An expert explains how to take backpacks from soiled to spotless in no time.

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Credit: CHELSEA CAVANAUGH

Between exploding pens, juice spills, and dirt, backpacks can get filthy fast. And when your kids' backpacks are in need of a good scrub down, you may wonder: Can you put a backpack in the washer and dryer? While it sure would make the task easier, not all backpacks can go in the washing machine-and backpacks should never go in the dryer. Always check care instructions, but most canvas, nylon, and fabric backpacks can go in the washing machine. Leather backpacks or knapsacks with intricate details, like delicate embroidery or leather trim, should never go in the washing machine. Even gentle cycles and mild detergent can damage these types of materials.

To keep backpacks clean, make it a habit to empty them every night, being especially diligent about removing any uneaten food or dirty containers. If something spilled throughout the course of the day, shake any crumbs into the trash can and wipe out with a damp cloth. "If the backpack has visible stains and dirt marks, it's time to throw it in the washer for a quick clean," says Leanne Stapf, chief operating officer at The Cleaning Authority. "If there are no visible spots, a good rule of thumb is to wash it about twice a year to remove crumbs, dust, and hidden grime." Ready to send that backpack for a spin? Follow the below care instructions, courtesy of Stapf.

How to Clean a Backpack In the Washing Machine

Unzip all compartments and empty the backpack entirely, taking care to make sure all interior and exterior pockets are clear. Then, turn the backpack inside out to avoid any straps or zippers getting caught or damaged in the washing machine. Before placing the backpack in the washing machine, vacuum any crumbs that may be stuck in the crevices. Once the backpack is free from any loose debris and crumbs, place it in the washing machine. Add mild detergent according to package instructions, then wash on a gentle cycle with cold water. When the cycle is complete, lay the backpack flat to dry, avoiding direct sunlight. (The sun's harsh rays can damage the fabric or cause it to fade.) Do not use or store until the backpack is fully dry.

How to Hand Wash a Backpack

Similar to machine-wash instructions, empty the backpack entirely, turn it inside out, and use a vacuum to clear any crumbs or dust that may be stuck inside the crevices. If there are any exterior stains, take a toothbrush and a mild detergent and gently scrub the affected areas. Let sit for 15-20 minutes. Next, grab two buckets. Fill one with lukewarm water and mild detergent (add 1 teaspoon of detergent for every cup of lukewarm water in the bucket); fill the other with cold water. Soak the backpack in the lukewarm water and detergent until saturated and use a soft cloth to gently scrub the entire backpack. Once finished, rinse the backpack in the bucket with cold water until all soap is removed. Let the backpack air dry on a flat surface, avoiding direct sunlight. Do not use or store until the backpack is fully dry.

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