It’s In The Bag – Caring For, Washing & Cleaning Reusable Bags

Posted on September 28, 2020 | Last Updated On: June 24th, 2022 by

Making the decision to skip the plastic grocery bags and opt for reusable bags instead is a huge benefit for the environment. But, reusable bags can actually impact your health negatively if you don’t clean and care for them properly.

Reusable bags are high-touch things, meaning they’re touched often by hands and other things. It’s been reported most people who use reusable grocery bags admit to not washing them. Learning how to clean your recyclable and reusable bags properly can help protect you from harmful bacteria and germs.

The American Chemistry Council, conducted a study in 2010 that found a lot of reusable bags could contain coliform bacteria, which includes E. coli. Of the 84 individuals interviewed for the study, 97% claimed to have never washed their reusable bags. Therefore, if you’re transporting vegetables, seafood and raw meat in your reusable grocery bags and you haven’t washed the bags yet, you are running the risk of cross-contaminating your groceries inadvertently.

Cross-contamination occurs when produce and raw meats touch pre-cooked food and other items that are placed together in bags that are already soiled. You’ll want to clean your reusable bags each time you use them to prevent even further cross-contamination. While you’re shopping, protect your bags and items by double bagging your groceries, particularly the items that could potentially leak, with plastic meat or produce bags. At home, an extra step you can take is to label and designate bags you plan on using continually only for things like:

  • Produce
  • Meat
  • Dry goods
  • Dairy
  • Cleaning supplies

Stop and try to remember when the last time was you cleaned your recyclable or reusable bags? They’re actually fairly simple to clean – here’s how.

Cleaning Cotton Reusable Bags

  • Most reusable cotton bags can be washed in the washing machine. You’ll just want to read the label to be certain. Use detergent and the hottest water setting on your machine.
  • Place the bags inside your dryer if you can. Keep in mind, doing so might slightly shrink some cotton bags. You can line-dry your bags instead in a spot that has good ventilation to prevent mildew and mold growth. See all custom canvas cotton bags.

Cleaning Fabric and Canvas Reusable Bags

You might find instructions on the labels for protecting your canvas bags. If there isn’t any instructions on your canvas bags, you can use these cleaning tips:

  • Wash with regular detergent in hot water. Hot water kills E. coli and other types of bacteria on fabric.
  • Line dry your canvas bags or place them in the dryer.
  • Hand-wash hand-knit, mesh or crocheted bags crafted of any materials, including jute in hot water and let them air dry.
  • Don’t bring a cloth or canvas grocery bag to the store until it’s totally dry since a moist environment will encourage mildew and mold growth.
  • Don’t place a canvas bag in your dryer if the idea of it shrinking bothers you.

Cleaning Nylon Bags

Flip nylon bags inside out and then hand-wash them in warm soapy water. You can machine wash them if you prefer, just put it on the gentlest cycle to keep the bags from falling apart. Air dry the bags. See all custom nylon bags.

Cleaning Recycled Plastic Bags

Recycled plastic shopping bags such as PET or polypropylene, need to be hand-washed. Then, shake them out and wipe them down with soapy, warm water. Clean around the outer and inner seams. If needed, flip the bags inside-out. Thoroughly wipe the bags down with a dry towel after you wash them or allow them to completely air dry before you put them away to prevent mildew and mold growth.

Cleaning Insulated Reusable Totes or Bags

Insulated totes or bags need to be cleaned often, just like other reusable bags. Because they’re crafted from heavy-duty nylon and have waterproof cooler liners usually constructed of thin silver foil liners, polyethylene vinyl acetate (PEVA) or heat-sealed, extra-durable PEVA, you’ll have to spray with a disinfectant solution and wipe them down. If your tote or bag has zippers, be sure to spray and wipe those too. See all custom insulated bags.

Other Cleaning Tips

  • Remove your reusable bag’s bottom insert before you wash them.
  • Clean the inserts, which are typically cardboard-covered with fabric or vinyl or cardboard, with a disinfecting spray.
  • Turn the bags inside out before you wash them to clean them better.
  • Pay attention to around the seams in the bags’ nooks and crannies when you hand-wash the bags.
  • Ensure both plastic-lined and cloth reusable bags are totally dry before you store them.
  • Keep ready-to-eat food, fresh produce and meats separated.
  • Store your reusable bags in a dry, cool place at home and not in your car.
  • Don’t store the bags in the trunk of your car because the high temperatures encourage faster growth of germs like Salmonella bacteria.
  • Use promotional reusable grocery bags or groceries only. Use separate reusable bags for others items you shop for.
  • Keep shopping bags and reusable grocery bags separated.

Ideally, you should wash your bags after every use. However, this isn’t always that simple. So, if you can’t wash them, you can freshen them up between washes by tossing them in your dryer on high heat, which can kill lingering germs. It’s also easy to make your own eco-friendly disinfectant, a germ-killing spray which will not only keep your reusable shopping bags smelling fresh, but will keep them clean as well. Spray your bags down quickly immediately after unpacking them of your groceries and ensure they’re dry before you store them away.

Remember, using resusable bags is the perfect way to lessen your ecological footprint. They’re a great way to do your part in reducing the number of plastic bags that are entering our oceans and harming sealife, too. Now is the ideal time to improve that 3% rate of people who clean their resuable bags.

About the Author

Douglas Lober Chief Product Specialist

Doug Lober is Co-Founder and Chief Product Specialist for Lober is a passionate environmentalist with roots in the Southern California surf culture. Over the last 15 years, Lober has launched and supported a number of environmental initiatives around the land, sea, and air. Today, he continues to provide and support the use of eco-friendly promotional products for small, medium, and Fortune 500 companies. You can learn more about his extensive background in the industry on,,, Twitter and

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