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How to Wash a Backpack: 5 Steps

Can you wash a backpack? During a regular school year, keeping your kid’s backpack clean probably wasn’t at the top of your to-do list. But with everyone taking extra precautions this school year, you might be wondering can you put a backpack in the washer to sanitize it. These are the 5 steps you must know for how to wash a backpack to keep it clean.

kids wearing backpacks walking towards school

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Check the Care Label on the Backpack

The first step to cleaning anything is to check the care label first. The tag on the inside of the bag will help you determine the best way to clean the backpack.

While most backpacks can be washed in the washing machine, some bags need to be handwashed to protect the exterior or interior material. Follow the instructions on the label to ensure you don’t destroy the backpack as you clean it.

If the bag has no label or the label has been removed, try to test clean a small, inconspicuous area of the bag. If the material is not damaged from cleaning, continue the process all over the bag.

Empty the Backpack Completely

Start by removing everything from the entire bag. Make sure to keep everything that was inside the bag in a pile together so you don’t forget to return an important item to the backpack when you’re finished cleaning.

Then, open up each compartment to be sure you have removed everything from inside.

If you see crumbs or dust inside the bag or the compartments, use the crevice tool of your vacuum to clean out the debris (or better yet, get this slim nozzle hand vac which works great for a great price). A soft bristled toothbrush can help loose up stuck-on pieces as you’re cleaning.

Prepare for Washing

Whether you plan on washing your backpack in the washing machine or will be handwashing the bag, you’ll need to take a couple of simple steps to prepare your bag for washing. First, remove all detachable pieces from the bag, like smaller bags, metal frames, or removable straps. Set those items aside.

Then, pretreat any stains you notice on the exterior and interior of the bag with a stain remover. Apply the stain remover and gently rub it into the stain with a soft bristled toothbrush. Allow the stain remover to sit on the stain for around 30 minutes.

Put a Backpack in The Washer

If you are washing your backpack in the washing machine, turn the bag inside out and place it inside a pillowcase or laundry bag. This will help keep the straps and zippers from getting caught inside the machine as the backpack washes.

Place the backpack in the washing machine and add a small amount of detergent (we love this non-toxic laundry detergent to buy, or sometimes we make this homemade liquid laundry detergent). Wash on the gentle cycle using cold water.

How to Handwash a Backpack Instead

To handwash the backpack, fill the kitchen sink with lukewarm water. Add a small amount of laundry detergent and use a soft brush to scrub the bag clean. Pay special attention to stains and dirty spots on the backpack.

When the exterior of the bag is clean, turn the bag inside out and repeat the process on the interior of the backpack.

Drain the dirty water and fill the sink with clean cold water. Dip the bag in the clean water and wring it out. Continue the process until all the soap has been removed.

Wring the bag thoroughly, then use a large towel to soak up any extra moisture.

Dry the Backpack

Avoid placing the wet backpack in the dryer to prevent damage to the bag. Instead, allow the bag to air dry.

Leave all the bag’s zippers open and hang the bag upside down until it has dried completely. To speed up the drying process and help remove stubborn odors, hang the bag outside in a sunny location.

backpack isolated on white background

Keeping a Backpack Clean and Disinfected

Now that your kid’s backpack is clean, it’s important to take the time to keep it that way! Taking a few minutes after your kids get home to check their backpack is one of the easiest ways to ensure their bag stays clean throughout the school year.

When unpacking the backpack, look for:

  • Dirty gym clothes and shoes that could cause bad odors if left unattended (get rid of smelly shoe odor with my homemade foot powder)
  • Old food that has fallen out of the lunchbox
  • Drink bottles that may have spilled
  • Crumbs and other debris that tends to gather at the bottom of the bag.

After checking the inside of the backpack, scan the outside of the bag for stains or spills. Do a quick wipe-down of the bag’s exterior from time to time to ensure it stays clean.

To disinfect and deodorize the backpack between washes, use a disinfectant spray, like Seventh Generation Disinfecting Spray, on the exterior and interior of the backpack. The spray will help kill lingering bacteria and remove odors on those days that you can’t spend the extra time to wash the bag completely.

P.S. The 5 steps of how to wash a backpack work for brands such as:


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