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Cleaning Hacks

How To Clean A Canvas Bag: Tips To Care For Your Tote Bags

Canvas bags aren’t just eco-friendly, they’re also stylish and versatile, making them a popular choice for many people. However, with regular use, your favorite bag can become dirty and stained, since we use them for just about everything – reusable grocery bags, gym bags, lunch bags.

So, how can we maintain their durability and appearance? That’s where knowing how to clean a canvas bag comes in handy.

Cleaning a canvas bag may seem tricky, especially if it’s been exposed to a variety of substances, such as food spills, grease, or dirt. But, no need to worry. In this article, we’ll outline some straightforward steps to help you clean your canvas bag while preserving its quality.

Whether you’re dealing with a dirty tote bag from a day at the market, or a well-used canvas backpack covered in dust and grime, the process we’ll share can be tailored to suit your bag’s specific needs. So let’s get started on restoring your canvas bag to its former glory.

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What’s In Your Canvas Bag

Before you proceed with cleaning your canvas bag, you should have a good understanding of its composition and features.

Canvas totes come in various shapes, colors, and designs, often adorned with attractive logos or catchy handles. This versatile choice for casual bags is crafted out of woven fabric, commonly made from cotton, linen, hemp, or a combination of these materials.

Many canvas bags have a sturdier build due to the use of cotton, which isn’t only robust, but also provides a sturdy feel. Linen and hemp variants also boast durability and a unique texture, making them an attractive and environment-friendly alternative for daily use.

Apart from the materials, the construction and finishing of canvas bags may vary, with some featuring a PVC lining, leather straps, or wax coating for better water and stain resistance.

To ensure the safety of your bag during cleaning, it’s important to look for the care label attached to your bag. This label provides information on how to properly clean your canvas bag, and acts as a guide for maintaining its appearance throughout its lifespan.

Woman carrying a large canvas bag on her shoulder, filled with flowers

Here’s a quick summary of the main components discussed:

  • Materials: Cotton, linen, hemp
  • Finishing: PVC lining or coated surface
  • Shapes: Various
  • Colours: Various
  • Designs: Various, often with logos or attractive handles
  • Care Label: Provides cleaning instructions

Preparation before Cleaning

Preparing your canvas bag for cleaning is the first step that will make the process more effective and help you avoid any damage to your bag. Here’s our guide to help you through the process.

Firstly, empty the bag: Make sure that your canvas bag is entirely free of any items. You don’t want to have anything inside of the bag, which could potentially affect the cleaning process (or get ruined during the cleaning).

Remove dust and debris: Before you begin with the cleaning, you’ll need to get rid of any loose dust, mud, and debris on the bag’s surface. You can do this by gently shaking the bag or using a soft brush to brush away anything that might be stuck on the bag.

Protecting delicate parts: If there are delicate parts of the bag, such as prints, patches, or embroidery, you should protect these areas before cleaning. Do this by placing plastic bags or a piece of sturdy cardboard over these sections and securing them in place with tape. Make sure the tape doesn’t touch the delicate parts.

List of items you might need:

  1. Soft brush
  2. Plastic bags or sturdy cardboard
  3. Clear tape
  4. Gentle laundry detergent
  5. Soft cloth or sponge

Treatment of Tough Stains

If you notice any stubborn stains on your canvas bag, pre-treat them before cleaning the whole bag. Use a gentle detergent or stain remover, applying it with a soft cloth or sponge in a circular motion. Make sure to follow the instructions written on the product label and let the stain remover sit as recommended.

Encourage Air Circulation

To prevent any unpleasant odors from developing during the cleaning process, you’ll need to provide proper air circulation while your canvas bag dries. Place the bag in a well-ventilated area away from direct sunlight or heat sources, which could damage the material.

How to Clean a Canvas Bag

Spot Cleaning

If you notice a small stain or some dirt on your canvas bag, spot cleaning is a quick and efficient technique. To begin, gently dab the stain with a clean, damp cloth.

If the stain is more stubborn, mix a few drops of mild detergent with cool water and use an old toothbrush or sponge to work on the area in a circular motion. Make sure to rinse the cloth or sponge often, so you don’t spread any stain around.

For tricky stains like oil or grease, you can try sprinkling some cornstarch or talcum powder on the area and leaving it overnight. Then, gently brush off the powder and repeat if necessary.

Hand Washing

If your canvas bag is dirtier or could use a more thorough cleaning, hand washing is the way to go.

Fill a basin or sink with cold water and add a small amount of mild detergent. Submerge the entire bag into the water and use your hands or a sponge to gently clean it. Make sure to pay extra attention to areas with heavier stains.

Once you’ve cleaned your bag, rinse it thoroughly with clean water, ensuring all soap is removed.

Finally, gently squeeze out excess water and lay the bag flat on a clean towel to air-dry.

Tip: Avoid using warm water or any cleaners with abrasives, bleach or other harsh chemicals. These can cause damage to the fabric and reduce the life of your bag. 

Machine Washing

For most canvas tote bags, machine washing is an option, but always check the label or instructions first. If your bag is deemed machine-washable, make sure it is colorfast, and follow these simple steps:

  1. Empty the bag and shake off any loose dirt.
  2. Turn the bag inside out.
  3. Place the bag in a washing machine and set it to a gentle cycle with cold water (do not use hot water).
  4. Use a detergent suitable for delicate fabrics, and avoid using bleach.
  5. Before drying, reshape the bag while it is still damp and allow it to air-dry on a flat surface or on a towel.

Remember, if you are unsure about machine washing your bag, it is always best to opt for spot cleaning or hand washing to avoid any damage. Alternatively, consult a professional dry cleaning service for advice. 

Drying and Reshaping the Bag

After rinsing your canvas bag thoroughly, your next step is to dry and reshape it. Let’s walk through the proper ways to dry and maintain the shape of your bag.

Air drying is the best method for drying a canvas tote bag. Avoid using a dryer, as it could cause the bag to shrink and damage its shape. To air dry, follow these steps:

  1. Gently squeeze out excess water from your bag, being careful not to twist or wring the fabric.
  2. Lay the bag on a clean, dry towel and gently press to absorb more water.
  3. Reshape your bag by gently smoothing out any wrinkles and realigning the seams.
  4. Hang your canvas bag on a clothesline or drying rack, keeping it away from direct sunlight to prevent colour fading.

If hanging isn’t an option for your bag (e.g., backpacks), you can stuff it with paper towels or clean towels to help maintain its shape while drying. Be sure to replace the paper or towels as they become damp.

Can you Iron a Canvas Bag?

In case your canvas bag has developed wrinkles while washing, you might be tempted to use an iron to smooth them out. However, be cautious as some canvas bags can be sensitive to heat and may get damaged. 

To iron safely, follow the guidelines below:

  • Check the labels on your bag for any specific instructions regarding ironing.
  • Make sure the bag is completely dry before ironing.
  • Use a low heat setting on your iron and place a thin, dry cloth between the iron and bag.
  • Gently iron the wrinkled areas, avoiding any seams or labels.

Once your canvas bag is dry and reshaped, consider these storage tips to maintain its appearance:

  • Keep your bag in a cool, dry location, away from direct sunlight to prevent colour bleeding and fading.
  • Store your canvas tote bag flat or folded, rather than hanging, to prevent stretching or deforming of the fabric.
  • Avoid storing heavy items in your bag for long periods, as this can damage the seams and shape.

Proper Storage and Maintenance

Storing and maintaining your canvas bag properly is crucial to keep it looking great and lasting longer. Follow these simple but effective guidelines to ensure your backpack or messenger bag remains in top-notch condition.

Firstly, always check the care label on your bag. Manufacturers often provide specific instructions for their products, so adhering to these will ensure the best results. If there is no care label, don’t worry; the general tips below are applicable for most canvas bags.


To prevent your bag from getting damaged, it’s important to store it in a cool and dry place, away from direct sunlight. Humidity and moisture can lead to mildew growth and weaken the fabric, so avoid damp areas such as basements or garages. When not in use, you can:

  1. Stuff your bag with acid-free tissue paper or bubble wrap to help maintain its shape.
  2. Hang it on a sturdy hook or use a padded hanger to avoid creases and warped straps.
  3. Keep it in a dust bag or a pillowcase to protect it from dust accumulation and scratches.


Regular maintenance will help in reducing wear and tear on your canvas bag, making it more durable over time. To do this effectively, follow these steps:


  1. Remove any loose dirt or debris from the surface of your bag with a lint roller or a damp cloth.
  2. For stains, use a mild soap or detergent and gently scrub with a soft bristle brush or cloth. Ensure the dish soap is fully rinsed out and avoid soaking the bag.
  3. Allow your bag to air-dry completely before storing it, to prevent mold and mildew growth.


  1. Treat your bag with a fabric protector spray designed for canvas materials. This will provide a layer of resistance against water, stains and daily grime.
  2. Avoid overloading your bag as this can strain the fabric, causing it to stretch and warp, leading to weakened seams and handles.


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Following these easy steps is the best way to help you keep your canvas bag looking great for years to come. Investing in a good quality canvas bag, regular cleaning, and taking proper care of it is key to ensuring that it lasts longer and stays as vibrant as the day you first got it. 


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