Your everyday bag, whether it’s a sporty nylon backpack, a classic canvas tote or a sleek leather carryall, takes a beating when in use. Constantly handling it, leaving it on the floor and other dirty surfaces, using it to carry food and drink, and/or leaving behind odors are examples of how regular use can leave a backpack or bag really dirty.
Cleaning the bag daily is actually quite easy – really, the hardest thing about it is remembering to do so! With the help of experts, we’ve broken down the best way to clean backpacks made from synthetic materials like polyester or nylon, canvas and cotton tote bags, and leather backpacks and totes.
We’ve consulted experts to provide instructions on how to wash a bag by hand, to help you know if your meal explodes in your bag, leaving you with a big mess that you need to clean up ASAP.
How to wash polyester and nylon backpacks
Most polyester and nylon bags are machine washable. To achieve the best results, follow these tips.
- Before laundering, unzip all compartments and shake the bag to dislodge dirt.
- Cut any loose threads and remove any detachable straps or parts or decorative items such as pins or ribbons.
- Use an enzymatic stain treatment product to remove built-up dirt and grime.
- Place the backpack in a protective wash bag to avoid damaging the straps and zippers.
- Wash the backpack using cold water and a delicate or gentle wash cycle.
- After washing, reshape the backpack and air dry.
When applying a stain treatment to a backpack, focus your efforts on the bag’s handles and bottom corners, where dirt and grime accumulate over time, making the bag look dirty. An enzymatic stain treatment such as Zout is great for removing dirt stains.
If the backpack is washed in a top-loading washer with a center agitator or can be caught in a load containing other items, place it in a large mesh washing bag or inside a pillow case to protect straps, zippers and other small parts. From snagging in the wash.
Air dry the backpack flat on a mesh drying rack or clean towel. Rolling up a hand towel or towels and stuffing them into the bag as it dries will help reshape it and speed up drying time by absorbing moisture from the inside of the backpack.
How to wash canvas and cotton totes
As with backpacks, most canvas and cotton bags can be machine washed following the same instructions. Always dry cotton and canvas bags in the air.
It’s worth noting that lightweight canvas and cotton bags come out wrinkly in the wash; Some wrinkles will smooth out as the bag dries, but if the bag doesn’t look the way you want after laundering, run an iron over it to restore its appearance. Using spray starch gives the bag an even crisper appearance and helps prevent it from wrinkling during use.
How to clean leather backpacks and totes
Leather backpacks and bags cannot be cleaned in the washing machine, but the process is straightforward and not terribly time-consuming.
Jason Angswern, founder of Jason Mark, explains how to use his brand’s signature leather cleaner to work on leather shoes, bags, belts, jackets and other accessories. “Use a soft bristle brush with our RTU Foam Cleaner to keep skin clean and conditioned,” she says.
Jason Mark Standard Brush
Apply the foam to the brush and gently but firmly brush the foaming cleaner over the bag, paying special attention to dirt and grime build-up on the handles and bottom corners of the bag.
After cleaning, use a soft light-colored cloth to wipe the cleaner from the leather and buff the bag.
Cadillac Boot and Shoe Leather Lotion
Another option for caring for leather goods is to use a combination leather cleaner and conditioner. To use it, apply a small amount of cleaner to a soft cloth and rub the cleaner and conditioner into the skin using a circular motion. Then, switch to a clean section of cloth and buff it.
How to hand wash bags and backpacks
There are times when it helps to know how to clean a bag by hand – such as when a major spill occurs in the everyday bag (or when you just can’t get to the laundry room!).
Jacqueline Sawa, founder of Soak Wash, a no-rinse detergent that makes hand washing clothes and accessories easier because it takes a step out of the process, explains how to hand wash items including lightweight tote bags and backpacks.
First, he says, “Always, always read the label before you wash anything. Not only will sticking to care instructions prevent you from accidentally ruining an item you love (always a bummer), you’ll also help it last longer so you can use (and love!) it for years to come. Then, follow these steps.
- Fill basin with cold water – about 1 teaspoon – soak wash. Make sure there is enough water to submerge the item and move your hands through it.
- Let the item soak for 15 minutes (longer is fine).
- Remove the item from the water, and gently squeeze or press the water; Squeezing or twisting can damage the fibers.
- Roll the item in a dry towel, jelly-roll style, and squeeze to remove water.
- Lay flat to dry on a towel or drying rack. Avoid putting wet cloths on wood, as water can stain wood and wood can stain wet material.