Your backpack may be designed to withstand the harsh elements outdoors, but caring for them is a whole other story. Some people are always keen on getting their waterproof backpacks cleaned after every adventure. However, there are others who think that washing waterproof gear will ruin the “waterproofing.” If you believe this too, then maybe you should dust off that lame excuse to wash your gear and enlighten the plain ignorance.
All gear makers perform extensive in-house testing to ensure that their products can withstand the rigors of washing. Keeping your backpack clean will significantly prolong its life and reduce the risk of mildew which could eventually be their undoing. Therefore, washing per se does not destroy the waterproof coating, but harsh cleaning methods will.
The “20/80” Rule
Some backpackers believe in what they call the “20/80” rule in washing waterproof backpacks. This means that after 20 washings, the item retains 80% of its original water repellency. This is applicable to waterproof-breathable gear, but for those which are polyurethane-coated for complete waterproofing the material can be tougher. So, don’t hesitate to give your trusty backpack the proper cleaning it needs. You just have to know the right way of taking care of your gear for it to be able to serve you for more adventures to come.
Here are tips on how to properly clean your waterproof backpack.
Prior to Washing
- Always check the care label or any tags with washing instructions to ensure that your method of washing won’t damage the bag. Most of the time, your backpack comes with a manufacturer’s cleaning recommendations, so be sure to follow it.
- Depending on the size of your backpack, you can choose whether to hand wash or machine wash. Some say that it is best to avoid the washing machine. To be sure, you can always go back to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Empty all the pockets, and in doing so leave every pocket unzipped or unfastened.
- Inspect the straps for any tears and abrasions. Remove them and hand wash them separately to prevent further damage when you toss it into the machine.
- If your pack comes with a removable hipbelt and harness, remove them from the pack body. Also remove any detachable pockets and clean these separately from the main pack.
- Some packs come with metal frames, make sure to remove these prior to washing.
- Brush off or vacuum the pack outside and inside to remove any dirt, rocks, sticks, and other debris thoroughly. If you notice a stain, food spill, or plant matter, wipe it off right away using a damp cloth and mild antibacterial soap or detergent. This protects the material from staining and it also prevents buildup which could attract bugs that can cause the material to wear.
- If you are only going for some light cleaning use lukewarm water (hot water can cause colors to bleed), mild soap, and a soft brush. Don’t pour anything directly on the bag. Dissolve your cleansers in water before adding the bag to the water.
- Lightly scrub any spots and stains on the exterior using a sponge and a little soap. Also use a clean sponge to lightly wipe the interiors without any soap needed.
- For a deep cleaning hand wash, you can fill a bathtub or a large sink with about 6-7 inches of lukewarm water. Use a non-detergent soap to prevent any soap film being left behind. If you choose detergent, make sure it is free of dyes, fragrances, and chemicals that could damage your bag. Then, submerge your pack and agitate it with your hands for a few minutes. Gently brush off the exterior spots and sponge off the interiors.
- Never use regular detergent or fabric softeners as these can damage the material, especially in waterproof backpacks.
- Use some eucalyptus oil if you want to get rid of odors, and avoid using bleach.
- Pay close attention and spend more time on areas that come in contact with the body such as the back and stomach straps to thoroughly remove any sweat and grime.
- Also pay close attention to your zippers. They need occasional cleaning to remove dust, fine sand, and other particles that might have gotten stuck within its grooves. Just run it under water, wipe it with soft cloth and a gentle soapy solution. Don’t scrub it so as not to destroy any protective coating. If a zipper slide gets stuck, there are lubricants - such as silicone grease - that can help fix it.
- If you are going for a machine wash, make sure that your pack can fit well into the space with enough room to move about. Place your backpack in a laundry bag or a pillow case if you have one that is big enough. This prevents the straps and the zipper from getting caught and damaging both the bag and the machine.
- For machine wash, do it on a gentle cycle in cold water.
- Always remember that not all waterproof backpacks can be machine-washed. In fact, it should only be a last resort for cleaning or maintaining your pack. When in doubt, always go back to its manufacturer’s instructions. For most brands, handwashing remains the safest way to wash these kind of bags.
- Drain the soapy water and refill the bathtub, sink or the machine with cool clean water. Be sure to rinse the pack thoroughly.
Drying Your Backpack
- Do not dry it in the dryer, rather, hang it up to dry in the shade or indoors. Avoid direct sunlight because UV rays can degrade the fabric. Other direct heat sources, such as radiators, can also damage the material.
- Hang dry your backpack outdoors or in a well-ventilated area.
- Make sure that your backpack is thoroughly dry before storing it. If you immediately store your bag still with a bit of moisture in it, chances are it will grow some mould which could also affect the waterproof material in the long run.
Re-Waterproof If Necessary
- After years of use and washing, you can renew the fabric’s water repellent property using a reproofer spray. These products may not come cheap but they offer major payoffs down the line. They have the ability to improve the backpack’s material to be water-resistant.
- It is important that you thoroughly clean your bag before applying waterproofing treatment.
Waterproof Backpack Maintenance
Use a Rucksack Liner
Some hikers are no fan of rucksack liners because they tend to take up too much space. But, if you know how to pack them properly you can actually maximise space and divide weight evenly. These things come in reliable waterproof materials and can reduce the risk of spillage that can make the bag soiled and smelly.
The Regular Wipe Down
To minimise dirt buildup inside and outside the pack, wipe it regularly with a damp cloth and a mild detergent. Thoroughly dry it before storing.
Treat Your Bag Well
Hiking packs may be tougher than your regular backpacks, but they still need to be treated well. Avoid dragging them on the ground as these could weaken the material and eventually create holes.You must also be careful of thorns or bushes because these might rip the material should they scrape the surface.
If you are looking for a bag that will keep your things dry even when fully submerged under water, it helps that you consider these features - single compartments and a roll top opening. A backpack with a single compartment means there are less zippers which could potentially compromise the bag. A roll top opening keeps water out in the same way a dry bag would. It creates an airtight protection to keep your gear dry.
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