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How to Wash a Backpack

How to Wash a Backpack

23.03.2015 | Hiking How to Guides

Dirt, salt and general wear and tear can take its toll on your backpack. Regularly wiping down your rucksack will help minimise dirt build up but sometimes only a proper clean will do. By washing your backpack once or twice a year, you will help keep your bag clean and hopefully extend its lifespan. This guide will show you how to wash a backpack both in a washing machine and by hand.

If your backpack is past its best check out the Mountain Warehouse range of Backpacks and Rucksacks.


How Do You Wash a Backpack?

Depending on the size of the pack itself you can choose to either hand or machine wash it. Always check the care label in your backpack to ensure you are washing it in a way that won’t damage the bag.


How to Wash a Backpack In a Washing Machine

  1. Empty the backpack checking all pockets for any small items that might be hidden. Check corners and seams for any debris that may be lodged there, if you’re being thorough you may wish to use a vacuum cleaner. Leave pockets unzipped.
  2. If your pack has a metal frame make sure to remove this. If there are removable straps you may wish to hand wash these separately.
  3. Make sure your backpack will fit in the machine and has enough room to move about.
  4. Put your backpack in a laundry bag if you have one big enough, this will stop straps and zips getting caught and damaging the bag or machine. Alternatively you can use a pillow case or turn the backpack inside out.
  5. Run the machine through a wash empty to rinse any detergent residue from previous uses.
  6. Use as small amount of gentle detergent or a wash in cleaner that is suitable for rucksacks. Do not use regular detergent or fabric softener as these can damage the material.
  7. Wash on a gentle cycle in cold water.
  8. Remove the backpack from the laundry bag if using.
  9. Allow the backpack to dry naturally away from direct heat sources. If possible hang the backpack upside down to dry. Do not tumble dry as this can damage the bag. Ensure the bag is 100% dry before storing.


How to Hand Wash a Backpack

If your pack is too large to fit in the machine then it is possible to hand wash a backpack in a bath. For smaller bags you may be able to wash in a basin or sink.

  1. Empty the backpack- checking all pockets and corners. If your pack has a metal frame, make sure to remove this.
  2. Fill a bath with plenty of luke warm water. Hot water can cause colours to bleed.
  3. Add a small amount of detergent free soap. Do not use regular detergent or softener which can damage the material, especially if the bag is waterproof.
  4. Using a soft brush or cloth scrub the bag, focusing on areas that are particularly dirty. A toothbrush is useful for particularly tough stains and getting into difficult to reach areas.
  5. Allow the backpack to dry naturally away from direct heat sources. If possible hang the backpack upside down to dry. Do not tumble dry as this can damage the bag. Ensure the bag is 100% dry before storing.


If the care label states not to fully submerge the backpack, use a wet cloth with a small amount of cleaner.

It is possible to add a degree of water repellency to your backpack with a spray on reproofer which will also help minimise dirt build up (it is important to note that you won’t be able to make a backpack fully waterproof if it wasn’t originally waterproof). Apply the reproofer after washing and allow to dry as above.


Backpack Care

Wear and tear is inevitable but taking care of your backpack can increase its life span.


Wipe Down Regularly

Wiping your bag down, inside and out, with a damp cloth on a regular basis will help minimise the build-up of dirt.


Keep Water Out

Mould can build up on backpacks if they get wet and are not dried properly before storing or using again. Rucksack Covers are a great way to keep the rain off your bag and keep its contents dry.


Use a Rucksack Liner

Using a rucksack liner will help reduce the risk of spillages making the bag dirty or smelly. They will also make it easier to remove anything that’s inside quickly and efficiently and keep the kit inside dry should it rain.


Pack Sensibly

Pack anything that may cause damage to the bag, including tent pegs, poles, knives and even the sharp edges on boxes or pots and pans, in a way that they are not likely to pierce through the material. This can be achieved by packing these objects tightly against other objects so there is limited movement or even packing them within softer objects like clothing.

For more information check out our how to pack a rucksack guide.


Treat it Well

Backpacks are designed to be hardy with many made from ripstop fabrics but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t treat your bag well. Don’t drag a backpack over rough ground as this can weaken material and cause holes to develop. Be aware of brambles and thorn bushes, try to lift your backpack above your head to avoid them tearing into your pack as you walk through or past them.


If your backpack or rucksack is past its best take a look at the great selection of Mountain Warehouse backpacks and rucksacks, available in many different sizes and shapes.