How to Clean a Backpack

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A close-up photo of a backpack that has dirty fabric

A pack can be a major investment, and it’s one that needs care. Whether you’re wearing a daypack or large backpack, salts from your sweat and oil from your skin will likely seep into the shoulder straps and hipbelt. Grease spots may form from cooking splatters. All these can attract dirt over time, degrading the fabric. Zippers can get gunked up, making them difficult to use. Food bits in the pockets can draw unwanted attention from critters. So, there are plenty of reasons to keep your pack clean.

Whether you’re doing a light cleaning or a deep cleaning, here’s what you’ll need:

  • A mild soap—one that has no fragrances or other additives. A product like castile soap would work; so would a wash product made especially for technical packs and clothing.
  • Clean sponge or washcloth
  • Soft (not stiff) nylon-bristled brush or used toothbrush

Video: How to Clean a Backpack



Techniques for Cleaning Your Backpack

a dirty backpack and cleaning supplies on a tailgate
First of all, follow the manufacturer’s cleaning recommendations for your pack. Some suggest you submerge a pack in a bathtub, others say do not submerge.

In general, follow these guidelines:

  • Never wash a pack in a washing machine or dry it in a dryer.
  • Use lukewarm (not hot) water, and use your soft sponge or brush sparingly, so you don’t harm any protective coatings on the pack.
  • Hang the pack to dry in the shade or indoors, not in the direct sun (UV light can degrade the fabric).
  • Zippers need occasional cleaning to remove fine sand, dust and other particles. Be careful not to scrub, as many zippers have water-resistant coatings. Help stuck zippers slide with a lubricant made for zippers.


cleaning a dirty backpack

Light Cleaning

After any hike or overnight trip, it’s a good idea to do a quick once-over of your pack. Here’s how:

  • Empty all pockets. Shake it upside down to get out sand and dirt.
  • Use your clean sponge (no soap needed) to wipe out interiors.
  • Lightly scrub any stains or spots on the exterior with your sponge and a little soap.
  • Use clean, cool water with your sponge or cloth to rinse off the soap.
  • When the pack’s dry, put your Ten Essentials back in so you’re ready to go on your next outing.


Deep Cleaning

You may go years without really cleaning your pack, but sooner or later you’ll want to get the funk and camp smoke out of it. Here’s how:

  • After emptying your pack, gently vacuum seams and crevices in the pockets and way down inside the main body of the pack to remove any crumbs, sand or loose dirt.
  • Remove the hipbelt and shoulder straps, if your pack allows. Wash those separately with a sponge and a little soap. Rinse well under running water.
  • If your pack's metal frame can be removed or detached, do so (check your owner's manual to be sure it can) and set the frame aside.
  • Fill a bathtub or large sink with about 6 inches of lukewarm water. Use your mild soap. Submerge and swish your pack vigorously, sponging off the interiors and brushing exterior spots. Pay attention to any places that come in contact with skin. Be gentle with mesh pockets.
  • Drain. Fill with 6 inches of clean cool water, rinse well. Rinse twice if necessary to remove all soap residue.