Cleaning & Caring For a Tote

How to Clean / Wash / Care For Your Tote

Although totes can be machine washed or hand washed, The best solution for a dirty canvas tote bag is to spot clean it. Some canvas tote bags in white or plain colors are suitable for washing machines. Depending on the technique used to print them, they can also be machine washed using cold water. However, watercolor painted canvas bags, canvas bags with leather trimmings, or canvas bags with adornments and other types of sensitive prints need manual washing

Spot Cleaning A Canvas Bag

To Spot Clean Your Tote

You'll need mild detergent, a cleaning rag, cold water, and some good old-fashioned elbow grease. Washing machines, ironing and a trip to the dry cleaners need not apply. After gathering your supplies, it's truly just a matter of getting down to business. Rinse your cleaning rag and wring it out. Drizzle liquid laundry detergent on the rag. Blot the tote with the rag to spot clean stains and built up residue. Don't forget to turn the bag inside out to clean it in its entirety. Once satisfied with your efforts, wipe the entire tote down once last time with a clean wet rag to remove any lingering soap residue. Once clean, simply lay the tote flat and allow it to air dry.

Stain Removal

If your canvas bag is stained, you should remove them before washing or intensely cleaning them. Heavy stains can be a big problem, as they often need some extra care. Some stains do not go away with water and a soft cloth, so you may need some liquid detergent or other stain removing products.

Make sure you apply the stain removal product on a discrete small portion of the bag to make sure the powder or liquid does not cause canvas burns, discolorations, or color bleeds. If everything looks good after a few minutes, use a white cloth and a damping technique to slowly and securely remove the stains. You should not scrub the stains because color transfers, discolorations, or canvas damage are possible.

Hand Washing

Start off by dipping the entire bag in clean, lukewarm water. Then, wring out the excess water and use a soft bristled brush or your fingers in a light, circular motion to remove any dirt or debris. Focus on problem areas with a light detergent. Follow up with a final rinse to remove all remnants of detergent. As for drying, simply hanging the bag up on a clothesline to air dry will work well. The risk with throwing a tote into the dryer is the issue of shrinkage. Allowing the bag to instead air dry will help the bag retain its original size and shape.


Machine Washing

Machine Washing A Canvas Tote

Now that you took all possible precautions, it is time to put the canvas bag in the washing machine – if the fabric and the design of the bag allow you. When you wash plain white or colorfast canvas tote bags in the machine, keep in mind these rules:

  • Set the temperature according to the recommendations on the label or to the type of canvas
  • Printed, painted, or decorated canvas bags fare better in cold temperatures and lower centrifuge speeds; canvas is prone to shrinking.
  • Wash the bag on its own, or with other canvas items.
  • If you have a load of colored items, make sure there will be no color bleedings and transfers from your clothes onto the bag or the other way around.
  • Take the canvas bag out of the machine immediately, to prevent mold and bacteria from growing.


You may learn that a canvas bag looks quite concerning the second you take it out of the washing machine. While not immune to crumpling, the canvas bag will regain its shape if you care for it properly. Make sure that while wet, you reshape it to help it gain its initial form and you remove some of the wrinkles.


When we learn how to clean canvas bags, we cannot skip the drying stage of the cleaning and maintenance cycle. Allow the bag to air dry on a clothesline, as drying it by machine may cause shrinkage unless the care tag states machine drying is safe. Make sure you hang the canvas bag to dry so it preserves and regains its initial shape. Drying a bag in the dryer can cause the bag to shrink and change shape, destroying its functionality and usability.

Storage and Preservation

We can clean canvas bags a few times a year, but we also need to keep them as clean as possible and as safe as possible when we do not use them.Here’s a  few storage and maintenance tips so you can enjoy your canvas bags for years without them suffering any major damage:

  • Once the canvas bag dried in fresh air, store it flat or upright to allow it to keep its shape.
  • If your canvas bags have specific shapes, stuff them with tissue papers when you do not use them, so they will keep their shape up. Always use white tissue paper as magazines and newspapers can lead to ink and color transfers.
  • Never store handbags in plastic bags, as they can encourage mold and mildew growth. Use an old pillowcase or a cotton laundry bag to prevent dust from accumulating during off-season storage. Make sure there is enough air reaching your canvas bags.
  • If you’ve just bought new canvas bags, or you finished adorning and styling your favorite tote bag, use a protective spray to treat new canvas and ward off stains.