Save yourself from scrubbing with these easy cleaning tips

Kids tend to keep their lunch bags and backpacks about as tidy as their rooms. Cookie crumbs and apple cores are left in their lunch bag for days. Open glue sticks, uncapped markers and the stains of long-lost juice boxes befoul their backpacks. Sadly, it’s the parents most often stuck with the icky, gooey messes and clean up.

Thankfully, though, there are ways to restore a child’s lunch bag or backpack to like-new status, free from everything foul, extending the life of the bags and saving you money. All it takes are a few simple steps and some help from your washing machine.

Lunch bags

Children’s lunch bags are notorious for being home to forgotten foods and unidentified sticky spots. The good news? To save you lots of hard scrubbing by hand, many lunch bags can be thrown into your washing machine.

First, check for care labels; they’ll let you know if your bag is machine washable. Most high-quality lunch bags are durable enough to stand machine agitation. If you’re not sure, wash by hand.

Next, open any closed compartments; you might be surprised what you find! Once empty, toss the lunch bag into the machine and run on a gentle cycle with cold water and mild detergent. When the cycle finishes, hang the lunch bag to air dry.

To keep your kids’ lunch bags smelling fresh and new day-to-day, use anti-bacterial wipes regularly. Also, periodically pour a small amount of baking soda in them overnight to absorb odors; then toss the used baking soda in the morning.


Backpacks are another gathering space for sticky candy and spilled soda that requires regular cleaning to keep them looking and functioning like new. Similar to lunch bags, check for care labels and cleaning directions before washing.

When prepping a backpack for the wash, remove every scrap of paper, food wrapper and bread crumb, then double-check each nook and zippered cranny for items left behind. Place all discovered valuable items in a large zippered plastic bag to keep them organized until they’re ready to go back in the pack.

Wipe off loose dirt from the backpack’s exterior and remove loose straps or buckles. If there are just a couple dirty spots on the outside, spot-treat them with warm, soapy water. But, if the entire bag is dirty, pretreat dirty spots with a stain fighter, then machine wash. If the backpack has anything such as cardboard backing or reinforcement, the bag will have to be scrubbed instead by hand in warm, soapy water.

For best results, put the backpack inside an old pillowcase or laundry bag to keep straps and zippers from getting caught in the washing machine. If you don’t have a pillowcase, you can turn the backpack inside out. Select a gentle cycle, then wash in cold or lukewarm water with mild detergent.

When the wash cycle is done, wipe excess water off the backpack, stuff it with dry towels to retain its shape, and hang it to air dry. Presto! Your child’s backpack is magically restored.

The next time the state of your child’s lunch bag or backpack leaves you shaking your head, keep these tips in mind so you can clean them with confidence.