How to Sustainably Wash Beloved Bags and Purses

How to Sustainably Wash Beloved Bags and Purses

Our bags carry more than our essentials day in and day out. Along with lipsticks, laptops and gym clothes, you can expect to find stains, dirt, and grime — accumulated after long days and weeks of being slung, dropped, zipped and unzipped. So, it’s to be expected that these everyday accessories require a little TLC to keep them clean and fresh. From backpacks and totes to gym bags and purses, keep them in tip-top shape with our step-by-step guide to effectively cleaning all types of bags. 

1. How to wash canvas tote bags

These are the bags we quickly throw over our shoulders when we’re on the go, whether when shopping or taking a walk through the city. Groceries, books, pens — whatever we're carrying. Canvas is heavyweight material, usually made of 100% cotton or cotton-linen blend. A popular tote bag, they’re known for being very durable, making it an ideal material to withstand wear and tear. Needless to say, all that lugging around means they can quickly get dirty. Here’s how to wash canvas bags:

Prep: Empty the bag and gently brush or shake off any loose dirt or debris. 

Pre-treat stains: Spot clean with a mild detergent or mixture of water and white vinegar. Let the solution sit for 10 to 15 minutes before rinsing. 

Machine washing: If you’re using a washing machine, turn the bag inside out, place it in a pillowcase or laundry bag, and wash on a gentle cycle using cold water. Washing in cold is important to avoid color bleeding or shrinking, especially if it’s 100% cotton. Consider using eco-friendly laundry detergent sheets for a mess-free and sustainable wash. 

Hand-washing: Fill a bowl with cold or lukewarm water and dissolve a half-strip of your SaltyLama laundry sheet. (There are two strips to a single sheet.) You can wash several tote bags at a time this way. 

Simply dunk each one in and agitate the water to allow the cleaning solution to penetrate the canvas material. Let the bags soak for about 20 minutes. 

Drying: Air dry the bag away from direct sunlight to prevent it from shrinking. 

2. How to clean leather purses

Whether it’s a timeless purse or a leather satchel, there will come a time when you need to clean it. Let’s get into how to clean leather bags:

Prep: Start by emptying out the bag completely. Flip it upside down and gently shake the bag. Use a damp cloth to wipe away surface dirt that didn’t come out. Avoid using too much water.  

Cleaning: Make a solution using 50/50 water and white vinegar. You can also add a small amount of mild dish soap. Gently wipe the bag using a soft cloth. Rinse the cloth thoroughly and wipe off any soap residue. Repeat until the cloth comes back clean. 

You can do the same to clean the inside lining, but you might need to use a soft bristle brush and a bit more soap. 

Conditioning: Apply a leather conditioner to keep the leather soft and supple. This will keep your leather purse hydrated and preserve its quality. 

Drying: Let the bag air dry naturally, away from direct heat. 

3. How to wash backpacks

Your trusty backpack — it travels with you to the office, school, or simply to the local cafe. Whether it’s packed with books or your laptop, there will come a time when it needs to be cleaned. Here’s how to do it:

Prep: Empty all pockets and compartments. Then, remove any detachable parts and set them aside. 

Cleaning: Use SaltyLama’s eco-friendly laundry detergent sheets to spot clean stains or hand wash in cold water. If machine washing, place it in a pillowcase or a laundry bag to protect straps and zippers. Choose the temperature and wash setting according to the label on the bag. If you can’t find a label, choose “cold” and “gentle.” 

Drying: Hang the backpack upside down or lay it flat to air dry for the best results. Backpacks do not typically do well in the dryer. 

4. Washing suede or velvet bags

If you have a suede or velvet purse, they’ll need extra care to fully restore them. To do so, follow these steps:

Prep: Make sure the bag is empty. Then, brush it gently with a suede brush or soft cloth to remove surface dust. 

Cleaning: Use a special suede cleaner or create a solution of mild soap and water or 50/50 water and white vinegar. Opt for warm water. Gently rub the bag with a soft cloth dipped in the solution. Avoid over-wetting to preserve the material. 

Drying: Let it air dry away from direct heat. Once dry, brush the bag again to restore its texture, and it’s ready for another use. 

5. How to clean synthetic bags

If you’re carrying a polyester purse or nylon tote bag, there are fewer rules to follow when cleaning these materials. However, be sure to avoid hot water. Here’s what you can do. 

Prep: Wipe the bag with a damp cloth to remove surface dirt. 

Cleaning: Use a mild detergent or a SaltyLama laundry sheet to hand wash or machine wash on a gentle cycle with cold water. Check the care label for specific instructions. If there are any embellishments like beads or metallic pieces, spot clean and keep them out of your washing machine. 

Drying: We recommend hanging the bag to air dry or laying it flat. 

6. How to clean your gym bag

One of the bags you’ll probably clean the most is your gym bag. From dirty clothes to sweaty equipment, gym bags take a heavy hit. Luckily, they’re also easy to wash, so let’s get into it:

Prep: Empty the bag completely and shake out any debris. Turn the bag inside out to check for any hidden items. 

Spot cleaning: Use a damp cloth with mild soap or a white vinegar solution to clean stains and spots on the interior and exterior. Gently scrub affected areas, particularly where sweat and odors accumulate. 

Deodorizing: Sprinkle baking soda inside the bag to absorb odors. Leave it for a few hours or overnight, then vacuum or shake it out thoroughly. Using white vinegar in the cleaning process also helps eliminate odors. 

Washing: If the gym bag is machine washable, use a gentle cycle with cold water and a mild detergent — your SaltyLama laundry detergent sheets will come in handy here. Always double check the care label for the best results. 

Drying: Air dry the gym bag completely before use, ensuring it's fully dry to prevent mold or mildew growth. Hang it upside down or lay it flat in a well-ventilated area. 



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