How to Wash Your Tote Bags

Alyssa Mertes

Kyrsten Ledger

Promo Expert

Published: January 21st, 2019

Updated: May 9th, 2019

Washing items that come in contact with bacteria is crucial to preventing illness and the spreading of diseases. This includes your clothes, hands, teeth, bed spreads, and you guessed it: tote bags. While these reusable bags come in a variety of materials, such as nylon, cotton, or plastic, they should be washed frequently using different methods depending on the material.

Why should you wash your tote bags? Are you storing your totes wrong? Let’s dive in and find out more about keeping tote bags clean!

Why You Need to Wash Your Tote Bags

You probably use your tote bags all the time, so it only makes sense that you wash them. For example, if you used your tote bag to carry towels, flip flops, and sunscreen with you to the beach, chances are sand found its way into the bag. Imagine if you didn’t clean out your bag before you went grocery shopping. Now your food is covered in germs leftover from your beach visit. Yuck!

Why You Need to Wash Your Tote Bags
Why You Need to Wash Your Tote Bags

How Often Should I Clean My Tote Bags?

Germs are everywhere, so there’s no reason to panic, but depending on how often you use your tote bags, you should wash them frequently. There are a few factors to consider before you go on a tote bag cleaning frenzy.

How often you should wash your tote bag will depend on a few things:

  1. 1. What do you use your tote bag for?
  2. 2. How often do you use it?
  3. 3. Where do you store them when they aren’t being used?

If you use your tote bags as reusable grocery bags, it’s best to wash them after each shopping trip. That’s because meat, fruits, and vegetables can all carry bacteria that may grow between visits to your grocer.

Even if you don’t use your tote bags every day, it’s still important to wash them before their next trip out on the town. The longer they sit between uses, the more time bacteria have to breed and multiply.

Picking a spot to store your bags will determine how much bacteria grows on them when they aren’t being used. Bacteria thrives in warm environments that have adequate amounts of moisture. This includes the trunk of your car, kitchen storage closet, or under your sink. While these might be the most convenient places to store tote bags, it’s also a breeding ground for unwanted pathogens. Try to find a dry, room temperature area to place your totes. Worst case scenario, store them wherever you have room and make sure to clean them more frequently or at least before each use.

How to Store Tote Bags

If you’re going to store your tote bags away for longer periods of time, there are methods to ensure they stay clean. When deciding on a place to put them, always remember totes must be stored in a cool, dry space. This will prevent bacteria from growing on them while they aren’t in use.

  • Flat or upright
  • Stuffed with white tissue paper
  • Don’t store inside plastic bags
  • Store inside a pillowcase or cotton laundry bag
  • Spray with a water-proof fabric protector
Storage Tip
Why You Should Do It

Storage Tip 1

Keep flat or in an upright position

Why You Should Do It

Storing them in a flat or upright position is a great way to maintain a wrinkle-free appearance.

Storage Tip 2

Stuff with white tissue paper

Why You Should Do It

Stuffing them with tissue paper helps keep the shape of your tote bag.

Storage Tip 3

Do not store inside plastic bags

Why You Should Do It

Plastic bags really like to lock-in moisture, which promotes mold and mildew growth.

Storage Tip 4

Place inside a pillowcase or cotton laundry bag

Why You Should Do It

Pillowcases or cotton laundry bags allow for air and help prevent dust build up.

Storage Tip 5

Use a water-proof fabric protector spray to treat fabric totes

Why You Should Do It

This helps keep non-plastic totes clean and bacteria-free since they’re more prone to stains and retaining moisture.

How to Clean Fabric Tote Bags

Knowing how to clean your tote bags is just as important as knowing how often you should clean them. Without proper cleaning, your tote bag can still harvest bacteria.

Follow these easy steps to clean your fabric bags:

  1. 1. Pretreat stains with stain-remover
  2. 2. Toss in washer
  3. 3. Use cold water
  4. 4. Let air dry
  5. 5. Iron on medium setting if they’re still wrinkly when dry

*Disclaimer: This strategy is designed for cotton or canvas bags that are plain and not printed with any logo or design. It’s always best to consult the directions on the tag or talk directly to the manufacturer before washing. Quality Logo Products® cannot be held responsible for any damages caused by trying this method.

  1. Step 1
    Step 1

    Pretreat any stains with your favorite stain-remover or bleach (for white bags only).

    Step 1
  2. Step 2
    Step 2

    Toss your tote in the washer. If your tote is non-colorfast (or prone to bleeding colors), wash separately.

    Step 2
  3. Step 3
    Step 3

    Set washer to cold water to prevent any shrinking and press start.

    Step 3
  4. Step 4
    Step 4

    Once the cycle is over, do not throw your totes into the dryer or leave them in the washing machine to dry. Instead, let them air dry by placing them on a flat surface and realigning the straps so they don’t dry wrinkled.

    Step 4
  5. Step 5
    Step 5

    If the bags are still wrinkly or the straps aren’t lying flat once completely dry, quickly iron on a medium setting.

    Step 5

Many tote bags are made from materials like cotton, canvas, or nylon. Since most non-plastic totes can be thrown into your washer, they’re super easy to wash. Make sure you use a mild detergent to clean your totes.

However, if your tote has any embellishments, including beads, buttons, leather, metal, sequins, or a water-colored print, you should hand wash only. If you decide to hand-wash all your fabric totes, you can use gentle body soap, dishwashing soap, or baking soda mixed with water. To prevent any dye from bleeding into lighter colored areas of the bag or onto other clothing items, use a color-catcher detergent and wash separately.

Be sure to read the label inside the bag prior to washing. Every manufacturer is going to have different instructions that are specialized for their product. Their washing directions should be followed first before trying additional methods!

What is Colorfast?

When it comes to dyeing textile materials, colorfast is a term that claims the colors in the material will not fade or be washed out. Since most fabric tote bags get their colors from dye, they run the risk of not being colorfast. Do you know the cliché laundry accident of dying all your whites pink because your red sock slipped into the wash? Well, the chances of that happening are slim with colorfast items.

What is Colorfast?

How to Test for Colorfastness

While a lot of clothes and linens are colorfast, not every tote bag will be. If a bag is colorfast, most labels will notate it somewhere. However, there’s no harm in testing for colorfastness before tossing your bag into the wash.

Take these steps for added precaution:

  1. 1. Pick a spot on your tote bag that isn’t super noticeable
  2. 2. Apply laundry detergent or stain remover to the spot
  3. 3. Dab the spot with a clean white cotton cloth
  4. 4. If there’s color on the cloth, spot clean or hand-wash only
  1. Step 1
    Step 1

    Pick a spot on your tote bag that isn’t super noticeable. This is to ensure your bag doesn’t get ruined in case the coloring runs or bleeds.

    Step 1
  2. Step 2
    Step 2

    Apply laundry detergent or stain remover to the spot you picked.

    Step 2
  3. Step 3
    Step 3

    Dab the spot with a clean white cotton cloth. It’s important to use white so you can easily tell whether or not there was any color transfer.

    Step 3
  4. Step 4
    Step 4

    If there is any color on the white cloth, you know your tote isn’t colorfast and should be either spot cleaned or hand-washed with color catching detergent.

    Step 4

Follow this flowchart to find out how often you should wash your tote bags:

Do
Don’t

Do

Use cold water

Use cold water

Don’t

Leave in water

Leave in water

Do

Wash separately

Wash separately

Don’t

Throw in the dryer

Throw in the dryer

Do

Turn inside out prior to washing

Turn inside out prior to washing

Don’t

Use heavy cleaners (e.g. bleach)

Use heavy cleaners (e.g. bleach)
Did you know?

You can protect your fabrics by adding a tablespoon of salt to your washer. The chloride helps lock in color and can keep your totes looking fresh longer!

How to Clean Plastic Tote Bags

When it comes to plastic tote bags, you don’t have to worry about whether or not they’re colorfast, because they take on a laminated-like feel and the colors chemically bind with the plastic. Even though fabric tote bags can be easy to wash, plastic ones are much easier!

Here is how to get those totes shiny and clean:

  1. 1. Fill a 5 to 10-gallon bucket with warm-hot water about ½ to ¾ of the way up
  2. 2. Add 2 tsp of dishwashing liquid and 1 cup of hydrogen peroxide
  3. 3. Let soak for 15 minutes
  4. 4. Rinse under cold water and hang up to air dry

*Disclaimer: This strategy is designed for plastic bags that are plain and not printed with any logo or design. It’s always best to consult the directions on the tag or talk directly to the manufacturer before washing. Quality Logo Products® cannot be held responsible for any damages caused by trying this method.

Ingredients:

  • Warm-Hot Water
  • 5 to 10-gallon bucket
  • 2 tsp dishwashing liquid
  • 1 cup hydrogen peroxide
  1. Step 1
    Step 1

    Fill a 5 to 10-gallon bucket with warm-hot water. The size of the bucket will depend on how many totes you're washing at once. There should be enough water in the bucket to submerge the tote without any water overspilling. You can also use a sink or tub.

    Step 1
  2. Step 2
    Step 2

    Add 2 tsp of dishwashing liquid and 1 cup of hydrogen peroxide to the water and stir.

    Step 2
  3. Step 3
    Step 3

    Let soak for a minimum of 15 minutes.

    Step 3
  4. Step 4
    Step 4

    Rinse under cold water and hang up to air dry.

    Step 4

Plastic totes, as well as insulated bags, are often used to transport poultry, fish, and other meat from the grocery store. Since these items have juices that can leak through their packaging, you should wipe the bag down with a disinfecting wipe after each use.

How to Wash Logoed Tote Bags

Now that you know how to clean fabric and plastic totes bags, what about your totes that have a logo printed on them? The best way to make sure the design doesn’t fade, crack, or peel off is to use a cleaning method specific to the material of your tote bags. Using the wrong method to clean your tote could potentially ruin the entire bag, which includes the potential of design removal.

How to Wash Logoed Tote Bags

Keep your custom tote bags looking fresh with these easy tips:

  • • Turn inside out
  • • Hand-wash with cold water
  • • Don’t oversoak the towel you’re washing with
  • • Dip the towel in delicate or mild washing soap
  • • Don’t scrub and wash gently
  • • Let air dry

The important thing to remember when it comes to preserving your personalized tote bags, whether the design is printed or embroidered, is to avoid harsh chemicals, high heat, and rough surfaces like a scrub brush or your washer.

*Disclaimer : This strategy is not foolproof and should be handled with great care. It’s always best to consult the directions on the tag before washing or talk directly to the manufacturer. Quality Logo Products® cannot be held responsible for any damages caused by trying this method.

How to Wash Logoed Tote Bags

More Tips to Keep Your Tote Bags Clean

Even though cleaning tote bags is pretty simple, washing them can be time-consuming. That’s why you should try to keep your bags clean after every use!

Give these tips a try!

  • Color code
  • Say “no” to trunks
  • Add extra coverage
  • Hang them up
Color Code

Color Code

It’s safe to say when you go on a massive grocery haul, one reusable bag isn’t going to carry everything. On your next trip, try color-coding your bags. Green for fruits and vegetables, red for meat, blue for dairy, yellow for canned foods, and so on. This will keep your totes cleaner because you’ll only have to wipe down the totes with spillage. The rest of your groceries will be safe from any cross contamination as well.

Say “No” to Trunks

Say “No” to Trunks

Trunks can get really hot, which makes it a feeding frenzy for bacteria! They absolutely LOVE and thrive in warm climates. By placing your tote in the trunk of your car, you’re giving bacteria their perfect environment. That means even if there’s only one living bacteria on your bag, there’ll be a whole community of them by the time you’re ready to use your tote again.

Add Extra Coverage

Add Extra Coverage

The whole point of using tote bags for grocery shopping is to limit the use of plastic bags. However, when it comes to keeping your bags clean, it’s best to wrap raw meat in a plastic bag before placing them into your tote. This will provide additional coverage and protect your bag from raw protein contaminants.

Hang Them Up

Hang Them Up

Unless you vacuum and mop your floors every single day, chances are your floors aren’t as clean as you’d like them to be. Not to mention, corners and small areas are prime places for dust and particles to reside. That’s why you should hang up your tote bags whenever you can. This helps prevent them from attracting unwanted dust bunnies.

The Bottom Line

By keeping your tote bags up to date on their washing, you’ll ensure they stay clear of any harmful bacteria. Whether you have fabric or plastic tote bags, keeping them clean means they’ll be useful for years to come!

Kyrsten Ledger

Kyrsten Ledger

Kyrsten’s vast knowledge of promotional giveaways and marketing has led to several hit articles. She has also published work for PPB Magazine, a publication from the Promotional Products Association International.