We all know it goes: that shiny and new backpack becomes a little worse for wear after a few months of riding on the bus, being dragged along the halls and getting chucked on the playground. Too early to get a new backpack, too late to un-do the mystery stains. But guess what? You can totally clean your kid’s backpack. And prevent it from getting too darn gross, too. Here’s how to clean, disinfect and refresh that backpack! 

photo: iStock

How to Machine Wash Your Backpack

Yes, most likely you can wash it in the washing machine (unless it’s leather or has leather or suede trim/bottom, in which case you'll want to use a hand-washing method). Use a gentle cycle and and use your regular laundry detergent, but don't use very much detergent. Here's the real trick, though: place the backpack inside a pillowcase or washable laundry bag. Make sure the pillowcase is tied at the top. Be sure and spot clean (see below) any tough mystery stains before machine-washing.

Let it air dry. Be sure and open all pockets and compartments to let it dry out thoroughly.

Don’t put it in the dryer. Strange things will happen.

Tip: Make sure you empty the backpack of all notes, chewed up pens, half-eaten apples, fidget spinners, tiny erasers shaped like food or any other items.

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How to Hand-Wash Your Backpack

Fill a tub or sink with lukewarm water and use a mild soap or detergent directly in the water. Before you submerge your backpack, make sure you’ve cleaned it out entirely and spot treated any tough spots.

If you have a Jansport backpack with a suede bottom or leather bottom use this method minus the detergent. 

Submerge the bag in the water and “agitate” slightly to get it clean. Use an old toothbrush to scrub the zippers, mesh areas and embroidered threads.

Once you’ve washed it, drain the soapy water and refill with clean water to rinse.

Soak in clean water and then squeeze out as much water as you can. 

Air dry. 

Tip: Keep the backpack tidier by tossing in snacks that won’t spill out of their packaging and rub into the bottom or inner lining. It also helps to provide snacks you know they will actually devour like these Jif® Power Ups our editors (and their kids) love. 

photo: iStock

How to Spot Clean & Disinfect

Use a tiny bit of detergent in water and spot clean with a clean sponge.

Use a an old toothbrush to scrub the zippers, mesh areas and embroidered threads.

For really tough spots, try a spot-cleaning stick or stain remover.

Don’t let the mixture of detergent or stain remover dry out before rinsing it off with clean water or washing the bag using one of the methods above.

Tip: If your kiddo’s pack has been exposed to something like Athlete’s foot or another fungus, or you can just tell it is extra funk-tastic (your PE shorts have been in there how long??) use a spot cleaning method as above but sub in a disinfectant like Pine-Sol (never use bleach).

—Amber Guetebier

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