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How To Clean Your Canvas Backpack

Canvas backpacks are a perfect blend of durability and style, making them a go-to for just about everyone—students, professionals, travelers, and outdoor enthusiasts alike. Whether you're hauling textbooks, laptops, or hiking gear, these backpacks can handle it all. But let's face it, with all the adventures we take them on, they can get pretty grimy.

Keeping your canvas backpack clean doesn't just make it look good—it helps it last longer, too. This guide is here to show you how to clean your backpack thoroughly and deal with those pesky stains like coffee spills or oil spots. By the end of this, you'll know exactly how to care for your canvas backpack, ensuring it's always ready for whatever your day throws at you—be it a bustling city commute, a weekend hike, or just everyday use.

Preparing Your Backpack for Cleaning

day owl backpack with open zipper

Preparation is key to ensuring a thorough and safe cleaning process for your canvas backpack. Follow these steps to start on the right foot:

  1. Empty your backpack - Remove everything from the primary storage areas. Check every zipper, pocket, and hidden compartment for smaller items like pens, keys, or coins that may be forgotten.
  2. Shake out any loose debris - Turn your backpack upside down and shake it vigorously to remove dirt and debris that may have settled in corners and seams. 
  3. Brush off surface dirt - Use a soft-bristled brush or dry cloth to gently brush off any dust or dirt on the backpack’s surface. 
  4. Spot-test your bag - Before using any detergent or cleaning solution on the entire backpack, do a spot test to ensure the fabric won’t be damaged or discolored. Choose an inconspicuous area, such as the underside of a strap or a bottom corner. Apply a small amount of your chosen cleaning solution to the area using a cloth or a sponge and gently scrub. Rise off and allow it to dry. If the color or texture remains intact, you can proceed confidently with cleaning the entire backpack. 

By thoroughly preparing your backpack before cleaning, you minimize the risk of damage and ensure the cleaning process is both safe and effective.

General Cleaning Methods

When it comes to cleaning your canvas backpack, hand washing is often the best method. It’s gentle on the fabric and allows you to focus on heavily soiled areas without risking damage to the material. By scrubbing with a soft brush and using mild detergent, you can effectively clean your backpack while maintaining its durability and appearance. However, if your backpack is particularly grimy and hand washing isn't quite doing the trick, machine washing can be a practical alternative.

Hand Washing

  • Prepare a cleaning solution - Fill a basin with lukewarm water and a small amount of detergent. Avoid using harsh chemicals (like bleach) that will damage the canvas fibers or cause any discoloration. 
  • Scrub the bag gently - Douse a soft sponge, cloth, or brush into the cleaning solution and use circular motions to scrub the surface of the backpack. Pay special attention to heavily soiled areas (often the bottom and straps) and zipper areas where dirt tends to accumulate. Apply a stronger concentration of detergent to any tough stains and let it sit for a few minutes before scrubbing. 
  • Rise your backpack thoroughly - Once you’ve cleaned your backpack’s surface, rinse it under cold water to remove any soap residue. Leftover detergent may weaken the fabric over time, so make sure to rinse it well. 
  • Air dry your bag - Gently squeeze out any excess water from your bag and hang it in a shaded, well-ventilated area to completely air dry. Avoid leaving it in direct sunlight to prevent color fading. 

Machine Washing

If your backpack still isn’t clean after thoroughly hand washing, you can try machine washing. Since Day Owl bags are made with waxed canvas, we generally advise against machine washing. 

  • Place your backpack in a laundry bag - Protect your back from unnecessary agitation by placing it in a mesh laundry bag or old pillowcase. Secure any straps or loose items that might get tangled. 
  • Choose the right cycle - Set the washing machine to a gentle cycle with cold water. Use a small amount of mild detergent—too much could leave a residue on the fabric. Stick only with detergent and skip the fabric softener, which can degrade the canvas material. 
  • Air dry your bag - After your wash cycle is complete, remove the backpack and gently reshape it. Hang it in a shaded, well-vented area. Check the pockets before storing to ensure all the moisture has evaporated. 

Treating Common Stains

Different types of stains require unique treatment methods to effectively remove them without damaging the fabric. Here’s how to tackle common stains.

Coffee Stains

Coffee spills can be stubborn, leaving dark, noticeable marks on your canvas backpack. Tackling these stains quickly and effectively is crucial to prevent them from setting in. Follow these steps to restore your backpack to its original state:

  • Blot immediately - Use a clean cloth or paper towel to blot the stain as soon as it happens. This will help absorb the excess liquid to prevent it from spreading any further. 
  • Apply a baking soda paste - Mix baking soda and water to form a thick paste. Apply that directly to the coffee stain and scrub the area gently with a soft-bristled brush or cloth. Leave it on for about 15-20 minutes. 
  • Rinse thoroughly - Rinse your bag with cold water until the paste is completely gone. If any stains persist, repeat the process. 

Oil and Grease Stains

Oil and grease stains are notorious for being difficult to remove due to their slippery nature. With the right approach, you can lift these stains without damaging the fabric. Here's how to handle oil and grease stains on your canvas backpack:

  • Absorb excess oil - Sprinkle baking soda, cornstarch, or baby powder over the oil stain to absorb as much oil as possible. Let it sit for at least an hour or longer if the stain is older.
  • Brush away powder - After the absorbing powder has soaked up the excess oil, brush it off gently.
  • Apply a mild dish soap - Use mild dish soap or laundry detergent to break down the remaining oil residue. Apply a small amount directly to the stain, and use a soft-bristled brush or cloth to scrub gently in circular motions.
  • Rinse and repeat - Rinse thoroughly with cold water, then inspect the fabric. If any stain persists, repeat the process.

Ink Stains

Ink stains can be particularly challenging, given their strong pigmentation. Whether it's a pen leak or an accidental mark, it's important to treat ink stains promptly to avoid permanent damage. These steps will help you remove ink stains efficiently:

  • Blot with rubbing alcohol - Moisten a clean cloth or cotton swab with rubbing alcohol. Blot the ink stain gently to lift the ink without spreading it. Avoid scrubbing, which can cause the ink to spread.
  • Repeat as needed - If the stain is particularly stubborn, repeat the process, using a new section of cloth or cotton swab each time.
  • Finish with detergent - Once the ink stain has faded, apply a small amount of gentle detergent to the stained area and scrub with a soft brush or cloth. Rinse thoroughly with cold water. 

Grass Stains

Grass stains are common after outdoor activities and can leave green or brown marks on your backpack. While they might seem tough, grass stains can be removed with a few simple techniques. Here's how to get your backpack looking clean again:

  • Treat with vinegar - Mix a solution of white vinegar and water (equal parts) and apply directly to the stained area. Scrub with a soft brush or cloth, then let it sit for 15-20 minutes.
  • Apply a mild detergent - Follow up with a mild detergent, scrubbing in circular motions to remove the stain.
  • Rinse thoroughly - Rinse under cold water, repeating the process as needed. 


Keeping your canvas backpack in tip-top shape is easier than you might think. With a bit of regular cleaning and some quick action on stains, you can keep it looking great and lasting for years. Regular maintenance and proper storage will ensure your backpack is always ready for the next adventure. So, take a little time to care for your canvas backpack. It’s been with you through thick and thin, and with these tips, it’ll stay in great shape for many more journeys to come.

In the market for a new backpack? Day Owl’s easy-to-clean backpacks are designed with sustainability in mind, using recycled materials without compromising on quality or functionality. These backpacks offer thoughtful features such as multiple compartments, comfortable straps, and a sleek design that fits seamlessly into any lifestyle—whether you're commuting to work, heading to class, or embarking on an outdoor adventure.

Ian Rosenberger