How to Clean a BackpackA backpack that is well constructed of durable materials can last a long time. There’s no need to buy your kids a new one with the start of each school year. Adults, who should be less hard on their packs than children, should be able to keep theirs for life.

If you’re not replacing your pack on a regular basis, you definitely need to periodically clean it. It’s not a difficult job, but one that should become part of your routine housecleaning—right along with cleaning winter jackets and sports equipment.

Add cleaning your backpack—or perhaps even all the backpacks in your household—to your seasonal housecleaning list. That way you’ll ensure it’s clean and relatively fresh throughout most of the year.

Items Needed to Clean a Backpack 

Assuming that your backpack is made of a durable material like canvas, leather, or heavy cotton, the following items will help you get it into tip-top shape. Even cheaper nylon packs will withstand gentle cleaning. You likely have many of these items in your normal housecleaning cache. Depending on the material your pack is made of, not all of the items below will be needed.

  • Liquid dish soap
  • Sponge
  • Small, soft scrub brush
  • Leather conditioner
  • Vegetable or Olive oil
  • White vinegar
  • Lemon
  • Table salt
  • Cleaning rags
  • Small basin or bucket
  • Water
  • Electric fan
  • Trash can
  • Can of waterproofing spray

How to Clean a Backpack: It's Back to School Time

Cleaning Steps—Inside

Begin by emptying your backpack. This means removing everything from all the nooks and crannies where dirt and debris can hide. Open all pockets and turn them inside out, and then turn the pack itself inside out.

Once the pockets and pack are completely inside out, take the soft scrub brush and clean any crumbs and debris that has lodged on the inside—pockets included. Do this over a trashcan, as the amount will likely be significant.

Using a small basin or bucket and a few drops of liquid dish soap, make a soapy mixture with plenty of suds. Dip your sponge into the soapy water and wring it out. Go over the entire interior of the pack—including the insides of those pockets—with the sponge. You will need to re-soak the sponge and wring it out several times for this job.

If it becomes apparent that food or drink has at some point been spilled inside the backpack—or if the inside smells bad—move on to this next step. Moisten part of a cleaning rag with white vinegar. Wipe down the interior of the pack, as well as the interior of all pockets.

Turn on an electric fan and place the backpack in front of it. The air from the fan will ensure that the entire interior—and that of the pockets, too—gets completely dry.

How to Clean a Backpack from inside

Cleaning Steps—Outside

Now it’s time to turn the pack right-side out. Do the same with the pockets, and zip them closed.

If your backpack is made of heavy cotton or canvas, prepare a new basin or bucket full of soapy water. Spot clean the exterior with a sponge. Any areas that are seriously soiled or stained can be spot treated. Using your fingertips, rub a few drops of liquid dish soap directly onto the stain or soiled area. Sponge away the excess with a sponge or rag dipped in clean water. Repeat this process until the areas in question are clean.

If tough to remove stains remain, rub the areas with a lemon. Sprinkle table salt onto the lemon. Set the backpack outside in the sun—if possible—for a few hours. If this isn’t possible, place it in a window that gets as much sunlight as possible.

After the pack has set for a few hours, use a clean scrub brush to remove any remaining salt. The stain should be gone or at least considerably lightened in color.


Now is the time to apply waterproofing spray if you wish to do so. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions, which should include performing the task in a well ventilated area. Spray the exterior of the pack, then affix it to an outdoor clothesline or inside near a window until it is completely dry and all fumes have dissipated.

Made of Leather

If your backpack is made of leather, wet your sponge in clean, warm water and wring it out. Gently spot clean the outside of your pack. Use a cleaning rag or soft cloth and some leather conditioner afterward. You may condition the leather with vegetable or olive oil if you prefer. Dab some on the cloth and work it all over the exterior of the pack, moving in a circular motion. After leather conditioner or oil has been applied, take another clean, dry cloth and buff the entire exterior.

Machine Washing Your Backpack?

You will find that the manufacturer’s labels on some backpacks tout the merits of laundering your backpack in the washing machine. While this works fairly well for nylon backpacks, those made of heavier materials don’t fare as well. Unless the manufacturer offers some kind of guarantee, stick to the aforementioned cleaning methods instead.