How to Clean a Canvas Backpack is reader supported. This page uses affiliate links and when you click on an affiliate link, and make a purchase, we receive a small compensation at no cost to you. See our disclosure policy for more information.

Canvas backpacks are the original backpack. When you think about a bag you can take with you to school, hiking, or road trips, what you are picturing, I can bet, is a canvas backpack. Canvas backpacks are sturdy and rugged. These sturdy bags can take a lot of abuse.

After a while, they can start looking dingy, and the coating that creates a waterproof barrier can begin to break down. That is what happens when they are your go-to bag. 

Luckily, it is easy to clean these and renew the moisture barrier that keeps them waterproof and rugged. It takes a few products and a little bit of time but is not complicated at all.

Below we dive into the products you need and the easy steps to keep your backpack clean and dry. With this method of cleaning a canvas backpack, yours can last you for years to come. 

Materials needed

The tools and products you need to clean and waterproof your backpack are pretty simple. Many you may have at home. Others you can pick up at the store or from online retailers relatively inexpensively.

Most of the supplies are general cleaning supplies, but there are a few specialty products you will need to buy and add to your cleaning collection. You will need:

That’s it. The nice thing about some of the above products, like the oxygen cleaner and water shield spray, is that they will last you quite a while. You can even use them for other cleaning and waterproofing you may be looking to do.

Getting started cleaning your canvas backpack

Now you have everything you need for cleaning and waterproofing your backpack. Let’s get down to cleaning. One important thing to remember with this process is that drying your backpack may take several days between cleaning and reproofing.

You want to plan to clean it when you do not have an upcoming hiking trip or need this for school on Monday. Make sure you have a bag to use as a backup until your canvas backpack is dry and ready to use again.

Though this may seem like common sense, always empty your bag before cleaning.

10 steps to clean a canvas backpack:

  1. Use the dry cleaning brush to clean off any surface dirt.
  2. Fill the spray bottle with warm water and spray the backpack until all outside surfaces are wet.
  3. If there are any stains, spray with the oxygen cleaner and let it sit for 5-10 minutes. You may have to wait longer depending on the severity of the stain.
  4. Fill a bowl or small bucket with warm water and laundry detergent. Soak a soft rag until it is saturated.
  5. Wipe down the inside of the backpack with the laundry detergent and warm water solution. Follow with a clean rag rinsed in warm water.
  6. Place a bath towel in the backpack to help hold its shape and make it easier to clean and scrub the outside of the backpack.
  7. With the soapy rag, wipe down the outside of the bag.
  8. Dip the cleaning brush in the detergent solution and gently scrub the backpack using a small circular motion.
  9. Wipe down the backpack with a clean wet rag to remove excess detergent solution and dirt that was lifted during scrubbing.
  10. Remove the bath towel and place the backpack somewhere cool and dry.

That’s it! Ten easy steps to take your canvas backpack from dirty and dingy to looking new again. Once dry, you can move on to replacing the waterproof barrier. It is an important part of how to clean a canvas backpack.

Waterproofing your canvas backpack

One of the features of a canvas backpack that makes them so durable and popular is the waterproof barrier on the material. This barrier means if you get caught in the rain at the bus stop, while hiking, or walking through campus to class, your backpack and its content will not get ruined.

After time and after cleaning, you will want to replace this barrier to keep the waterproofing at its best. To waterproof your canvas backpack, you will need your water shield spray and a bath towel. It is important to remember your backpack must be completely dry before applying waterproofing spray to it. The steps to follow are:

  1. Place a bath towel in your backpack to make it easier to apply the spray while holding its shape. 
  2. Following the directions on your product, hold the can 6-8 inches from the surface and slowly, evenly, and uniformly spray your backpack. Do not saturate the bag with the spray. The spray may darken the fabric slightly. You do not have to worry. It will lighten in color as it dries.
  3. Place your bag with the towel still inside somewhere cool to dry. 

Your clean and waterproofed backpack will be ready to use as soon as it is dry. You can remove the bath towel and pack full of all your school or hiking things again.

Frequently asked questions about cleaning canvas backpacks

Are canvas backpacks waterproof?

Cotton canvas backpacks are made by weaving cotton materials together and are not inherently waterproof but are water-resistant. Modern canvas backpacks are made from a variety of materials and some of which are synthetic and have certain levels of water resistance and waterproofing in some cases.

Can you deodorize a canvas backpack without washing it?

Yes, canvas backpacks can be deodorized without having to wash them. There are a few methods for solving this problem, one such popular solution is to sprinkle a small amount of baking soda into a backpack and allowing it to sit outside in the sunlight for 24 hours.

Can you waterproof a canvas backpack?

Canvas backpacks can be waterproofed using a few different methods, such as waxing, using alum powder and detergent, or use Scotch Guard Spray and Seam Grip.

A clean backpack is a happy backpack

Your backpack is always there for you when you need it. It takes a whole lot of abuse. It is thrown in cars, on bus seats, and in the dirt on hikes.

When cleaned and protected well, it can last you years. A few simple products you can find in-store or online will make it easy and affordable to keep your canvas backpack looking its best while maintaining its waterproof barrier.

This article helped break down how easy it is to hand-clean your canvas backpack to make sure it is ready and rugged for more abuse to come! Canvas backpacks are a classic for a reason. They are tough, and up for any environment, you can throw them in!