Though it’s likely not the first thing that comes to mind when doing your weekly washing, your backpack is something that can take a real beating in the great outdoors and as such, needs to be cared for appropriately.
After all, good backpacks aren’t cheap and so need to be cared for to ensure longevity.
Cleaning your pack with a good wipe down after each use is a great way to minimise the muck, but if your rucksack is beginning to get particularly dirty, maybe it’s time to give it a little more TLC.
Of course, there are two main methods to wash your backpack and that’s either hand washing or using a washing machine.
So, if you’ve decided it’s time to give your backpack a bit of love, read this step by step on how to wash and dry your backpack.
How to wash a backpack in a washing machine
First things first, your pack may not be machine washable, so only follow these steps if the label says you can put it in the washer.
1. Run the washing machine on an empty wash
Before you start to wash your bag you’ll need to make sure the washer is empty of any traces of normal detergent that could damage your backpack.
While the machine is going through its cycle, you can follow steps 2 to 4.
2. Empty your backpack
Backpacks have a nack for concealing small items effectively, so be sure to double-check all the hidden pockets and empty all loose items.
Put everything inside a plastic bag to one side, and feel free to clean up the individual items if they need it.
Leave all the pockets unzipped and give it a shake outside.
This should get rid of all the larger bits of dirt, crumbs, sand etc. from the bag. If there are any large areas covered in thick mud, feel free to use a soft brush to remove it.
3. Remove the metal frame if the backpack has one
Nowadays, most larger backpacks come with a metal frame built into it that are called stays.
They’re designed to help you carry more weight but can easily slide in and out for washing.
Check out this video on Youtube if you’re having difficulty removing the frame; it’s an instructional guide on how to replace the side rods on an Osprey bag, but the removal step is the same and will be similar for other backpack brands.
4. Place your rucksack inside a laundry bag
This step is dependent on the size of your bag, but smaller backpacks should fit into a laundry bag.
As an alternative, you can use a pillowcase or, if your bag is too big you can just turn it inside out.
If the bag is too big for the washing machine, you can always skip to the section below on washing your backpack by hand.
5. Add a small amount of gentle detergent
There are special brands of detergent specifically designed for washing rucksacks, or alternatively, you can just use a mild option.
Don’t use fabric softener or your regular detergent as the chemicals can damage the fabric of the rucksack.
You can also use a mild soap if you don’t have appropriate detergent.
6. Wash the rucksack on a cold, gentle cycle
Washing on cold is the best option for backpacks. Some machines even have a cold hand wash setting which is also a good idea.
Note that when using a gentle cycle, the bag will likely come out saturated.
7. Hang to dry
To dry your backpack, hang it in a well-ventilated area to fully air dry.
Make sure you leave all the pockets unzipped so that the air flows through.
If you can hang it on the line outside – even better, as this can help eliminate any odours.
8. Add a waterproof coating (optional)
This last one is optional but is a great way to finish off your bag.
There are various sprays/water repellant topcoats you can put on jackets that work well for backpacks too and can keep it looking like new for longer.
Make sure you read the instructions carefully and refer to the backpack brand if you want to be sure whether or not you can use it.
You’re ready for your next backpacking adventure!
How to handwash a backpack
Many backpacks either can’t be washed in a washing machine or are just too big to fit in.
In this case, we recommend that you wash your backpack by hand.
Here are the steps you should take if you’re handwashing your backpack.
1. Empty out the bag
Empty your backpack and place any loose items inside a plastic bag.
Make sure you check all the corners and inside hidden pockets/compartments for dirt and belongings.
Give it a shake outside to make sure all the larger quantities of dirt are removed.
You can even use a small vacuum cleaner if you have one handy.
If the bag has a metal frame, be sure to remove that too. Leave all zippers and pockets open.
2. Fill a bath with cold or lukewarm water
Or a large sink, tub – whatever works best in your home.
Cold or lukewarm water is best as it won’t damage the integrity of the backpack (never use hot water).
You also don’t need to completely fill the tub, some backpacks can’t be submerged fully underwater so something around 6 inches to a foot deep will work best.
But the key is warm water. Not hot water as this will damage your rucksack.
3. Add a small amount of gentle laundry detergent
While the water is running, add a small amount of mild soap, gentle detergent, or detergent specifically designed for cleaning backpacks.
Don’t add any fabric softener or regular detergent as that can damage the bag.
4. Brush down your pack
If your backpack has any large chunks of dirt or mud on it, wait for it to dry and then use a soft-bristled brush to remove the excess as best as you can.
5. Remove any stains
Your backpack has likely been in some tough terrain and as such, might need a deeper clean in some spots.
Apply stain remover to any parts of your bag that need an extra deep clean and gently rub it with either a small soft brush or an old toothbrush to help loosen the dirt.
Leave the stain remover on for around 30-minutes before rinsing it off.
6. Detail clean
Place the backpack inside the tub of water and get to work giving it a gentle scrub, you can use a soft brush, sponges or an old toothbrush to help you fully clean the bag.
Take your time, and when you’re satisfied with the results both inside and out, rinse it off thoroughly and then wrap in a thick towel to absorb any excess moisture.
7. Hang to dry
Hang your backpack to air dry, preferably outside on a washing line or at the very least in a well-ventilated area and don’t repack it or put it away until it’s completely dry.
Air drying is the best way to dry your rucksack, but leave it to dry until it is completely dry.
8. Add a waterproof coating (optional)
As an optional extra, you can re-waterproof your backpack with a spray to give it a new lease of life.
Make sure you read the instructions carefully and consult the manufacturer of your backpack if you’re unsure whether or not the item is compatible with your pack and get ready for your next adventure!
FAQ’s about washing a rucksack
Finally, we wanted to run through some of the most commonly asked questions we get about washing a rucksack.
Can you dry clean a rucksack?
As a general rule, you should keep your backpack far away from any dry cleaning machines.
You should stick with either hand washing or machine washing if the brand recommends that it’s safe to do so.
Dry cleaning machines use all manner of chemicals that can damage the backpack.
Can you wash a backpack in the washing machine?
This depends on the brand.
We always recommend checking the label’s washing instructions to see if the bag is machine washable.
If it is, follow our guide above to ensure the best results.
Alternatively, follow our handwashing guide for just as an effective and thorough a clean.
Can you wash a backpack with clothes?
Generally, we wouldn’t recommend you to wash your backpack with other items.
A backpack has all manner of zips, straps and clips attached to it, all of which could damage the clothes that you’re washing it with.
In addition to this, backpacks can be inherently large, and, if you’re using a washing machine, you don’t want to overload the machine as this will result in an ineffective clean.
Can I wash my Osprey rucksack?
However, Osprey recommends that you do not use a washing machine to wash any of their backpacks and the best way is to hand wash them with mild soap and water.
Osprey backpacks often come with removable straps, hip belt and harness. So, when removing the metal frame, make sure you remove these parts too so you can get stuck in and give each individual section a good scrub.
When drying, Osprey also recommends that you don’t put the bag in direct sunlight and advise that you hang it outdoors so it can both air and drip dry.
If you have a wheeled Osprey bag, they recommend that you don’t submerge it and instead, just wipe down the chassis.
Which detergent should I wash a backpack with?
Always use a mild detergent with lukewarm water to wash your rucksack.
Biodegradable and non-toxic options are the best.
However, if you want to buy a specialist detergent, Nikwax® is a popular tech wash amongst all the top brands and will also re-proof your gear. Win-win.
Final thoughts on caring for your rucksack
We hope this article has covered everything you need to know about washing your rucksack and keeping it in tip-top shape between adventures.
When washing it, never use hot water as this could damage or shrink the material.
To keep your pack in good condition for longer, it’s always a good idea to take measures that help prevent frequent washes.
A waterproof backpack cover can help protect your bag from the elements and annoying mud stains, it also prevents you from scratching your bag.
For the interior, consider using flexible dry bags or packing cubes to prevent spillages and marks getting everywhere.
As with anything, the better you care for your backpack on a daily basis, the longer it will last.
Pack it wisely, don’t drag it across rocks and dirt and if it gets wet be sure to completely dry it before packing it away.