How to Wash Your Backpack and Kid Carriers

How to Wash Your Backpack and Kid Carriers

Many of you probably already know that clean gear performs better and that’s why you clean your sleeping bags, rain gear, boots, etc. But, did you know you could clean your backpack too? Well, I am here to tell you that YOU CAN! And it’s not that hard…

So many of us come home from trips to wash our clothes, clean our shoes, and clean out the car. And then we just put our gear and backpacks/kid carriers back in storage.

But what if you just completed a really dusty trail and your straps are caked in dust or it was super hot and the mesh padding and shoulder straps absorbed a good amount of sweat? Or perhaps your husband carried out an elk in his pack and it’s all bloody now. No matter what, let’s get that backpack cleaned up before you put it away and you’ll be ready to head out on your next trip.

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wash your backpack
Dry, dusty trails dirty up gear (and humans) quickly.

What you need to wash your backpack

Before you get to cleaning, here is a list of supplies that you might want to have on hand!

wash your backpack

Can I just put the backpack in the washer and dryer?

For most outdoor backpacks and kid carriers, the answer is NO, and here is why…

Most hiking or backpacking backpacks and kid carriers have a PU coating on them. Washing machines clean by repeatedly rubbing articles together during the wash. This is abrasive and can damage or even wear off the PU coating. (PU Coating is what makes your pack durable and water-resistant/proof).

Also, you shouldn’t put anything with a hard frame (internal or external) in your washer and definitely not in the dryer. You run the risk of either damaging the frame or your washer and dryer. Either way, its an expensive mistake!

Exception to the rule? Yes. Kids school or adult “casual” backpacks that are nylon or canvas and have no frame can most often be washed in the washing machine if you aren’t too worried about ruining a PU coating. But, the dryer is still a hard NO! If you are washing in a machine, make sure to fasten all straps and Velcro first. I also recommend washing in a large garment bag to make sure nothing gets snagged and ruins your bag or washing machine.

Before you wash your backpack:

Before you go any further, make sure you check your product tag or manufacturer website for any instructions specific to your product.

1. Check and empty all the pockets

Open up every pocket and remove the contents. Check for any spills and wipe out with a soft, damp cloth.

2. Remove removable pads, hip belts, etc.

If you can remove it (and remember how to get it back on), do so. The more you can remove, the less you have in your way when cleaning. Things like chin pads on kid carriers are typically easily removed and washing machine friendly. Some packs have removable hip belts or other detachable areas too.

Pro-Tip! Take a picture of any webbing or straps before you undo so you can remember how to put them back together.

3. Vacuum out all pockets

Break out the Shop-vac or put the hose attachment on your household vacuum and vacuum out all the pockets. Try your best to get into every nook and cranny! Use a toothbrush to loosen up any dirt in the corners and on the zippers.

4. Pre-treat any stubborn stains

If you have noticed any stains or really dirty areas, use your mild soap to pre-treat those areas. If you have any areas with caked on dirt, gently use your nylon brush to get rid of as much dirt as you can.

Time to wash your backpack!

You have completed the pre-wash steps, now it is time to wash! If your pack has a lot of loose dirt on it, it might not be a bad idea to give your pack a pre-rinse before the wash. A hand held shower head or a hose sprayer works great for this.

1. Fill your tub or bucket

Start by filling your bathtub or tote with warm water and your soap. You will want enough to water so the pack can be completely covered.

2. Swish, swish, swish, and rest

Put your pack in the tub and start swishing around. Swish side to side and front to back. Basically, you just want to get the soapy water flowing all around. Give a good swishing for a few minutes and then let soak. I try to come back to my packs every 15 minutes or so and give them another good swishing.

You can let your pack soak for a little bit or a few hours depending on how dirty it was or what your time looks like. My packs normally soak for a few hours.

3. Rinse, rinse, rinse

After you are done with soaking, drain your tub and inspect all the grossness. Then get to rinsing. A handheld shower head is great for this.

wash your backpack

First, I like to give a quick rinse with the hand held and then fill the tub with fresh water. Then I swish some more and some more. I’m trying my best to get all the dirt and soap out. Don’t forget to push in on any mesh/foam panels to help them “breathe” in some fresh water and push out yucky.

I keep rinsing, and sometimes I even head outside and use the hose to finish rinsing it. Once you are confident you have got all the dirt and soap out, get ready to dry.

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Dry your pack

You have swished and rinsed well, now its time to get it dry!

Shake it off

Before you set to dry, try and get as much excess water off as you can. Give a little shake and make sure to check the pockets. The pockets sometimes can hold water. You can also gently towel off the pack, especially in the pockets to help with drying. Don’t rub too aggressively to avoid damaging the PU.

Avoid direct sun and let dry

After you gave it a little shake, set your pack out to dry. Avoid direct sun as the UV rays can breakdown the material faster. A shady, well-ventilated spot will do the trick. In the summer, our packs dry outside. If the weather is cooler, our packs get put in front of a fan to dry.

Drying time can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days depending on the pack. The last thing to dry is typically the thick back padding.

Storing your backpack to keep it clean

Now that your pack is all sparkly clean, you can finally put it away. Make sure to re-attach anything you removed (using the picture you took). Fasten the belts for storage purposes and keep in a dry, well ventilated area.

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All fresh and clean!

Get Ready for your next adventure

Washing your backpack is an easy way to keep your gear lasting (and looking great) for years to come! Now, get to work planning your next adventure!

Related Articles:

How to Wash Your Backpack and Kid Carriers

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  • Jami and her husband Greg were born and raised in Michigan, but now call Appleton, WI home. They have two little girls, Kylie and Nora, and two Springer pups, Reece and Lucie. They love getting out as a family camping, hiking, hunting, running, biking, and just playing outside. Jami and her family love spending free time in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula looking for adventure. Jami mostly stays home with her girls but also works part-time as an Athletic Trainer and a Personal Trainer. She also enjoys helping other families get outside as much as possible.

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