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Outdoor Gear Care Tips – How to Clean a Backpack Like a Pro

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traveling backpack

You tried, after that last hiking “incident” you swore it would never happen again. But who could have guessed that the rock would have been so slippery? Now, your best backpack is filthy, dirty both inside and out. And it’s still sitting outdoors because of the spoiled food smells. What should you do now: clean it or throw it away? Once you know how to clean a backpack using the following tips, you never have to worry about throwing a “nasty” backpack ever again.

Cleaning a Backpack Inside

o Turn the backpack completely inside out. If it has metal stays, remove them and set them aside. Dump any debris out onto a newspaper. Use a soft brush to clean off any dried dirt or residue. If you have one available you can always, use a vacuum with a brush attachment.

o Wash off the interior using a little mild detergent with a damp sponge or cloth.

o Be sure to clean in all the nooks and crannies and seams. Use an old toothbrush to dig in deep.

o Rinse using cold water and clean sponge or cloth.

o Use paper towels to dry the interior of the bag completely.

Cleaning a Backpack Outside

1. Turn the backpack right side out now. Use a dry brush to remove any loose dirt or dried mud.

2. Wash off the exterior using a little mild detergent (dishwashing liquid with degreaser) with a damp sponge or cloth.

3. Be sure to clean in all the pockets, flaps and seams. Use an old toothbrush to clean around the edging.

4. Rinse using cold water and clean sponge or cloth. You can submerge the whole pack into tub of cold water or use a hand held shower head or hose to remove all traces of soap both inside and out.

5. Hang the backpack upside down to air dry for several days, preferably outdoors. DO NOT use the dryer.

6. If the backpack is still funky smelling, spray with Fabreze® or hunters’ Scent-A-Way®. But be careful because these may remove waterproofing chemicals like Scotch-Guard ®

7. Store in a cool dry place. Don’t cover with plastic.

Cleaning a Camping Backpack in the Washer (if all else fails)

o DO NOT soak in soapy water. This could cause the layers of the backpack to delaminate or any waterproofing to deteriorate.

o Follow the steps 1-3 from above.

o Place the backpack in the washer. Wash with cold water only on the delicate cycle with a very mild laundry detergent (Ivory Flakes or Woolite). Rinse and let air dry for several days.

o NOTE: This method is for using at the last resort ONLY. Cleaning a camping backpack in the washer can cause the materials in the pack to fall apart. So machine wash at your own risk!

Backpack Zipper Care

Clean a backpack zipper is really easy. First, use an old toothbrush to clean out any sand, salt or dirt and mud from the zipper teeth. Vacuum if necessary to remove debris. Trim any stray or loose threads to prevent tangling. Spray very lightly with a silicone spray, occasionally to lube.

Now that you know how to clean your best backpack, you never have to toss out a malodorous backpack again.


traveling backpack