Can you Wash a Backpack in a Washing Machine?

It’s almost certain that your hiking backpack is going to get dirty. It needs to cope with harsh environments and is likely to encounter mud, food and moisture along with general wear and tear. When you get back home it can be tempting to throw it in the washing machine but is that a good idea? Here we’ll investigate.

Whether you can wash your backpack in a washing machine or not will depend on the materials and construction. Some manufacturers will say it is okay while others will advise against it. It’s important to follow the instructions as even if it is machine washable, there are usually exact steps for you to follow.

If you want to wash your backpack then it’s best to follow these steps:

  • Step 1 – You need to give your backpack a pre-clean which means cleaning out any crumbs that are in the bag and dusting off any large bits of dirt. It’s also a good time to double-check each pocket to make sure that it’s completely empty.
  • Step 2 – Some backpacks have a removable metal frame so take that out if you can. You want to minimize anything that may damage your machine. When placing your backpack into your machine, it’s a good idea to try and cover the straps and zips. A great way to do this is by putting your backpack in a pillowcase.
  • Step 3 – It’s a good idea to check the instructions on the label of your backpack to ensure you’re following the right steps. It’s probably not a good idea to use your regular determent as the chemicals may ruin the coating on the backpack. More gentle detergents are available which would be more suitable.
  • Step 4 – It’s time to run your washing machine. You should do so on a slower spin cycle and on a colder wash. This will help to prevent many of the problems that we listed above. It allows you to deeply wash the backpack without damaging it.
  • Step 5 – As you could guess from it needs to have a cold wash, you should avoid putting it in a dryer. Instead, it needs to be air-dried. It’s best to hang it upside down as this will allow the air to circulate while removing any excess water.

The Dangers of Using a Washing Machine

Before we look at how you can wash a hiking backpack, it’s important to see why it’s generally seen as a bad idea.

  • Straps and clips – There is a risk that the straps and clips of your washing machine may get caught. This can cause them to rip or start to ruin the stitching. It can also cause damage to your washing machine.
  • Ruin materials – Some materials are a lot more susceptible to damage than others. This includes foam, wool and leather. A washing machine can also wear away any coatings on the material such as a waterproof coating.
  • Aggressive cleaning – Modern-day washing machines can spin at an incredible speed which is very effective at washing clothes but it can put great stress on them. Materials in a washing machine wear quickly and are more prone to failure.
  • Ruining glue – If you have a washing machine on a high setting, it can start to melt the glue inside your backpack. It can quickly ruin it and make it much weaker than it needs to be.

Washing without a Machine

If you wanted to give your backpack a thorough clean then you don’t have to put it in the washing machine. Washing it in a bathtub is a great alternative to using a washing machine as you don’t have the aggressive motion that goes with it. Before doing this, you should check whether or not your backpack can be submerged in water.

Here are the steps you need to take:

  • Step 1 – As with a washing machine, make sure the backpack is completely empty before you get started. A good idea here is to use a vacuum cleaner that has a small attachment and use it to go inside all of the pockets and crevices.
  • Step 2 – The next step is to fill your bath with enough water to submerge the backpack. The water should be lukewarm. The ideal temperature would be up to around 95F as any warmer and you risk damaging the backpack. 
  • Step 3 – At this stage, you’d be able to add some soap to the water. It’s best that it is mild soap and you won’t need to use too much of it. Soap residue can be hard to clean off and any harsh chemicals can damage waterproof layers.
  • Step 4 – Use a soft brush to work on any particularly dirty areas. You can also use a soft cloth to wipe down the surfaces. You should avoid scrubbing too hard as this can also damage surfaces. Work any stains gently and avoid the temptation to be too aggressive with them.
  • Step 5 – For zips, straps and any other more durable areas, more force can be used. For these spots, it can be a good idea to use a small brush such as a toothbrush. This can be great at helping to lift off any ingrained dirt that may be trapped in there.
  • Step 6 – If you have a removable showerhead, this can be a great way to rinse off your backpack and get rid of any soap residue that may be on the surface. If you don’t have a showerhead then you can either use the faucet or a jug to rinse it off with clean water.
  • Step 6 – As with the washing machine, your backpack should now be air-dried. Make sure it’s fully dry before using it again.

The Bottom Line

As we’ve seen, there are clear risks to cleaning your backpack in a washing machine. As backpacks can be made from different materials, it’s good to check the instructions before you do. If it says it’s not machine washable, then simply follow the manual steps above.