How to Clean and Maintain your Backpack

How to Clean and Maintain your Backpack

Published: Oct 26, 2020

Like a valued investment, whether your hiking backpack is cheap or a high-end one, it's important that you take care of it to ensure that it can last for years. 

But how do you clean and maintain the quality of your hiking backpack? Check the recommendations of the manufacturer for cleaning. Some bags can be fully submerged in a bathtub, some can be cleaned by a washing machine, and others should only be handwash and cleaned using a soft sponge. Maintenance should be done after every trip. To do this, empty all the pockets, shake the bag upside down, and lightly scrub the interior and exterior of the bag using a clean sponge.

There are many ways on how you can clean a backpack. You may hear other people saying that you only need to put it in the machine and let it do the cleaning and drying, but you may end up destroying the water-resistant coatings or the fabric itself. 

To avoid these situations, here are quick tips to help you clean and maintain the quality of your hiking backpack.


What To Do

Proper care and maintenance is vital in all our belongings, but especially if you bought a backpack that's specific to your favorite hobby. We believe that every pack is worth the time and effort of care and maintenance. To do this, here are some tips on what you should do to your backpack:


Light cleaning 

In order to maintain the quality of your pack, our expert campers suggest that you do a light cleaning of the bag every after a trip. Here's how you can do it:

  • Unzip and empty out the bag. Make sure that all the pockets are emptied out. To do this, turn the pack upside down and shake out the dirt and sand.
  • With just water and a soft clean sponge, wipe out the interior. You can also use a vacuum to lightly go through inside the bag.
  • For the exterior, using the sponge and soap, lightly scrub any dirty spots or stains.
  • Use cool or warm water or a wet cloth to rinse off any soap residue.
  • Let the bag dry naturally.


Cleaning the zippers

Dust, fine sand, and other small particles can easily cling in the zipper of your pack, and if not cleaned for a long period of time, these zippers can get stuck. To avoid this, make sure to occasionally clean this part of your pack.

Light scrubbing using an old toothbrush can do the trick, but make sure that you don't brush too hard so as not to remove any water-resistant coatings.

If you, however, encounter stuck zippers, you can use lubricant zippers to undo it.


Natural Drying Method

If you accidentally spilled liquid on your pack or just finished washing it, the best way to let it dry is to hang it outside (and we don't mean directly under the sun).

Find a place where you can hang your pack upside-down and under a shade. Don't let the sun dry it because UV rays can quickly deteriorate the fabric. 


What Not To Do

If you want your backpack to last for years, it's important to avoid doing the common misconceptions of other people. Generally speaking, here are some of the things that you should not do to your backpack:


Throw it in a washing machine

Yes, it can be tempting to constantly clean your backpack every after trip, but you should never machine wash it (unless stated on the manufacturer's instruction manual).

The aggressive rotation of a washing machine can cause unwanted damages to the fabric and buckles of your backpack. Although these damages can be repaired, it's still a different matter if your backpack comes with its original features.


Using cleaning chemicals

Stains and muds are included in the experience outdoors. Whether you find these on your shoes, clothes, and backpack, it's vital that you remove it either the moment you notice the stains or when you come back home.

Using your regular soap without additives is can be a good start to remove the dirt, but you can also find a backpack cleaning soap in your regular stores which are extremely effective. 

However, you should keep in mind that you should never, use cleaning products with chemicals that are too harsh for regular backpack material. Cleaning chemicals can remove the coatings of your backpack, or worse, change its physical appearance.


Do not use a hard or stiff brush

When hand washing your pack, do not use stiff brushes as this can cause damage to the fabric, and remove the coatings.

As we've mentioned before, only use a soft sponge and brush it lightly. If there are no noticeable stains, you can go through the entire pack quickly and remove the dust sticking to it.


Never use a machine dryer

It can be a tempting idea to throw your wet hiking backpack into a dryer as a quick solution, but you might be surprised once you check it out. Although most low-end backpacks can be machine dried, it's still best to avoid it.

Machine dryers can result in having your backpack distorted, misshapen, and have melted buckles which is the worst thing that can happen.

Like what we've mentioned earlier, the best way to dry your pack is to do it the natural way.


Ways to Wash Your Backpack

Deep cleaning your hiking backpack should be done at least once or twice a year to ensure that all the bacteria are removed and to eliminate any smell. To do this, here are two ways on how you can wash your pack:

It's worth taking note though that you should always check the manufacturer's cleaning recommendation for your pack. There are backpacks that shouldn't be submerged in water and other bags shouldn't be washed using a machine.


Hand Washing a Backpack

Hand washing is the best way to remove any unnecessary stains and smells in your pack. Since not all hiking backpacks can be washed through a machine (especially high-end ones), it's easier to hand wash all the packs that you have to ensure it won't degrade.

Here's how you do it:

  • Empty all the pockets and remove all your gears. Lightly scrub the interior with a soft sponge or vacuum any remaining particles.
  • Unbuckle any harnesses, remove any straps, and the hipbelt if it's applicable to your pack. Wash the hipbelt and straps separately with the clean sponge and soap that you use during your light cleaning then rinse with running water.
  • Take out and set aside any removable metal frames.
  • Fill your sink or bathtub with warm water at around 6 inches and fully submerge the pack. Move your pack around while using the sponge to clean the interior and exterior sides. Be sure to be gentle with the areas that constantly touch your skin to ensure that the mesh doesn't get damaged.
  • Drain the tub.
  • Fill the tub or sink again with 6 inches of cool water and rinse the bag. If needed, you can do this twice to remove any remaining soap residue.


Machine Washing a Backpack

Some backpacks have the capacity to retain their quality including all its features. You'll often find these packs in the low to mid-price range. To clean using a washing machine, here's how you can do it:

  • Turn your pack inside out while leaving all the pockets open. Make sure to remove the hipbelt and straps, wash them separately.
  • Put your pack inside an old pillowcase or a rucksack and tie it tightly at the top. By doing this, you can prevent the straps from tangling in the washing machine. This will also protect your machine from getting any damage from the hard parts of the bag.
  • Select the hand wash or delicate cycle.
  • Use a dye-free, chemical-free detergent to ensure that it doesn't damage the fabric or remove the coatings of the pack.
  • Dry the bag by hanging it outside away from the sun.



Hiking backpacks differ in sizes, capacities, and features, but what doesn't change is the fact that you have to put proper care and maintenance to ensure that your investment can last for years. By following the do's and dont's, how you can wash the pack by hand or by machine, you'll not only be able to sustain the bag, but also extend its life.


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