How To Clean Your Backpack (And Don’t Destroy It)

I don’t know you but I’ll make a bold assumption.

When you invest in something like a hiking backpack, you want to make sure that it will last. Given the fact that a nice pack can cost upwards of hundreds of dollars, there is no question whether or not you will want to do everything in your personal power to help extend the life of your precious belonging.

Beyond maintenance, when you own something that you know you’ll be using for many years in some  dirty conditions, knowing how to clean your backpack the right way is a necessary skill set.

Keeping your backpack clean will help you not only to make it look nice and tidy but to protect the integrity of the materials from unnecessary breakdown. Of course, you can’t just grab your hiking backpack and toss it in the shower, so we are here to help you learn what to do and what to avoid.

So let’s start with some best practices.

Regular Use Cleaning Techniques for Maintenance

Agree with me that it’s easier when you take care of your backpack on a regular basis. Here’s why.

The Importance of Regular Maintenance

You might be of the belief that there is no real reason to try keeping your outdoor gear clean. After all, it will be staying outdoors. In reality, cleaning your outdoor goods is a way to keep them from degrading in quality over time.

The dirt and muck interfere with outdoor supplies and that can actually damage the products over time by wearing dust, mud, and other coarse materials into the fabric.

how t clean your backpack

Regular maintenance is the key. Image via kooikkari, Flickr.

When you leave this kind of filth on your backpack, it will act as a sort of sandpaper constantly grating against the materials.

Unfortunately, that increases your chances of wearing and tearing the bag.

And this is something you’d want to avoid at any cost because let’s face it – nobody would like to throw a good gear away no matter if it's cheap or expensive.

Cleaning the Interior

When you are using your hiking backpack regularly, it can be particularly helpful to focus on the interior since that is where your gear will go.

If you are constantly shoving random accessories and snacks into the bag, there is likely quite a bit of dirt and other crumbs lurking around within the inner pockets.

For more tips, watch the video below which explains the whole process in detail.

To clean the interior of your bag, begin by removing all of your gear. Open all pockets on the bag and shake them out to remove anything that might be hiding within the pack.

After it has been emptied, grab a wet cloth or sponge and wipe out the interior of the bag to make sure that there is nothing sticky or built up that might be corroding the inner materials. A simple wipe down can keep packs nice and new looking.

Cleaning the Exterior

Since the outside of your backpack is likely the part that is continuously being thrown in the dirt or crushed up in your friend’s questionably dirty backseat, cleaning up the outside is an important part of owning your backpack.

To clean the exterior, take advantage of the bag already being emptied and get yourself a wet washcloth. If your bag doesn’t seem to have anything caked on it or isn’t suffering from any stains, feel free to just wipe down the bag with the wet cloth.

To manage any stains or buildup you can add a drop of dish soap to the cloth for a deeper cleaning.

After you have wiped up the bag, do one final wipe down with a clean wet rag, and your bag should be looking great!

If you are afraid that you could somehow damage the pack when rubbing it, you can use a microfiber cloth. In that way, you don’t have to worry that you’ll destroy the colors.

Giving Your Pack A Complete and Thorough Clean

In case you haven’t cleaned your pack from a long time or it went through some harsh conditions whatsoever, you’d definitely want to consider a deep cleaning.

When To Deep Clean

If you are reading this article because you realize that it has been five years and you have never cleaned your backpack in that time, chances are you are long overdue for a deep clean.

If you have been up on your routine maintenance, but after your last trip you realize that you might have carried a significant amount of mountain back with you on your pack, it is time for a deep clean.


Often your pack can get dirty when you camp in a big company

In case your last camping trip with your friends was a little wild resulting in plenty of food, protein bars and all sort of dirt spilled out inside the pockets of your rucksack, then you need a deep clean.

Or, if you just haven’t done one, and it’s been a while. There is never a wrong time to do it.

Pulling It All Apart

In order to deep clean your bag effectively, you will want to go all in.

This means untying all the straps, unzipping all zippers, and removing anything removable on the backpack. Some packs like the huge Kelty Eagle 7850 have a detachable structure, which can really help in the process.

a hiking backpack

You need to strip down your pack completely in order to give it a proper deep clean.

If there seems to be a significant buildup of grit within the bag, you can begin by shaking it out or jump straight to the part where you grab the vacuum and go to work.

A good vacuum is a great way to get rid of tiny bits of dirt and crumbs that might still be lurking in the bag.

The Backpack Bath Process

After you have gotten rid of the debris, take your bag and all of its parts and throw them in the bathtub or your sink in some lukewarm water.

You will want to full submerge the backpack and make sure you let the soapy water venture in to all of the pockets and crevices.

a sink

Don’t be afraid to put your pack in the sink and wash it with detergent-free soap.

After a short soak, give your pack a good scrub (including along the zippers) in the water with some gentle soap. This is a great time to target any nasty stains.

Some cleaning materials you can use that work like a charm are detergent-free soap (Tech Wash, Nikwax) and Dr. Bronners.

When you are done scrubbing, rinse the pack thoroughly and then hang it out to air dry.

What Not To Do

We’ve quickly gone through the Dos. Now let’s see the most common Donts.

The Dangers of the Washing Machine

In brief, forget about using your washing machine for cleaning your favourite pack.

Though it might be tempting to skip the whole cleaning process and just toss your backpack into the washing machine, you are under no circumstances permitted doing that.

No one is going to show up at your house to arrest you, but the condition that your backpack will come out in will make you never forgive yourself for choosing to do so.

a washing machine

Washing machines could severely damage your precious backpack.

The aggressive whirling disaster that is the washing machine is not a safe place for your backpack fabrics.

Considering how many straps and clips and other things are on your backpack, you will absolutely not want to do risk any part of your bag being snagged and torn off.

It’s not that if your backpack gets damaged it cannot be repaired, but to risk compromising the structural integrity of your backpack is all but asking for it to fall apart when you go on your next trip.

Do not do it. Period.

The Impact of Cleaning Chemicals

If you are looking to clean your backpack and you’re not sure if the soap that you have on hand is right for it, you can always go to the store to buy backpack cleaning soap. Surprisingly, it does exist.

However, the last thing that you will want to do is decide that in your efforts to disinfect your beloved backpack you will just skip straight to the heavy-duty cleaners.

Household Chemicals

Chemicals are hamrful to the fabrcis of your pack. Use only appropriate cleaning materials like backpacking soap.

Though it might be tempting to attack a stain on your backpack with a chemical wipe or spray, the chemicals in most cleaning products are far too harsh for the materials of your backpack.

Treating the fabrics of a pack with chemicals can easily result in its destruction or even in altering its physical appearance. You decide what’s worse.

In addition, the last thing that you want is your hiking snacks baking in a sack that is coated with the residue of toxic chemicals. Overall, it just isn’t the right approach.

Why Air Drying Is Your Friend And The Dryer Is Your Enemy

If you have just finished cleaning your backpack and it is thoroughly soaked, you might find yourself considering whether it is safe to put your backpack in the dryer.

Though it is possible that some backpack out there is dryer friendly, the majority of the high quality hiking packs are not. If you still decide to put your pack in the dryer, the end result will most likely be unpleasantly surprised.

Quite possibly, your beloved rucksack will be misshapen, distorted, and even melted in some areas.

Backpack hanging on a tree

Always let your pack air dry. Forget about drying machines.

Since these materials are not made to be exposed to high and concentrated heat, you may end up with some kind of bizarre squeaking sound around the buckles or with a corner of it melted and missing.

High heat is not conducive to the materials that most backpacks are composed of and risking damaging your pack to save a few hours will not be the best decision in your life.


Maintaining your backpack through routine cleaning and occasional deep cleaning is a great way to ensure the longevity of life for your product.

Just like anything else, hiking backpacks require caring and maintenance to stay in good shape. That will prevent them from breaking down sooner than necessary.

couple hiking

Regardless of the possibility that you might be able to get away without judgement as the person who goes out with a filthy backpack, people generally tend to react more favorably towards the person with the backpack that looks well-loved and maintained.

Just like you would clean your hiking boots or wash your hiking clothes, wiping up your backpack is a necessary part of being a true hiker or camper.

With a little extra effort, you can keep your backpack in fighting shape for years to come. After all that it does for you, surely it deserves a little love and respect if nothing else.

How often do you clean your backpack and how? Leave a comment below!

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Sam Andrews - April 22, 2021

I liked how you mentioned that you should have your backpack deep cleaned if it hasn’t been clean in 5 years. My brother is preparing to go on a hiking trip and he was wondering how often he should clean his backpack. I’ll be sure to tell him that he should deep clean his backpack before his trip.

Jessica Gene Marsh - August 30, 2021

I love how 2 cans of oven cleaner is shown in the picture of harsh chemicals. I don’t think I’d clean anything but an oven with oven cleaner. wow.

    Asen - August 31, 2021

    Hi Jessica,

    I see what you mean! Indeed the picture shows oven cleaners as an example what to avoid when you clean your backpack. You will be surprised to learn that many folks treat their packs with unbelievable stuff that’s dangerous to the fabircs.

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