How to Clean and Maintain your Backpack (Helpful Tips)

Backpack on grass

Like any valued investment, whether your hiking backpack is cheap or a high-end one, it’s important that you take care of it to ensure that it can last for years. But how do you clean and maintain the quality of your hiking backpack?

First, check the recommendations of the manufacturer for cleaning. Some bags can be fully submerged in a bathtub, while some can be cleaned by a washing machine, and others should only be hand washed and cleaned using a soft sponge. Maintenance should be done after every trip. To do this, empty all the pockets, shake the bag upside down, and lightly scrub the interior and exterior of the bag using a clean sponge.

There are many ways to clean a backpack. You may hear other people say that you only need to put it in the machine and let it do the cleaning and drying, but you may end up destroying the water-resistant coatings or the fabric itself.

To avoid these situations, here are quick tips to help you clean and maintain the quality of your hiking backpack.


Whether you’re going on a quick day hike or a multi-day backpacking trip, you’ll need a reliable hiking backpack to help you carry and store your hiking gear. If you’re not sure about which pack you should get, check out our article about the best hiking backpacks to see which ones are our favorites. 


What to do to clean your backpack

Proper care and maintenance are vital for all of our belongings, but especially if you bought a backpack that’s specific to your favorite hobby. We believe that every pack is worth the time and effort of care and maintenance. To preserve it, here are some tips on what you should do to clean your backpack.

Light cleaning

In order to maintain the quality of your pack, our expert campers suggest that you do a light cleaning of the bag after every trip. Here’s how you can do it:

  • Unzip and empty the bag. Make sure that all the pockets are emptied as well. To do this, turn the pack upside down and shake out the dirt and sand.
  • With just water and a soft clean sponge, wipe out the interior. You can also use a vacuum to lightly go through inside the bag.
  • For the exterior, using a sponge and soap, and lightly scrub any dirty spots or stains.
  • Use cool or warm water or a wet cloth to rinse off any soap residue.
  • Let the bag dry naturally.

Cleaning the zippers

Dust, fine sand, and other small particles can easily cling in the zipper of your pack, and if not cleaned for a long time, these zippers can get stuck. To avoid this, make sure to occasionally clean this part of your pack.

Light scrubbing using an old toothbrush can do the trick, but make sure that you don’t brush too hard so as not to remove any water-resistant coatings.

However, if your zipper gets stuck, you can use lubricant for zippers to fix it.

Natural drying method

If you accidentally spilled liquid on your pack or just finished washing it, the best way to let it dry is to hang it outside — and we don’t mean directly under the sun.

Find a place where you can hang your pack upside-down and in the shade. Don’t let the sun dry it because UV rays can quickly deteriorate the fabric.


To preserve the quality of your hiking gear, packing, cleaning, and storing is the process you should follow every time you go on a trip. To learn how to do this properly, check out our article on packing, cleaning, and storing hiking gear


What not to do to clean your backpack

If you want your backpack to last for years, it’s important to avoid applying the following common misconceptions. Generally speaking, here are some of the things that you should not do to your backpack.

Don’t throw it in the washing machine

Yes, it can be tempting to clean your backpack after every trip, but you should never machine wash it, unless stated otherwise on the manufacturer’s instruction manual.

Indeed, the aggressive rotation of a washing machine can cause unwanted damages to the fabric and buckles of your backpack. Although these damages can be repaired, it’s still a different matter if your backpack comes with its original features.

Don’t use cleaning chemicals

Stains and muds come with an outdoor experience. Whether you find these on your shoes, clothes, or backpack, it’s vital that you remove them either as soon as you notice the stains, or when you get back home.

Using your regular soap without additives can be a good start to remove the dirt, but you can also find a backpack cleaning soap, which is extremely effective, in regular stores.

However, you should keep in mind that you should never use cleaning products with chemicals that are too harsh for regular materials found in backpacks. Cleaning chemicals can remove the coatings of your backpack, or worse, change its physical appearance.

Do not use a hard or stiff brush

When hand washing your pack, do not use stiff brushes as this can cause damages to the fabric and remove the coatings.

As we’ve mentioned before, only use a soft sponge and brush it lightly. If there are no noticeable stains, you can go through the entire pack quickly and remove the dust sticking to it.

Never use a dryer

It can be tempting to throw your wet hiking backpack into a dryer as a quick solution, but you might be surprised once you take it out. Although most low-end backpacks can be machine dried, it’s still best to avoid doing so.

Indeed, machine dryers can cause your backpack to become distorted or misshapen, and have melted buckles, which is the worst thing that can happen. As we’ve mentioned earlier, the best way to dry your pack is to do it naturally.


Choosing the correct hiking equipment that will suit your needs and preferences can be a bit intimidating, mainly because of the cost of the equipment  and the endless amount of gear available to choose from. When choosing a hiking backpack, there are a lot of factors to consider. Read our article to know how to choose a hiking backpack


Different ways to wash your backpack

You should deep clean your hiking backpack at least once or twice a year to ensure that all the bacteria are removed and to eliminate any smell. To do so, you can proceed in two different ways.

Although, it’s worth noting that you should always check the manufacturer’s cleaning recommendation for your pack. Indeed, some backpacks shouldn’t be submerged in water, while some other bags shouldn’t be washed using a machine.

Hand washing a backpack

Hand washing is the best way to remove any unnecessary stains and smells in your pack. Since not all hiking backpacks can be washed in a machine (especially high-end ones), it’s easier to hand wash all backpacks to ensure they won’t degrade.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Empty all the pockets and remove all your gears from the inside. Lightly scrub the interior with a soft sponge or use a vacuum to get rid of any remaining particles.
  • Unbuckle any harnesses, remove any straps, and the hipbelt if there’s any. Wash the hipbelt and straps separately with the clean sponge and soap that you use during your light cleaning, then rinse with running water.
  • Take out and set aside any removable metal frames.
  • Fill your sink or bathtub with warm water at around 6 inches and fully submerge the pack. Move your pack around while using the sponge to clean the inside and outside parts. Make sure to be gentle with the areas that constantly touch your skin to ensure that the mesh doesn’t get damaged.
  • Drain the tub.
  • Fill the tub or sink again with 6 inches of cool water and rinse the bag. If needed, you can do this twice to remove any remaining soap residue.

Machine-washing a backpack

Some backpacks can retain their quality and features even when you machine wash them. You’ll often find these packs in the low to mid-price range. To clean those using a washing machine, you should:

  • Turn your pack inside out while leaving all the pockets open. Make sure to remove the hipbelt and straps and wash them separately.
  • Put your pack inside an old pillowcase or a rucksack and tie it tightly at the top. By doing this, you can prevent the straps from tangling in the washing machine. This will also protect your machine from getting damaged by the hard parts of the bag.
  • Select the hand wash or delicate cycle.
  • Use a dye-free, chemical-free detergent to ensure that it doesn’t damage the fabric or remove the coatings of the pack.
  • Dry the bag by hanging it outside, away from the sun.



Hiking backpacks differ in sizes, capacities, and features, but what doesn’t change is the fact that you have to apply proper care and maintenance to ensure that your investment will last for years. Cleaning your backpack may seem like a simple task, but there are a few things that you need to keep in mind to make sure that you won’t be doing anything harmful to your equipment. 

By following the aforementioned do’s and don’ts on how to wash your pack, whether by hand or in the machine, you’ll not only be able to sustain the bag, but also extend its lifespan. The best thing that you can do to clean your backpack is to follow the instructions given by its manufacturers, but if you can locate this information, the tips that we shared should be enough to keep your hiking backpack clean and functional.

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