Skip to main content
Parenting

Wash your kid's backpack—it has more germs than a toilet!

An easy guide for cleaning the nastiest bag in the house.

Recommendations are independently chosen by Reviewed’s editors. Purchases you make through our links may earn us a commission.

The school year has barely begun, but your kid’s backpacks are probably already showing just how nasty they can get.

Kids’ backpacks go through a lot. They are dropped on dirty floors and dragged across playgrounds, picking up germs and bacteria along the way.

Here’s the dirty truth: Your child’s school backpack has 31 times the number of germs as your cell phone and 28 times the amount of a toilet seat. Knowing how to wash a backpack properly is essential.

Before you fumigate your home or take a blowtorch to it, we have a few tips on how to wash a backpack while maintaining its longevity.

A child looks at his backpack while germs float behind him.
Credit: Lisa Lawrence / Reviewed / Getty Images / VikiVector

Your kids' backpack has 28 times the amount of germs as a toilet seat.

Can you wash a backpack?

The short answer is: For the most part, yes. While care instructions do vary and different types of backpacks require different types of care. Check the care label on your child’s backpack but, for the most part, all backpacks can be washed to some degree.

How best to wash a backpack—and get it really clean—is what we are here to help you with. Cleaning a backpack doesn’t need to be a daunting task if you follow a few simple steps.

How often should you wash a backpack?

Fortunately, a backpack doesn't require frequent washings. For a school backpack, we recommend washing it at each extended school break to freshen it up and to kill any germs it may have picked up on school floors and playgrounds.

How to wash a backpack

The way you'll wash your child's backpack will depend largely on care instructions and if it's machine washable or if it needs to be hand washed. Most fabric backpacks can be washed by hand or machine-washed. Leather or leather-trimmed backpacks should be cleaned as you would a leather purse or jacket.

What you’ll need:

  • Mild detergent
  • Sponge or washcloth
  • Soft-bristled brush
  • Pillowcase or laundry bag
  • A towel

1. Get out the grime

Two Pottery Barn backpacks and a germ.
Credit: Lisa Lawrence / Reviewed / Getty Images/ bandian1122

Always let your backpacks air dry.

The first thing you need to do is empty the backpack and shake it free of crumbs, pencil shavings, and any other debris that may be hiding in the crevices. Triple-check every pocket, including the outside water bottle pocket.

The nastier the particles in your kids' backpack, the more likely seams, zippers, and crevices will hold onto those particles, so we recommend following up with a vacuum nozzle to get deep into tight corners to suck out any tenacious debris.

Black+Decker Handheld Vacuum at Amazon for $40

2. Scrub and soak the backpack

If you’re handwashing a backpack or if you need to address something particularly grimy, a scrub and soak is a good place to start.

Submerge the backpack in a solution of lukewarm water and laundry detergent for about 30 minutes to allow the soapy water to break down oils and dirt. Then follow up with a soft-bristled brush to get a deeper clean in tough areas. For mesh areas you may want to use a soft cloth or a sponge to avoid snagging the fabric.

3. Rinse it well

Rinse with clean cool water until the water runs completely clear. Once the bag is thoroughly rinsed, squeeze out the excess water by rolling the backpack in a clean, dry towel.

If you’re handwashing get the backpack dry enough to hang without constant dripping. If you’re following up with a machine washing, you only need to get it dry enough to not weigh down your washing machine.

4. Pop it in a pillowcase

Make sure all the pockets are unzipped and anything hanging or attached to the backpack is removed. Then, slip the backpack into an old pillowcase or a large mesh laundry bag.

This will protect the straps and zippers from getting caught on any parts of your washing machine.

Large Mesh Drawstring Bag at Amazon for $10

5. Use your washer's gentle cycle

An L.L. Bean backpack and a happy germ
Credit: Lisa Lawrence / Reviewed / Getty Images/ bandian1122

While some backpacks can withstand a machine washing, you should still follow the care instructions closely.

Add a small amount of bleach-free liquid laundry detergent to your machine and wash the backpack on your machine’s gentle cycle using cold water.

We recommend you only wash with like items, like your child’s lunch bag, sleeping bags, picnic blankets, etc. The dyes and hardware on a backpack could compromise other delicates.

6. Don't use your dryer—air dry it

Even if your backpack is sturdy enough to make it through a machine wash cycle, we have yet to find one that can make it through a dryer. In most circumstances, the padding of the bag can be compromised during the drying cycle, so putting your child's backpack in a dryer is discouraged.

Instead, it’s best to let your backpack air dry. Leave all zippers unzipped and invert pockets where possible, then hang your pack upside down. We like using a drying rack that allows you to prop open the main compartment of the pack, allowing for additional airflow.

Make sure the pack is completely dry before using or applying protective finishes like waterproofing sprays.

Collapsible Drying Rack at Amazon for $23

How to spot treat stains on a backpack

If you find your child's backpack has some stubborn stains, you may want to pretreat those areas. Find a pretreat solution that's chlorine-free and dye-free and work it into the stain with either a soft-bristled brush or a toothbrush. Then let it sit for about 30 minutes or according to instructions.

OxyClean Gel Sticks 2-pack at Amazon for $12

How to disinfect a backpack beyond a simple cleaning

A jansport backpack on a sunburst background
Credit: Jansport / Reviewed

Ta da! A totally clean, spic and span backpack.

You won’t need to disinfect your child’s backpack during every wash cycle; however, disinfecting is occasionally necessary.

Chlorine bleach can damage the fabric and straps on a backpack and decrease its overall lifespan. Instead, we recommend using a pine oil disinfectant. Look for a brand that has at least 80% pine oil, which includes brands like Pine-Sol and Lysol Pine Action.

Mix a one-to-one solution of the disinfectant and hot to warm water. Then use a clean sponge or cloth to carefully wipe down both inside and outside surfaces, paying close attention to the bottom of the bag and the straps.

You can also opt to add the pine cleaner to your washing machine cycle per label instructions; however, these pine solutions tend to work best in hot water and it's never advisable to run a backpack through a hot water machine cycle.

Pine-Sol 2-pack at Amazon for $13

Related content

The product experts at Reviewed have all your shopping needs covered. Follow Reviewed on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, or Flipboard for the latest deals, product reviews, and more.

Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.