How to Clean a Polyester Backpack: A Step-by-Step Guide 

 September 30, 2023

By  Keith Terrell

Imagine spilling your morning coffee all over your favorite polyester backpack. Your first reflex is probably to throw it in the washing machine, but you realize that could ruin its construction and functionality. We know that feeling of helplessness – that's why we've created this comprehensive guide to help you get rid of those pesky stains on your cherished backpack. 

The best way to clean a polyester backpack is to follow the instructions on the care label for washing. As a rule, polyester backpacks can be washed in the washing machine in cold water on the delicate cycle. Before washing, make sure the backpack is empty, check for loose buttons or zippers, wipe off surface dirt, and treat any stains individually. After washing, hang the backpack on a hanger and let it air dry. If your backpack has a waterproof coating, don’t machine wash it, but wash it by hand with mild soap and water.

Join us on a journey through a simple step-by-step process where we make cleaning your polyester backpack as simple as brewing your morning cup of coffee! Don't let a little mishap turn into a disaster. The next time there's a mess, on hand, you’ll be able to clean up any sticky situation with our guide.

Understanding the Cleaning Instructions of Your Backpack

Cleaning a backpack seems like a simple task, but it's important to understand your backpack's cleaning instructions before you start cleaning. Different materials and designs require different care, and one wrong step can ruin your backpack. In this section, you’ll learn why it's important to know your backpack's cleaning instructions and how to make sure you follow them correctly.

Knowing how to clean your backpack will extend its life. Like any other item that is used frequently, backpacks need care to stay in good condition. But not all backpacks can be cleaned in the same way, so it's important to read the care label for specific instructions to know how to properly clean your backpack. For instance, cleaning a nylon backpack the same way you’d clean a polyester backpack can affect the coating or water resistance, or reduce the overall quality of the backpack.

Another reason why it's important to understand the cleaning instructions of your backpack is that you want to avoid damaging the material or color of the backpack. Some materials are more delicate than others, and improper care can lead to discoloration or even wear damage. Especially if your backpack is made of leather, suede, or canvas, proper handling is important not only for washing but also during storage.

An example of how important it is to understand your backpack's care instructions: Imagine you had to wash a cotton bag in hot water. The color would fade away quickly, whereas if you washed it with cold water instead, the color would remain intact. This analogy also applies to other fabrics.

Reading the Care Label

The care label on a backpack may seem insignificant at first glance, but if you read it carefully, it can make a big difference when it comes to maintaining the quality of the backpack and prolonging its life. In this section, we will look at what you should look for on your backpack care label and give you tips on how to use this information to clean your backpack effectively.

The care label is important because it contains detailed instructions on how to wash your backpack properly. As mentioned earlier, different backpacks need different treatments. The label may also contain instructions  on how to dry your backpack or how to store it properly, which can prevent future damage if followed diligently.

A backpack made of plain cotton canvas, for example, may indicate that it should be machine washed in cold or lukewarm water and then hung to dry. A nylon or polyester blend, on the other hand, is recommended to be hand washed with mild soap and then air dried.

Some people might argue that they don't need to read the care label because they know how to wash a backpack in general. However, this is not enough especially since you can't tell if the backpack has certain coatings or waterproof layers that require special attention.

Reading the care label is similar to reading a new recipe before cooking a meal. If you miss an ingredient or misinterpret an instruction, the dish can go bad. Similarly, over-reading the care label can cause your backpack to be damaged during cleaning.

To summarize this section, if you pay close attention to the labels on your backpack, you can clean it more efficiently without causing accidental damage.

Following Manufacturer Guidelines

When it comes to cleaning your polyester backpack, it is important to follow the manufacturer's guidelines. Different backpacks require different cleaning methods, and manufacturers know this. They provide instructions on how to clean and maintain the backpacks to prolong their life. If you don’t follow these guidelines, you can damage the backpack beyond repair and ruin a valuable item.

Let’s say you have a polyester backpack designed for camping and other outdoor activities. This backpack may be treated with waterproof coatings or other special materials to make it resistant to harsh weather. If you clean it improperly, for example with bleach or hot water, you could peel off these protective coatings and compromise the integrity of the backpack. If you do not follow the manufacturer's guidelines, your backpack, which was once very robust, may now be exposed to the elements.

If you aren't sure if the backpack can be machine washed or if it needs to be washed by hand, check the care label first. Some backpacks can only be spot cleaned, while others can be machine washed. The care label also tells you what temperature the water should be (cold or warm) and whether a detergent should be used (fragrance-free or mild).

Don't just look at the care label but also search the internet for instructions for your particular backpack model. You may come across blogs or forums where other users give tips on how to best care for your particular backpack model.

If you follow the manufacturer's guidelines, you won't have to guess and you can be sure that your backpack will look like new for longer.

Preparations Before Cleaning

Before you start cleaning your polyester backpack, there are some important preparations to ensure a successful cleaning:

Imagine preparing a meal before you cook it: you don't just throw the ingredients into the pot, you prepare your food so that the recipe can be carried out properly. The same goes for cleaning a backpack.

Empty out the entire contents of the backpack first. This includes any small packages or small change that may still be inside. Then search every corner of the backpack for other items like pens, pencils, or earbuds. You want to make sure that nothing gets damaged or lost during the cleaning process.

Next, inspect your backpack for pre-existing damage. Check for stains, tears or fraying to determine if spot cleaning or repair is necessary before you start washing.

Cut loose threads and tighten any loose buttons or zippers to avoid damage during the washing process. A stitch in time saves nine.

If your backpack has an internal frame made of metal-like material, you should remove it before washing. Otherwise, bending the frame could cause the fabric to permanently wrinkle.

By taking these steps to thoroughly prepare your backpack before cleaning, you can be sure that the process will go smoothly and without any unintended consequences.

Emptying and Inspecting the Backpack

Before you start cleaning, be sure to empty and inspect your backpack. An empty backpack prevents both the backpack and the washing machine from being damaged during the cleaning process, which is also more efficient due to the lighter weight.

Imagine the following scenario: You've just come back from a camping trip and decide to throw your still-full backpack into the washing machine. At first glance, this may seem like a good idea, but the strain of the extra weight can affect the balance of the washing machine and damage both the appliance and full backpack.

It's as if you were trying to jog after a heavy meal; it's not impossible, but it will put more strain on your body than is necessary. So take out all items from inside, even small wrappers or coins before you clean it.

Also, inspecting your backpack before washing can help you discover hidden damage such as holes or frayed seams that need to be repaired before the water makes them worse. If you don't check them, they can get worse after washing and make your backpack unusable.

Once I forgot to look out for tears, and after washing, my backpack had a gaping hole in one of its compartments. In the end, I threw it away because it was beyond repair.

To avoid such mishaps, let's now delve into the step-by-step cleaning process.

Step-by-step Cleaning Process

Now that we've emptied our backpacks, let's take a step-by-step look at the necessary guidelines for excellent washing of our polyester backpacks. With the right care, our backpacks will look new and fresh every time we use them.

Removing stains and cleaning the exterior: Before you put your backpack in the washing machine, pre-treat any stains according to the instructions. This treatment will help remove stubborn stains and prevent them from becoming more challenging to remove after washing. For example, pretreat ink stains with rubbing alcohol, or use a baking soda paste for grease stains.

Cleaning the lining: Before adding detergent, wipe off all debris and dirt from the outside of the backpack to avoid blocking the washing machine drain. Use a gentle liquid detergent and start on the lowest recommended wash setting for your backpack according to the washing instructions. If you are not sure how much detergent to use, you can follow the instructions on the measuring cup.

I once used too much detergent on one of my backpacks, and even an extra rinse cycle couldn’t remove all traces of soapy water. The result was a smelly backpack that I had to wash by hand to get rid of the smell for good.

Drying and storage tips: After cleaning your polyester backpack, hang it in a dry place out of direct sunlight. Polyester dries quickly, so make sure your backpack is well-ventilated either outside or inside but not in a humid room with poor air circulation.

Don't attempt to use a dryer as it could destroy the original shape and structure of your bag. The heat could also cause damage and shrinkage. If you have a coated backpack, it’s best to hang it on a hanger as machine drying could damage the waterproof coating, which could lead to leaks on a future rainy day.

Some claim that polyester backpack fabrics are too delicate for machine washing, but this is not always true and depends on the quality. Always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines before attempting to clean your backpack at home.

Now that we have described the cleaning processes, in the next section we will look at the care tips after cleaning.

Removing Stains and Cleaning Exterior

Cleaning the outside of a polyester backpack can be a daunting task, especially if it has stubborn stains or marks. However, with the right tools, it can be a breeze. Here are some tips to help you remove stains and clean the outside of your backpack.

Start by wiping off any loose dirt or dust with a clean cloth. If there are visible stains or marks, take a small amount of dish soap or detergent and mix it in a bowl of cold water. Dip a soft-bristled brush or sponge into the solution and gently scrub the stained area in a circular motion.

For more stubborn stains such as ink or oil, you should use rubbing alcohol or vinegar solutions as they can effectively break down these substances. If you're not sure whether a cleaning method is suitable for your backpack, test it out on a small, hidden area before proceeding with the whole backpack.

Some people swear by cleaning their backpacks using bleach, but this is not advisable as it can damage the fabric and compromise its integrity over time. It's better to use gentler methods such as vinegar solutions and dish soap to clean effectively without causing damage.

Cleaning the Inner Lining

Cleaning the lining of your backpack is just as important as cleaning the outside. Over time, dirt and sweat can build up inside the backpack and cause odors or even mold growth. Here are some tips on how to effectively clean the lining of your polyester backpack.

Start by emptying all the contents of the backpack and inspecting it thoroughly for loose threads or damage. Use a handheld vacuum or a soft brush to remove any surface dirt before proceeding with the cleaning.

Next, take a sponge or cloth and wet it with a solution of water and detergent. Gently wipe the inner lining of the backpack in a circular motion, paying special attention to the areas where sweat or odor may have accumulated.

Think of cleaning the lining of your backpack like washing your bed sheets. Just as you don’t want to sleep on a dirty sheet, you don’t want to carry around a backpack that has accumulated sweat and dirt over time. Regular washing and cleaning are necessary for both items to maintain their freshness.

Post-Cleaning Care

Congratulations, you’ve successfully completed the cleaning process and your backpack looks like new! However, don’t rush to pack it with your belongings just yet. There are a few important post-cleaning care tips to ensure the longevity of your backpack.

First and foremost, do not fold or crush your backpack before it is completely dry as this can damage the shape of the bag and cause wrinkles. Also, avoid drying the backpack directly under sunlight as the UV rays can cause discoloration and nylon straps to fade over time.

You should also invest in a waterproofing spray that will protect the backpack from moisture and stains. This will make it easier for you to clean it afterwards as most dirt and stains will simply roll off. In addition, it makes sense to apply the waterproofing every few months to increase the protection.

Some people might argue that waterproof sprays can cause a toxic build-up on their backpacks. While there is no denying that some sprays contain harmful chemicals, these days, most brands offer eco-friendly alternatives made from natural substances like beeswax or lanolin. If you are skeptical about using synthetic products, you can always opt for these.

Now that your backpack has been both cleaned and treated for maximum protection, let’s discuss how to properly dry and store it correctly.

Drying and Storing Tips

Before storing the backpack, hang it to dry on a hanger outdoors or in a well-ventilated place. Do not use a dryer, heater, or other direct heat source to speed up the drying process. Remember that most synthetic fabrics in backpacks can easily shrink, melt, or deform due to heat.

Just as our bodies need air to breathe, your backpack needs space to stay fresh and dry. Avoid stuffing other items into your backpack as this can create a humid environment that can lead to mold or even bad odor. Instead, stuff the backpack with towels or tissue paper to keep it in its original shape.

Another pro tip is to use a silica gel packet. Yes, you know those little white packets that come with some packaged goods? They absorb moisture from the surrounding air and keep your backpack dry. These packets are affordable and easily available online or in craft stores.

Following these tips for caring for your polyester backpack after cleaning will not only keep it looking fresh but also prolong its life. Remember that prevention is always better than cure. Investing a little time and effort now will save you a lot of money (and headaches) later.

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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