How To Clean a Hiking Backpack – Everything you need to know

Backpacks carry all manner of items. In addition, the straps get exposed to your body’s sweat. They also get exposed to rain if they are not protected. They, therefore, get dirty and smelly due to moisture, dust, food, and sweat. Keeping your backpacks clean will make the planning and organizing of your hiking trips easy.

How To Clean a Hiking Backpack

Standard maintenance

Your backpack needs to be cleaned after every hiking trip before it is safely stored. It needs to be cleaned from foods, drinks or other stains that have spilled onto it. Use warm water, a mild non-detergent soap, a soft brush and a soft cleaning cloth. Doing this after every trip will prevent dirt and stains from building up. It will also protect the bag from being destroyed by bugs and ants which get attracted by food articles. Cleaning zippers prevent them from failing.

Start by emptying the contents of the bag. Check every pocket for any items. Then face the bag upside down and shake it to remove food particles, dust, and dirt and other particles.

Target to clean stain spots by using a dilute detergent solution, a soft brush, and warm water. You can use a stain remover if you have one. Let it stay for a few minutes and then gently remove it with a cleaning cloth. Ensure you rinse the area well using only water and a cleaning cloth. Don’t submerge the bag in water.

Use a damp cleaning cloth to clean the interior of the bag. You don’t need to use any soap. Hang the bag to dry, especially if it got wet during the trip. Then return all the essential items in the bag ready for the next hike. Wet bags attract the growth of molds.

How To Clean a Hiking Backpack

Thorough cleaning a backpack

How to clean a hiking backpack depends on the manufacturer’s recommendations. Some bags can be machine washed while others have to be hand-washed. If you are very particular about machine cleaning your backpack, then during purchase look for one with your specifications.

You may love to read: How to Pack a Hiking Backpack – Things No One Told You Before

Hand Washing your backpack

Thorough cleaning of your backpack should be done once in a while like once a year. First and foremost, check the backpacks care label and follow the manufacturer’s recommendation for cleaning and drying your bag. Detergents and certain cleaning and drying practices can damage the bag’s water resistance features.

To clean your bag effectively, you need a non-detergent soap, a washcloth or sponge and a soft brush or a used toothbrush. A small brush is recommended because it gets in hard to clean spots. However, if the backpack is made from a delicate fabric, you may want to avoid a brush.

Detergent soap has chemicals that can destroy the waterproofing layers of a backpack. This can make the bag tear and wear out.

Start by emptying your backpack and safely keeping those items in a plastic bag. If you forget and wash your backpack with those items, they may get damaged. Then unzip the backpack. Next, remove all the detachable parts.

Now turn the bag inside out and gently vacuum the bag to remove dirt, bread crumbs, sand and other particles. Vacuum the zip gently. Zippers get exposed to dust and other particles. Avoid scrubbing zippers because many are designed with water-resistant coatings. Brush all the zippers and buckles. Use silicone spray to lubricate zippers after a clean up to prevent rusting.

After that, clean stain spots before embarking on cleaning the rest of the backpack. Avoid using bleaches. Use a dilute detergent solution to clean the spots. Gently scrub with an old toothbrush or small brush and let it stay for about half an hour.

Now it is time to clean the backpack thoroughly. Use a bathtub, large sink or a laundry basin. Fill your bathtub with lukewarm water, add the cleaning solution. Submerge the backpack in the water plus all the washable detachable parts. Hot water can cause the colors to run. Clean the interior with a sponge and the exterior with a toothbrush or small brush. Then rinse the backpack twice to ensure that all the soap is rinsed off. You can rinse it in the bathtub, or you can use a garden hose to spray the bag. If your care label discourages submerging, then you may need to sponge the bag with a damp piece of clothing.

Let the bag dry in a cool, well-ventilated and dark area. Avoid direct sunlight. Hang it upside down. Give the bag about three days to dry. You can use a fan if you need the bag to dry faster. Make sure your bag is thoroughly dry to prevent mold growth.

Machine Washing

Unless a backpack is designed specifically for machine washing, the bag may get ruined by the process. Only machine wash your backpack if the manufacturer recommends it. Check the backpack label to see what products can be used to clean the bag and drying instructions. Start by removing all the items in the bag, and storing them away safely.

Unzip the pockets and ensure that your bag is empty. Then turn the backpack inside out and gently vacuum the inside. Remove all detachable parts like pockets and the frame. Then deal with stain spots by pre-treating them before machine washing the bag but don’t bleach the backpack.

Use a diluted detergent solution, water, and a small brush to scrub the stain away.

Put cleaning agents recommended by the manufacturer of the backpack in the machine wash. If you are not sure, then opt to utilize gentle cleansers.

Wash detachable parts separately. Turn the bag inside out and place in the washer. The bag is turned inside out to avoid the zippers and straps from getting caught in the machine. Use the washers gentle cycle to clean the backpack with lukewarm water.

Dry the bag as recommended by the manufacturer. But the general rule is that it should be dried facing upside down in a well-ventilated and cool place. Make sure it is completely dry to prevent mold growth.

Also read: How Much Water to Drink While Hiking – The Hiking Water Calculator and How to Use Hiking Sticks – Educative Tips for You


Some backpacks are guaranteed to be durable with some brands having up to a 10-year warranty. If you are not confident about cleaning your backpack, you can have it professionally washed. Maintaining your backpack well will extend its lifespan.

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