Back in my school days, the end of August brought me bittersweet feelings. You see, summer has always been my absolute favorite time of year and I never wanted it to end. I did anticipate my return to school to catch up with friends, obviously go back to school shopping to get new school supplies and clothing, and of course, see what the coming school year had in store for me.

We asked you what your biggest back to school cleaning challenges were… and boy did you tell us! So, here are some answers.

How to Clean a Backpack

The number one question we were asked is of course, how to clean a backpack. I get this, I used to cram everything into my school bag, with little regard for its clean and orderly carriage. Needless to say, there were always interesting things lurking in and on my school bag, which is why cleaning it would have been a great idea.  So for all of you, years after school has ended for me, I’ll explain the right way to do it.

Firstly, all bags are not created equal. Usually, they are made with similar materials, but you still need to check the fabric care label to determine the proper way to clean the bag.  Materials have different care requirements, so be sure to pay attention to the label to avoid damaging the bag.


Pre-treat any stains ahead of time with your stain remover of choice. Just don’t use anything that can bleach. I used my homemade version found here, but you can use anyone that you like. For stains and goopy globs, soak the bag for an hour or two in OxiClean before washing.

Machine Wash & Hang To Dry

Most care tags should say machine washable, in which case you machine wash in cold water on a gentle cycle, using gentle detergent. If there are jewels or decals on the bag, they may come out in the wash, so you might want to consider hand washing if that is the case. Further, if there are a bunch of straps dangling off the bag, you can either remove them and wash by hand, or place the backpack in a laundry bag or pillowcase to keep the straps at bay.

If you can’t machine wash the schoolbag, you can hand wash it by using warm water and dish liquid or laundry detergent. Then clean gently with a scrub brush, which will help clean the tough material and get stains out. This can be done in a basin sink or bathtub.  If the material is delicate, consider using a sponge instead.

Once washed, hang the backpack to dry.  Avoid placing in the dryer, only because dryer heat can ruin certain fabrics.  On that note, if you can hang the bag to dry in the sun, bonus points for extra deodorizing!

How to Clean a Lunch Bag or Lunch Box

We also get asked quite often how to clean lunch bags and lunch boxes.  With the advent of ‘litterless lunches’, a lot more goes into and gets stored (read: garbage) in lunch bags and lunch boxes.  This means additional cleaning and diligence is required in maintaining said lunch carrying mechanism.

Usually, lunch bags have foamy inserts between the exterior and interior, and a gentle plastic lining. The exterior is a similar material to that of a backpack, so fairly durable and easy to clean.

We’ll apply the same cleaning method here as we did for the backpack; we’ll check the care tag and see if it can be machine washed.  Most good quality bags can.  Use cold water and gentle detergent, and wash on a gentle cycle. To hand wash the bag, use the same mixture of dish liquid and warm water, and a soft sponge or microfiber cloth to wipe clean.  Set your lunch bag to hang dry, again we’re going to avoid the dryer here.

If you’ve got a stain in the plastic lining, you can create a paste of baking soda and water to remove it, simply apply with the sponge and wipe off, then rinse well.

To clean a lunch box, simply wash using a sponge and warm, soapy water. Leave upside down to air dry.

To deodorize a smelly lunch bag or box, simply leaving baking soda in it overnight. Then dump it out and wipe clean in the morning.

DIY Backpack Deodorizer

It is no secret, given how inattentive kids and adults alike can be to backpacks and sports bags, that these carryalls begin to stink to high heaven. Fear not, because there are a few simple ways to deodorize bags which are cheap and cheerful.

For starters, flip the bag inside out and leave it to hang out in the sun for a few days.  The sun has a way with smells and can magically deodorize all kinds of items, including school bags.

Another idea is to place a fabric softener sheet in the bottom of the bag, which will not deodorize but will cover any unsavory odors. I find this to be too strong, but if you like it you can try it.

For a more natural method of the fabric softener sheet idea, you can try this instead.  Fill a bowl halfway with water, add 10 drops of your favorite essential oil (or a mix of 2 or 3), and then soak the cloth in the bowl for about 10 minutes. Wring out gently and hang to dry. The cloth will smell nice and you can place that at the bottom of the bag.

Finally, you can use newspaper to deodorize. It’s hard to believe, but newspaper can absorb odors. Start by removing all bag contents and crumple up several pieces of newspaper.  Then, gently spritz the newspaper with water and vanilla extract (don’t soak the stuff, just a light mist will do) and stuff the backpack with the newspaper. Let the bag sit for the weekend. When the newspaper is removed, you’ll have no smells in the bag, save for vanilla!

Do you have any back to school cleaning questions?  Let us know!

If you’re looking for more tips and tricks to keep in mind when cleaning around the house check out our E-Book Bundle! It gives you access to our E-Books My 3-Wave Cleaning System, 50 DIY Cleaning Recipes, and The Complete Guide to Essential Oils!


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Melissa Maker is an entrepreneur, cleaning expert, founder of Toronto’s most popular boutique cleaning service, and star of the Clean My Space channel on YouTube (but she still hates to clean!). Every week, Melissa delivers new videos dishing expert advice on cleaning products, tools, DIY substitutes, and practical, timesaving solutions to everyday problems. Melissa has appeared on the Today Show, and has been featured in InStyle, Real Simple, and Better Homes and Gardens.


  1. Hello, I was travelling to a mountainous place for hiking last week utilising public transportation, and due to carelessness, a stain has appeared on my black backpack. I tried to wash it, but the stains remained. So, since these stains are so bad-looking, could you please explain me how to get rid of them?

  2. Thank you so much for this fantastic article!! This was a fantastic article. It’s incredibly informative and helpful because you explain how to clean a backpack and a lunchbox, something I didn’t know about previously. Thank you once more!!

  3. Hi, so much great post, Melissa!! I really enjoyed this information guide. It is very useful and helpful, you tell that ways for cleaning the backpack and lunch box which I didn’t know before. Thank you once again.

  4. Thank you so much for this great post!! I really enjoyed this article. It is very useful and helpful, you tell that ways for cleaning the backpack and lunch box which I didn’t know before. Thanks again!!

  5. My husband’s coffee container leaked everywhere in his backpack, it says hand wash only. How can i get this smell out ? Lysol Wipes? Febreze? I’m really tempted to try the gentle cycle on my washer ????

  6. Hi Melissa, i loved your blog…
    I have a problem, my essential oil blends (hand sanitizer) spilled inside my bag. How to clean it. Thanks

  7. Thankyou so much Melissa!! I really enjoyed this article. It is very useful and helpful, you tell that ways for cleaning the backpack and lunch box which I did’nt know before. Thanks again!!

  8. I really enjoyed this post Melissa! I can’t believe that all the times I’ve cleaned backpacks and lunch boxes, I totally didn’t think about using baking soda to clean OR deodorize. I also didn’t think about using fabric softener sheets, although I’m with you, I think that would be a little too strong. And I did not know that newspapers absorbed odors!! How cool. That definitely will be something I test out in the near future.


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