Can You Wash a Backpack in the Washing Machine? Here’s What You Need to Know 

 March 26, 2023

By  Keith Terrell

Even for the most organized people, a backpack can quickly become a tangled mess of textbooks, notebooks, exploding pens, food, and other things you can think of. So, when it's time to give your bag a good cleaning, what's the best way to do it? Can you wash a backpack in the washing machine? That's the question we will address today in this article. However, there are a few things to consider before you bust out the Tide. 

In general, it is safe to wash your backpack in the washing machine on a gentle cycle as long as it doesn't contain any metal or leather accents. However, this may depend on what type of fabric the backpack is made of, so we recommend checking the care label before you start.

Let's take a look at the materials, cleaning methods, and other details to make sure your beloved backpack emerges unscathed and looking good as new.

Deciding Whether to Wash a Backpack in the Washing Machine

Deciding whether to wash a backpack in the washing machine can be a difficult decision. It is important to consider factors such as the type of fabric and materials used, the amount of wear and tear it has received, as well as the time and effort required to clean it by hand.

For those with a backpack that is mainly made from fabrics like canvas, nylon, or polyester and isn’t heavily soiled, then machine washing may be an option. However, if it has zippers, buckles, or straps, it must be handled with care. Zippers in particular can be damaged by being exposed to high temperatures and agitation from the washing machine. Additionally, backpacks can take a lot longer to dry than regular laundry items due to the extra straps and attachments on them.

On the other hand, if your backpack is made from a more delicate material like leather or suede, washing it in a machine is not recommended. Pockets with foams also should not be put into a washer as they shrink or could easily be ruined. Without adequate diligence and knowledge of cleaning procedures for such fabrics, you could end up damaging your bag beyond repair. In this instance, handwashing with just plain warm water will suffice.

When deciding if one should wash their backpack in the washing machine or by hand, it pays off to do your research beforehand and plan accordingly. Moving forward into the next section on preparing the backpack for washing will provide some useful tips before taking the plunge with either method.

Washing a backpack in the washing machine can be an option depending on the type of fabric and how much wear and tear it has received. Care must be taken if there are zippers, buckles, and straps attached to them as they can be damaged by being exposed to high temperatures and agitation.

If the backpack is made of leather or suede, then handwashing with warm water is recommended. Research should always be done beforehand to ensure that it is washed correctly and to avoid getting damaged.

Preparing the Backpack for Washing

When it comes to washing a backpack in the machine, preparation is key. As it's not recommended to put items like backpacks in the washing machine, the goal of the preparatory process should be to minimize any fabric damage.

Before putting the bag into the washer, it's important to thoroughly inspect it for any dirt, stain, and debris that can be removed with a damp cloth or towel. Next, look for any zippers or buckles that may be caught on straps or other parts of the bag; these should all be disconnected so that they don't snag or break when placed in the machine.

If possible, it’s a good idea to also remove polyester padding from the straps and back panel before placing the bag in the washer. While some polyester fabrics and filling are designed to withstand some wear and tear, repeated machine washing may cause them to fray more quickly than normal. However, depending on how they are attached, removing these items isn’t always practical or possible, and should be weighed against utility benefits when considering whether or not to machine wash the bag.

Lastly, if there are any exterior pockets or side panels such as water bottle holders, they should all be carefully secured and closed before loading into the washer so that no loose items remain in the machine while it's running. With this preparation complete, you can proceed to the next step – actually laundering your backpack.

In the upcoming section, we'll explore different ways and how to best remove any additional loose items that may remain and then cover specifics about what type of cycle and detergent should be used for a successful wash!

Remove All Loose Items

Before attempting to wash a backpack in the washing machine, it is best practice to remove all loose items. This includes all zippers, pouches, straps, buckles, and anything else that could potentially be damaged in the process. If there are pockets on the outside of the bag, they should also be removed and washed separately.

There may be some discussions as to whether removable items should stay inside while washing or not. Those opposed to keeping the items inside argue that they should be kept out in order to keep them from getting damaged. On the other hand, if the items themselves can be washed easily, e.g. clothing material, some believe it is okay to leave them inside if they are securely fastened so they won't get stuck when spinning or banging around within the machine. Ultimately, it is up to each individual user; whichever method provides greater peace of mind for them is likely their best choice.

Now that you have removed all loose items from your backpack and potentially taken away any external pockets as well, you are almost ready for it to enter the washing machine. Before doing so, though, there is one more important step: taking away all external pockets. In the following section, we will discuss this step in more detail.

Take Away All External Pockets

Before you can safely wash a backpack in the washing machine, you need to empty all pockets and carefully remove any accessories. If your backpack has external pockets, you should start by taking them off completely. Reasons for doing this vary, but it will make sure these items don't get wet or damaged during the wash cycle. Some of the materials used to create external pockets are not washer-friendly, so it's important to check if they can stay on while cleaning or if they need to come off.

Whether your backpack is collared or looped together at the top with an internal pocket, removing those attachments could damage its shape. Leaving them on runs the risk of snagging them in the machine, because zippers and strings can easily get caught in between spaces during a spin cycle. If your backpack features exposed buckles and straps, you may also want to take them off and handwash them instead. This is much more gentle than running them through a washing machine and will help preserve their shine and condition.

Ultimately, make sure to go through every external pocket you can find before putting your backpack into the washing machine; take away all pieces that are not integrated within the bag’s fabric structure. Doing so will prevent any potential damage caused by leaving them out during the wash.

Now that we've discussed the importance of taking away all external pockets from your backpack prior to washing, let's move onto how to actually safely clean a backpack in a washing machine in the next section.

How to Wash a Backpack in the Washing Machine

Wondering if it’s safe to wash a backpack in the washing machine? The answer is: it depends. While some backpacks might be suitable for machine washing, not all materials can handle the stress of an aggressive spin cycle. What’s more, manufacturers typically recommend spot cleaning or hand washing instead of machine washing.

For instance, delicate fabrics and trims such as leather and suede require careful spot treatment from professionals to avoid damage. Despite the obvious risks involved in putting a backpack in the washing machine, there are durable models that may be able to survive such a process with no adverse effects. If you recently purchased a bag touted as being machine-washable, after following these steps and providing proper care, your pack should remain clean without causing damage to its structure or fabric.

Prior to tossing your backpack in the wash, check all seams for loose threads and reinforce it using seam sealant for extra protection. Additionally, zip up any pockets and secure buckles so they won’t get tangled with other items during the cycle. Next, turn your bag inside out in order to increase its lifespan as well as protect any external features like logo patches, straps, or zippers from getting damaged.

Then select the most gentle cycle setting available on your machine and make sure it doesn’t exceed 30°C (even though some labels suggest up to 40°C). Avoid bleaching agents or fabric softeners that could cause further harm to your bag's fabric, lining, or shape. Lastly, place your pack into the washing machine alone; this step is especially important if you’re dealing with colored fabrics or intricate designs that could potentially run during the cycle.

Before putting your machine-washed backpack back on display or reaching for it every morning before class, take one last step to complete the cleaning process: drying. Air drying is best - but if you must use a dryer, set it to low heat so as not to shrink or ruin any part of your newly cleaned bag.

By carefully following these instructions when cleaning a backpack in the washing machine - along with taking into account the material type and manufacturer guidelines - you’ll ensure that both its appearance and structural integrity will remain intact for years to come. Now that we've discussed how to safely wash a backpack in the washing machine, let's explore how to select the right cycle settings for optimal results.

Select the Right Cycle Settings

When washing a backpack in a washing machine, one of the most important steps is selecting the right cycle settings. To start, pick a gentle water temperature setting that won't be too hot to damage the material of your bag or any necessary details, such as zippers and taping. Additionally, use a delicate cycle with minimal agitation as this will prevent your bag from becoming misshapen. Some backpacks have hard-plastic buckles or straps that may get damaged if washed on a regular cycle, so it's important to always select the delicate cycle when washing your backpack.

If you're uncertain about the best cycle settings for the materials used to make your backpack, always refer to the manufacturer's instructions as they should indicate which type of cycle should be used. Be aware that some backpacks are made with special materials, such as reflective fabric, or have sensitive features like laptop compartments that could be easily ruined in an overly rough wash cycle.

On the other hand, some backpack models are specifically designed to be washed in regular laundry machines without needing any special processes — provided you select the right cycle and temperature setting. If you find that this is the case with your particular bag, choose the regular cycle with a cool wash setting and low spin speed.

It's important to note that challenging fabrics can shrink in high heat cycles, while lighter materials can bleed in more aggressive washes. Always consult professional care instructions or user manuals when selecting your wash cycle settings to avoid any damage or surprises to the shape and color of your backpacks.

Now that you have chosen the ideal wash cycle for your backpack, let's move on to understanding how to properly treat it after washing in our next section.

How to Treat a Backpack After Washing

Once your backpack has been washed, the next step is treating it. How you should treat it will depend on the material it is made of. For example, if the backpack is composed of synthetic fabric like nylon or polyester, you can apply a waterproofing treatment to prevent future water damage and extend the lifespan of your backpack.

There are two different types of waterproof sprays that you can purchase; either liquid or aerosol waterproofing sprays. Liquid sprays require that you apply the treatment outdoors in an open, well-ventilated area, whereas aerosol sprays, by design, do not need to be applied outside and can be used indoors more easily. It’s important to read the instructions on whichever product you intend to use as some sprays may contain hazardous chemicals that must be handled with caution.

When applying the waterproof spray, it’s important to cover the entire surface of the material evenly and not just specific areas; pay special attention to all straps, pockets, and seams, as these are often overlooked but must be coated for maximum effectiveness. Furthermore, overtreatment can weaken some materials, so use caution when applying any protective treatments and carefully follow the instructions.

The other option for treating a backpack is to not use waterproofing treatment at all. Some materials like leather don’t necessarily require waterproofing treatment and only a once-over with a light coat of conditioner after washing can suffice to protect your backpack. If the material doesn't specifically state that it needs additional protective treatment, then using nothing at all may be your best bet; otherwise, you could damage your backpack in the long run.

Now that your backpack has been washed and properly treated, it's time to move on to the next section, which covers drying and dealing with debris.

Drying and Dealing with Debris

There are several considerations you must take into account when drying and dealing with debris while washing and caring for a backpack. If you have opted to wash your backpack in a washing machine, it can be more difficult to extract debris than if you had hand-washed it.

Most modern machines have a rotating impeller in the center that would work to send water throughout your backpack, spinning off dirt and grime from the material it is made from. To make sure all those pockets are properly dried, it is best to open and turn them inside out to allow any remaining moisture or dirt to evaporate.

Another factor to consider is whether to skip or use heat. Many backpacks will specify on the manufacturer's tag whether or not it is safe to put in a dryer. Although this method may be safe for some, excessive heat can cause shrinkage as well as fabric degradation due to increased wear over time, so think twice before opting for it. If your backpack consists of natural fibers, air drying is much safer. Conversely, synthetic materials will fare better in a dryer, which works by quickly absorbing moisture on all sides, causing less change when exposed to additional heat.

It is also important to remember that some backpacks contain water repellent treatments that need to be reapplied and that some waterproof shells should never be washed because they can lose their ability to keep water out while also lacking the ability to completely dry out without mildewing. Debate around this point has become particularly heated as many adventure enthusiasts swear by the importance of re-waterproofing products after every wash, while experienced manufacturers suggest otherwise, including recreational boaters who point out that regular washing with fresh water alone often extends the life of their wet weather gear.

Dealing with debris isn’t the only concern when washing a backpack in a machine. However, there are certain steps one should take to ensure that all areas of your bag remain as clean and durable as possible. It is strongly advised that you refer to your bag's manual guide for specific advice on post-wash care before undertaking this process.

With these steps in mind, you can then consider our final tips for washing a backpack, which we'll cover in the following section.

Final Tips for Washing a Backpack

When deciding whether to wash your backpack in the washing machine or to hand-wash it, it’s important to keep in mind that there are advantages and disadvantages to each approach.

If you choose to use a washing machine, always read the label, since backpacks can be made of many different materials. Be sure to clear your bag with all items. To help clear the bottom of the backpack, shake out any debris and crumbs by turning the backpack upside down.

To loosen dirt, use a soft brush or your vacuum's crevice attachment to remove any food particles stuck in the seams. Place your bag in a mesh laundry bag, close the zipper, and load it in the washer on a gentle cycle with cold water. It’s also encouraged to add a small amount of laundry detergent designed specifically for delicates, to get rid of the foul odor if any. When the cycle is finished, place your bag away from the sun because direct sunlight may damage your bag. Allow it to air dry instead.

Although it might initially be more time-consuming, hand-washing your backpack can also have its benefits. Begin by removing any excess dirty spots and dust from the surface with a damp sponge or washcloth. Start from the interior, and work your way to the exterior of the backpack, while carefully scrubbing with a soft scrub brush or a used toothbrush for heavily stained areas. Make sure not to scrub too hard, as this could damage the surface and the fabric itself.

Once all of the particles have been removed, fill up a sink or basin with cold water and soap designed for delicate fabrics. Gently press your backpack under the soap-filled water and let soak for ten minutes before swishing around in the water and rinsing thoroughly. Finally, remove as much excess water as possible before transferring it to an area with good air circulation, away from direct sunlight, and air drying at room temperature overnight until fully dried.

How you wash your backpack really depends on the material of your backpack and how often you use it - make sure you check the label first! For added protection, consider using a waterproof spray designed for outdoor wear after washing your bag to ensure it stays dry even through those unexpected rainy days!

Frequently Asked Questions

What precautions should be taken when washing a backpack in a washing machine?

When washing a backpack in a washing machine, it is important to take certain precautions to ensure the backpack does not get damaged. Firstly, remove all content from the backpack before washing, such as electronics and documents. Secondly, make sure all zippers and straps are securely closed so that they do not become entangled with other items in the wash. Thirdly, check the care label to make sure your backpack can be machine washed.

If possible, use a gentle cycle and cold water to reduce the risk of damaging your backpack. It is also a good idea to place the bag inside a pillowcase or mesh laundry bag before putting it in the washing machine to protect it further. Finally, remember to hang the backpack dry once washed rather than placing it in direct sunlight or using a dryer.

By following these steps, you can avoid any potential damage when washing your backpack in the washing machine.

Is it safe to wash a backpack in a washing machine?

Yes, it is generally safe to wash a backpack in a washing machine as long as you take certain precautions. Before washing it, make sure that the backpack is made of a material that can be safely washed (e.g., nylon or canvas), and remove any parts such as shoulder straps or metal pieces that might be damaged by the water or agitation. You should also use only a mild detergent and cold water when washing, and avoid using high spin speeds.

Additionally, if your backpack has leather accents, it’s best to spot-clean those with a damp cloth rather than put them in the washer. Finally, it’s important to allow the backpack to dry completely before using it again. Taking these steps will ensure that you keep your backpack looking and functioning at its best.

What type of backpacks can you wash in a washing machine?

The types of backpacks that can be washed in a washing machine are determined by the material used to make the backpack. Generally, nylon and canvas backpacks are safe to wash in a washing machine as long as you check the instruction label first. Leather or faux leather backpacks should not be washed in a washer as they may be damaged.

Similarly, any backpacks with zippers should not be completely submerged in water as this may corrode the metal components. It's also important to empty all pockets and secure all straps so that no objects become tangled during the wash cycle.

About the author

Keith is a one bag traveler and the owner of Backpacks Global. His go to backpack is the Osprey FarPoint 40.

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