Gear Care 101: How to Clean a Backpack

How to Clean a Backpack: Hiker on a forest trail getting his backpack dirty

In this post, we'll take a look at:

If you’ve ended up here, it’s probably because your backpack has gotten a bit dirty. It doesn’t look as good as it used to, and you’re concerned about cleaning it without causing any damage. You might be wondering, “How to I clean a backpack?”

In this post, we’ll guide you through cleaning and caring for your backpack, from light cleaning to deep cleansing, proper drying, and some extra TLC.

Interested? Let’s begin!

Key Takeaways

  • Always check the manufacturer’s recommendations first and avoid using washing machines or dryers which can damage the fabric and components.
  • For light cleaning, empty all pockets, shake out debris, spot clean stains, and rinse off with cool water.
  • For deep cleaning, vacuum seams and crevices, detach components like straps, submerge and soak the backpack in mild soapy water, then rinse thoroughly and air dry in the shade.

How to Clean a Backpack?

Caring for your gear is crucial for its durability. It protects your investment, maintains comfort, and ensures you’re always ready. But before diving into the cleaning process, you should first familiarize yourself with the following:

Essential Cleaning Recommendations

When it comes to cleaning your backpack, there are important things to always keep in mind:

  1. Manufacturer’s Guidance: Always start by checking the manufacturer’s cleaning recommendations for your specific backpack model. Some backpacks have unique care instructions that you should follow to avoid damage.
  2. Avoid Washing Machines and Dryers: Never put your backpack in a washing machine or a dryer. The agitation and heat can harm the fabric, straps, and zippers. Stick to manual cleaning methods to keep your backpack in top shape.
  3. Gentle Cleaning: Always use mild, fragrance-free soap with warmish water. Opt for Castile soap or specialized products. Avoid harsh chemicals that can harm fabric or coatings. This approach also applies for DCF bags.
  4. Sun Protection: When drying your backpack, choose a shaded or indoor area. Direct sunlight can degrade the fabric and colors over time. So, hang it indoors or in the shade to preserve its quality.

Now, grab your mild soap and a clean sponge, and let’s get started.

Light Cleaning

After a day outdoors or a short trip, it’s a good idea to give your backpack a quick once-over. Here’s how to do a light cleaning:

  1. Empty All Pockets: Start by emptying all the pockets of your backpack. This helps get rid of any loose dirt, sand, or small debris.
  2. Shake It Out: Hold your backpack upside down and give it a good shake. This will help dislodge any remaining dirt and debris from the interior.
  3. Wipe the Interiors: Take a clean sponge (no soap needed) and use it to wipe down the inside of your backpack. This quick wipe will remove any lingering dust or dirt.
  4. Spot Cleaning: If you notice any stains or spots on the exterior of your backpack, lightly scrub them with your sponge and a little mild soap.
  5. Rinse Off: Use clean, cool water along with your sponge or a cloth to rinse off any soap residue from the exterior.
  6. Dry It Out: Once your backpack is clean, hang it to dry in a shaded or indoor area. Avoid direct sunlight as it can damage the fabric.

Deep Cleaning

While light cleaning is suitable for routine maintenance, there may come a time when your backpack needs a thorough deep cleaning. Here’s how to give your backpack some extra TLC:

  1. Vacuum Seams and Crevices: Begin by emptying your backpack and gently vacuuming seams, crevices, and hard-to-reach areas. This removes crumbs, sand, or loose dirt that may have accumulated.
  2. Remove Straps and Belts: If your backpack allows it, take off the hipbelt and shoulder straps. Wash them separately with a sponge and a small amount of mild soap. Rinse them thoroughly under running water.
  3. Check for a Removable Frame: If your backpack has a removable or detachable metal frame, follow your owner’s manual instructions to remove it and set it aside.
  4. Prepare for Submersion: Fill a bathtub or a large sink with about 6 inches of lukewarm water and add your mild soap. Submerge your backpack and gently swish it around. Sponge off the interior and use a soft brush to target exterior spots. Pay special attention to areas that come into contact with your skin.
  5. Rinse Thoroughly: Drain the soapy water and refill the tub or sink with clean, cool water. Rinse your backpack well, ensuring there’s no soap residue left behind. If necessary, rinse it a second time.

How to Dry a Backpack

Properly drying your backpack after cleaning is as crucial as the cleaning process itself. Follow these steps to ensure it dries effectively without damaging the fabric:

  1. Avoid Direct Sunlight: When it’s time to dry your backpack, choose a shaded or indoor area. Direct sunlight can degrade the fabric and colors over time.
  2. Hang It Up: Hang your pack upside down by its straps or a sturdy hanger. This allows water to drain out and air to circulate inside, aiding the drying process.
  3. Patience Is Key: Drying may take some time, especially if your pack is thickly padded or has many compartments. Be patient and avoid rushing the process.
  4. Remove Moisture: If needed, you can gently pat the backpack with a clean, dry cloth or paper towels to remove excess moisture from the surface and pockets.
  5. No Hairdryers or Radiators: Avoid using a hairdryer or placing your backpack on a radiator. High heat can damage the fabric and weaken its structure.

Properly drying your backpack helps maintain its shape, prevents mold and mildew, and ensures it’s ready for your next adventure.

Post-Cleaning Backpack Maintenance

How to Clean a Backpack: A hiker standing with a recently washed, clean backpack

After you’ve cleaned and dried your backpack, there are some essential post-cleaning steps to maximize its functionality and durability:

  1. Zipper Lubrication: To ensure smooth zipper operation, apply a specialized zipper lubricant. This simple step can prolong your zipper’s life and prevent frustrating zipper jams during your adventures.
  2. Impregnation for Waterproofing: Applying an impregnation product can significantly enhance your backpack’s water resistance. It creates a protective barrier on the surface, preventing water and dirt from penetrating the fabric. This way, you won’t have to reach for the rain cover every time it drizzles.
  3. Spraying Zippers and Seams: Don’t forget to spray the zippers and seams with the impregnation product too. This extra layer of protection ensures that your backpack stays dry, even in wet conditions.


Taking good care of your backpack is essential for keeping it durable, comfortable, and ready for your adventures.

Start by checking the manufacturer’s recommendations and avoid using machines. Instead, opt for gentle cleaning techniques, shield it from direct sunlight during drying, and carry out post-cleaning maintenance.

So, why not give your backpack a little extra love? After all, it’s your trusty companion on the trail, carrying everything you need to survive in the wilderness. Happy backpacking!

Or are looking for an ultralight backpack? Check out our TOP 5 guides for the lightest options available.


Can you put a hiking backpack in the washing machine?

It’s generally not recommended to put a hiking backpack in the washing machine. The agitation and heat can damage the fabric, straps, and zippers. Instead, opt for manual cleaning methods using mild soap and lukewarm water, following the manufacturer’s guidelines for your specific backpack model. This approach helps maintain the backpack’s quality and longevity while keeping it clean and ready for your outdoor adventures.

How do you wash a Dyneema backpack?

Washing a Dyneema backpack, made from Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF), requires special care to prevent damage. Start by emptying the backpack and dry cleaning it with a soft brush or vacuum to remove loose dirt. For stains, gently spot clean with lukewarm water and mild soap, avoiding excessive scrubbing. Rinse thoroughly and air dry in a shaded area, avoiding direct sunlight and heat sources. Consider applying DCF-friendly products for waterproofing or seam sealing per manufacturer recommendations. Always follow the specific care guidelines for your Dyneema backpack model and avoid machine washing or harsh chemicals to maintain its unique properties and longevity.

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