How to Wash a Backpack

Pelican Flyer  |  June 25, 2020

Your backpack was designed to go with you everywhere, so don’t be ashamed if it faces the occasional snack spill or gunk buildup. After all, for many of us, the backpack is the ultimate go-everywhere cargo carrier, the thing we use to tote anything and everything, from dirty gym gear and extra clothes to trail snacks on the weekend and full lunches during the week. A dirty, worn-out pack just comes with the territory, which is why it’s crucial to carry heavy-duty backpacks as much as possible.

With that being said, even the most durable backpacks need to be occasionally cleaned. Not addressing spills, stains and buildup can cause the fabric and hardware to wear down and deteriorate. It can lead to malfunctioning zippers, torn fabric and unpleasant odors. This is especially true if you tend to take your pack with you in rugged environments, like backpacking, camping or day hiking. But routine cleaning can ensure that you use your favorite rucksack backpack well into the future, and maybe even for life.

Here’s how to wash a backpack without causing permanent damage to the fabric or hardware.

1. Gather your supplies.

Luckily, you should be able to refresh your backpack with supplies you already have lying around the house. It’s important to use cleaners that you know won’t damage the material from which your bag is made. Pelican backpacks are made of durable water repellent ballistic nylon, which can safely be cleaned with a gentle soap, laundry detergent and standard spot remover. However, a leather backpack will require special cleaners and should never be treated with harsh cleaners, like ammonia or bleach. For most backpack cleaning endeavors, you’ll need:

  • Warm water
  • A cleaner or laundry detergent appropriate for the material
  • An all-purpose brush or toothbrush
  • A cleaning cloth

2. Empty the contents.

Emptying your backpack is a cleaning task in its own right, so don’t rush through this step. You’ll want to purge every pocket and compartment of items and then thoroughly shake out any dust or debris into a trash can before beginning. Here’s hoping you find some long-lost money. Once everything is empty, you can begin to clean.

3. Spot clean.

Mix your chosen cleaner with warm water until subtle suds form. Using a cleaning cloth or rag, dab stained or dirty areas with the cleaning mixture and then use your brush or toothbrush to scrub away stains.

4. If necessary, deep clean.

If you’ve just returned from a long backpacking trip or your pack seems to have a lingering odor for one reason or another, it may be necessary to give it a deep clean. If your backpack has any suede or leather, spot cleaning is probably your only option. To deep clean, first remove any interior metal framing or foam. You can then soak your pack in soapy water (the bathtub or utility sink is useful here) and then give it a thorough brush-down.

5. Allow to thoroughly dry.

Allowing your backpack to dry thoroughly is important to ensure that it doesn’t trap any moisture that could cause unpleasant odors and mildew. The best way to dry your backpack is to hang it on a clothesline and allow it to air dry for 12 to 24 hours.

6. Skip the washer and dryer.

Always check with the manufacturer of your backpack before cleaning, especially if you’re planning on using the washing machine or dryer. As a general rule, however, machine-washing your backpack is not a good idea, as the agitation can damage the straps and hardware while high heat can cause the fabric and padding to become deformed. Never use bleach or fabric softener on your pack.

Start with a Quality Pack

Taking care of your backpack is a great way to ensure that it stays in play for the long-run, but it always helps if you start with a high-quality backpack to begin with. Pelican backpacks are ultra-durable, water-resistant and resistant to tearing. They’re also backed by a lifetime guarantee, so they will always be a solid investment, even if you plan to rough them up.

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