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How To Wash a Backpack

After your travels end, your luggage might look worse for wear. So how do you wash a backpack so it looks as good as new? Read on to find out.

No matter how high-tech and ready for anything your luggage may be, it’s a simple fact of life that travel takes a toll. In the same way that you return from a trip feeling recharged and enriched in many ways but also ready for a shower and a very long nap, your baggage sometimes needs a little TLC after days or weeks of jet-setting.

That said, it’s not always obvious how to go about getting your baggage back up to snuff, especially when it comes to things like backpacks that are often made with mixed materials. Not to mention, just the way backpacks are structured can leave you scratching your head a bit on how to get it clean.

To make your return to normalcy a little bit easier after your next trip — or to help streamline the prep for your next trip — let’s break down the best way to wash your backpack so you can start your journey in style. (And just for the record, these instructions work just as well for our other soft-sided luggage, such as our Carry All Weekender, too.)


1. Check the Material

There are some steps you should take to help prepare to clean your luggage and ensure that the end result is as pristine as possible. The first thing you should do is double-check the material of your bag — different materials can require slightly different care methods. 

Suede, for example, is more easily damaged and may need a gentler hand than durable, water-resistant nylon.


2. Empty Your Backpack

Once you’ve done that, it’s time to empty your backpack. Double and triple-check all of the pockets, both internal and external, and make sure nothing is left behind. You’ll want to give your bag a good shake with every pocket and section wide open to get rid of any dust, fuzz, or debris that might be lingering.


3. Spot Treat Any Stains

Start by spot-treating any stains or scuffs on your backpack. These areas might need some extra care, so you can use a rag, towel, or even an old toothbrush to work at the problem areas. A gentle soap or detergent and warm water should do the trick, as long as the care instructions on your bag don’t advise against it. 

You can also use a toothbrush to scrub up your hardware, like your zippers or any exposed parts of a metal frame, with a metal cleaner before proceeding to the next step.

Pre-treating your bag can really help when you wash it, but different types of stains may require different treatments. For instance, if there are ink stains on your bag, acetone can be useful in dissolving the damage. That said, you’ll want to be mindful of the fabric type of your bag in case it may be damaged by certain solvents. 

As a general note, it’s a good idea to practice spot cleaning on your bag on the go, especially when it comes to oily or greasy stains, which can be impossible to remove if they’re left to rest. 


4. Scrub the Interior and Exterior

Fill your bathtub, sink, or another container big enough for your backpack with some lukewarm water. Add a gentle detergent to the water and use a sponge, towel, and soft-bristled brush (or, again, your handy toothbrush) to scrub both the inside and the outside of your backpack.

Our Carry All Backpack is water-resistant, which is helpful here because it prevents the bag from becoming too saturated and, in general, makes it more difficult to stain. 

You don’t have to focus on getting your bag wet so much as getting it clean, especially if it has a protective coating. And remember, backpacks can be complicated, so make sure you’re getting all of the crevices and crannies for a true, deep clean.


5. Rinse Gently

When you’re satisfied your backpack is free of stains and grime, swap out your dirty, soapy water for clean water, ideally warm or hot water. 

Take a gentle approach to rinsing your bag — use your cloth or brush rather than just dunking it in. But if that cleaning method doesn’t seem to be totally removing all of the soap and debris, you can use a showerhead on its most gentle setting to rinse it all away.


6. Pat Backpack Dry

Gently pat your backpack dry, inside and out. Use an absorbent towel and get as much excess water as possible off of your backpack. Depending on the material and structure of your backpack, you can wring it out at the end to be sure you’ve gotten every last drop.


7. Hang and Dry Thoroughly

Then, turn your backpack upside down and hang it somewhere with good ventilation to dry. Ventilation is important because you don’t want it to end up with mold or mildew, which can be even harder to clean later. 

Be sure to allow your bag to air dry completely before you zip up any pockets or use it again.


Can You Wash Your Backpack in a Washing Machine?

If hand-washing isn’t for you, and your backpack allows for it, it is possible to get a clean backpack using a washing machine. If your backpack has particular stains, you can do the first step of handwashing here, too, by applying a stain remover to any marks or scuffs on your bag before putting it in the washer.

The first thing to keep in mind is that even if your bag is machine washable, the pockets and straps that make your backpack so useful and multi-faceted for travel are risky in a washing machine. 

Be sure to open all of the pockets and zippers of your bag so that the water and laundry detergent can penetrate your bag completely. Then, put it into a mesh laundry bag to keep it safe from getting tangled in your machine’s agitator or other areas. If you don’t have a laundry bag, a pillowcase can do the trick in a pinch.

When it comes to washer settings, stick to the shortest, most gentle cycle. You’ll also want to use a mild detergent. Basically, anything you can do to make this journey around your machine as easy as possible for your backpack is key.

What About the Dryer?

While the idea of throwing your backpack in the dryer may seem like a dream, it’s best to avoid this step. Drying your clothes may help cut down on time spent doing laundry and reduce the risk of mildew and microbes, which can sound appealing after a busy trip. 

However, it also puts a lot of stress on your backpack, and because there are so many different parts of any given backpack, it’s best to stick to air drying so you don’t end up decreasing its life.

After washing your backpack in the machine, use a towel and absorb any excess water or liquid. Try to wring your backpack out as much as possible so there are no drips, and be sure to use the towel to soak up any water that may have gathered in the pockets.

Then, air dry your backpack in a well-ventilated area, ideally upside down, so that water doesn’t hide and gather in hard-to-reach places.


You’re Ready To Go

In addition to knowing how best to wash your backpack, you can take small steps to keep your backpack clean on the go and reduce the frequency with which a total wash is necessary. Keeping spillable toiletries in one of our toiletry bags, for instance, is a great way to avoid accidental stains and leaks. And spot cleaning stains as you go is another way to make bigger cleans easier.

Armed with these top-notch backpack cleaning tips, you’ll be able to travel without fear. Your backpack is a constant travel companion that can go just about anywhere with you, and the better handle you have on keeping it clean and functional, the less stress you’ll have. 

Whether you’re setting out on a luxurious vacation across the world on multiple flights or taking it on an adventurous hiking trip, you can rest assured your backpack will always be at its best.

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