material or its colour.

Therefore, it is important to read the product's operating instructions carefully before applying it to your bag.

💡Tips: Even if they are nowadays present on many bags, they are not mandatory so if you do not find them, refer to a similar backpack on the internet.

If you can't find a similar canvas backpack (congratulations, you're original!), test a small area of the fabric with mild soap to see how the material reacts. 

fourth step on how to wash a bag correctly is to read carefully the care notice

5. Time to Wash! Don't mess with the water

Fill a large basin-type container, a large sink or your bath with warm water (not cold water, not hot water). Make sure you have enough space so that all parts of the bag can be immersed.

If you choose to wash it in the machine (we recommend washing your backpack by hand, especially if there are leather parts), place it inside a pillowcase or in a thin laundry bag to avoid zippers or straps being caught in the machine mechanisms.

If the bag is too large to fit in a pillowcase, turn it inside out (if possible). We recommend using the washer's gentle cycle.

Before starting the washing cycle, make sure that the drum of the washing machine does not contain any other clothes whose colour may bleed on your bag.

If you want to be very precocious, do not hesitate to run your machine empty during a rinsing cycle, especially to be sure to get rid of potential laundry and/or detergent residue.

We do not recommend using hot or boiling water, especially on dyed fabrics, as high temperatures tend to cause colours to bleed

For products to be added to water, we strongly recommend that you choose mild cleansers, which do not contain any colouring agents, chemicals or perfume, as the latter tend to attack not only the fabric (especially the waterproofing layers) but also the skin.

💡Tips: If you don't have mild cleansers, you can use a baby shampoo that is milder than the others. Also, once in a while, you can disinfect your bag.

You should use pine oil (or products containing at least 80%) or phenolic disinfectant (not chlorine bleach that would damage the fabric), diluted in warm water.

This part is very important because many bacteria or fungi can easily be trapped on the surfaces of your bag.

fifth step on how to wash your backpack correctly is to dive in into warm clear water

6. It's all about brushing & rinsing

As with pre-cleaning, we recommend the use of a soft bristle brush, or failing that, a toothbrush. The toothbrush will be used to clean particularly dirty and/or hard-to-reach areas. To complement this, use a cloth to finish the general work.

💡Tips: If your bag is made of delicate materials such as silk or cotton, it is essential to choose a soft sponge instead of a brush, as the latter can damage the fibres and therefore the beauty and durability of your bag

It is now time for a new look. Rinse your bag thoroughly with clean water to remove any remaining soap from the fabric.

To wring it out, spread it on a dry towel and roll it up to form a tube. This allows a good amount of water to be absorbed

sixth step on how to wash a backpack perfectly is to brush it and rince it abundantly

7. Let nature dry everything out

The best way to dry your backpack is simply to let time do things naturally (avoid tumble drying absolutely!). Indeed, the hairdryer or tumble dryer would damage the fibres.

Hang the bag upside down in a shadowed place, open pockets to let it drain and dry. You should not place it in a hot dryer or place it under direct sunlight as both could damage your canvas rucksack.

💡Tips: Let your bag dry with the window open, this will prevent moisture from accumulating in the room and deodorize your bag.

Make sure it is completely dry before use or you will promote the development of moulds.

last step on how to wash a backpack properly is to let it dry outside

8. Use Nice Add-ons to Upgrade your Backpack

We recommend adding some waterproofing sprays to make your bag waterproof or to replenish lost coating. A waterproof bag should be washed only once or twice per year as washing and detergent lessen the waterproof ability of the bag.

It's a perfect option for your backpack as the coating will help repel water but also soils and stains.

Treat the zippers after this process is done with silicone spray. It will help to lubricate them so they can work smoothly preventing them from getting stuck and increasing the lifespan of your canvas rucksack.

It is important to wash your item no more than 1-2 times a year as the process can be quite damaging for the bag if not processed perfectly.

Don't hesitate to remove any fresh stains when you notice them with a wet cloth and some mild soap.

During your various adventures, it is also important to take care of your bag. This requires special care (do not put it anywhere on rocky ground, do not leave it too long under the sun or pay attention to branches and shrubs that could tear the fabric of your bag and cause a loss of material efficiency), and the enhancement of accessories to protect your bag and its materials in an optimal way.

For example, you can opt for a waterproof cover or waterproof inner liners, allowing you to keep your belongings dry, avoid mould development and limit the need for repeated washing.  

Wrapping Up

You have now everything need to take care of your bag, backpack or messenger bag. With these advices, it will help you protect it so that it will stay your travel partner for years to come! Tell us in the comment if you have tricks to protect and wash your backpack, we're curious!

If the love of your life (I'm talking about your backpack, of course) has recently passed away and you're looking for a new, solid, durable and multi-functional companion, take a look at our backpack & rucksack collection

Vintage Style Backpack
Vintage Style Backpack
Waterproof Rucksack
Waterproof Rucksack
Mens Canvas Backpack
Mens Canvas Backpack
Army Rucksack
Army Rucksack

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Article by


Baptiste is an adventurer with a passion for urban and wilderness exploration and adventure, and a lover of vintage objects with timeless charm. As a Founding member of the Eiken team, he tries to share his passion and expertise for travel and vintage fashion through his articles.

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