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How to Clean a Canvas Bag

Ally Nelson |

Canvas bags are all the rage right now and for all the right reasons. They’re versatile, stylish, and eco-friendly. They can be valuable accessories you can personalize and style up and wear on all possible occasions. Depending on its design and pattern, a canvas bag can be a great accessory for casual outings, workdays, shopping trips, days in the park, or nights on the town.

However, it’s very important to know how to correctly clean a canvas bag so you can keep it as good as new for years. The truth is, all our canvas tote bags can take quite a beating. Canvas bags are quite vulnerable to daily wear and tear. We stuff them with groceries and goods that spill or leak, we put them on the floor or on the ground, we toss them in cars and in offices, and so on.

For all these reasons, canvas bags need proper, regular cleaning and maintenance. This is why today we’ll will learn together how to clean a canvas bag step by step. If you follow these cleaning  steps, you’ll be able to keep your canvas bag in tip-top shape.

Measures to Take Before the Actual Bag Cleaning

Canvas bags are the perfect environment to add a dash of your own personality and preferred style into your everyday carry bag. In other words, canvas bags can feature screen prints, embroidery, monograms, hand painting, fabric, button decorations (sewed or glued), drawings, printed logos, and many more.

Washing Safety

The first thing you need to do is check if these added elements are safe for washing and cleaning. Specialists recommend  removing all additions if possible (scarves, brooches, buttons, etc.). Of course you cannot remove a print or embroidery.

In this case, you should consider the following:

  • Water temperature for both washing machine and handwashing: if your canvas bag features paintings, drawings, or other prints and patterns, you should make sure to wash it at cool temperatures.
  • Color bleeding and transfer: If you wear colored canvas bags or your canvas bags feature colored prints and graphic designs, make sure the colors do not bleed, fade, or transfer in contact with water or other fabrics.

The Color Fading/Bleeding Test

Fill a shallow bowl with water and dip a small part of the bag into it to test the canvas for color bleeding, fading, or transfers. Allow the wet portion of the bag to sit in the water for about ten minutes.

Check the color of the water to see if any dye bled into it. Wring the wet part of the bag over a plain white cotton towel or cloth. If the canvas bag bleeds dye onto the towel, it is not colorfast. If it is not colorfast, you will have to spot-clean the bag rather than washing it. Do not wash the bag with other materials as the dye may transfer onto them. Skip this test if the bag is plain white.

Bag Preparation

Before you decide whether to wash the canvas bag in the washing machine, by hand, or by giving it a spot-cleaning, we have to prep the bag. Here’s what to do:

  • Empty all bag pockets, then open any zippers and clasps, and shake the bag well upside down to remove dirt, trash, crumbs, coins, papers, and any other little things hiding in the bag.
  • If possible, pull the bag inside out completely so you can see the lining. Use a lint roller to remove dust and crumbs. You can also use the fabric brush attachment on your vacuum to remove all the interior impurities. A table vacuum also helps because you can handle it more comfortably.
  • Before you begin, examine the bag for particular care labels and/or type of materials used. Follow any recommended care guidelines and attempt to identify the type of stains, if existing, on your canvas bag.

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.

Manual Washing

how to clean canvas bag manual washing

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 good candidates for normal washing machines 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. There are some techniques and methods to accomplish good cleaning without endangering the fabric or damaging the design/graphics/styling of the bag.

  • After you’ve emptied the bag and taken the first steps to get rid of interior and exterior dust and debris, find a clean, soft white cloth (colored cloths could bleed dye onto the fabric, as well as do normal dish sponges) and dip the cloth in warm water.
  • Wring out the excess water from the cloth and wipe down the canvas bag with careful but firm motions. Avoid colored parts that might lead to color fading and bleeding.
  • If the prints or adornments on the bag are safe to come in contact with water, soak the entire bag in a basin filled with warm water. Clean the bag with a soft white cloth or a soft scrubbing brush using a circular motion. Specialists recommend this technique if you wash colorfast plain canvas bags.
  • If the bag still presents stains and soil after completing the steps listed above, add a few drops of dish detergent or soap in a bowl. Use the mixture with the white cloth to rub heavily soiled areas. Keep moving to a clean spot on the cloth as you remove stains and grime. Follow up by rinsing the cloth well and wiping away any detergent residue.
  • If you clean a plain canvas bag in a water basin and some stains or areas remain dirty, add a few drops of liquid detergent to the warm water and softly scrub the areas that present with heavy staining, grime, and soiling. Make sure you do not allow color bleeding.


When you wash your canvas bags, tote bags, or even canvas backpacks, you should have a few more tips and tricks up your sleeve. Depending on the situation and your particular type of canvas bag, you can use one of the methods above combined with one of the tips below.

  • Any mild detergent mixed with water will work as a cleaning solution for plain, durable canvas. You can think about gentle body soap, dishwashing soap, liquid laundry detergent, and even baking soda.
  • For about a cup of water, consider using about ½ a teaspoon of mild detergent.
  • If the canvas allows, you can also use an old toothbrush to remove heavy stains and grime. You need a soft toothbrush. The motions should be mild and circular, covering small areas.
  • If some stains are incredibly stubborn, you can also mix in a drop of bleach. While detergents are safer bets, bleach can help you clean heavily soiled bags. Keep in mind that bleach can yellow the canvas. In this day and age, you can find safe bleaching and stain removing products, just don’t forget to test them on the inside or bottom of the bag, on a very small area.
  • Remove canvas, cloth, or leather laces and drawstrings from your bag and clean them separately. Manually wash canvas and cotton strings and laces in a cup or bowl of warm water with liquid soap or detergent. When it comes to leather accessories, you can wipe them with a cloth to remove dust or stains.
  • For hardware on the handbag, use a good quality metal polish or brass cleaner to make them shine again. Dip a cotton swab in the polish and apply gently to the metal. Use a clean soft white cloth to remove the tarnish. Be very careful to keep the cleaner off the handbag fabric to avoid discoloration.

When you learn how to clean canvas bags, it is important to remember to wash the bag manually if the bag has leather trimmings, insertions, or appliques. While metal accessories can go in the washing machine, make sure they do not damage the canvas or other clothes in the load. In terms of appliques, it is safer to use a cleaning terry cloth soaked in water to clean the bag. Move the cloth around beads, buttons, leather, metal, or sequin appliques to make sure they stay safe.


After you manually wash the canvas bag, you can rinse it with another white towel or cloth soaked in cold water. You can also rinse it in a basin filled with clean cool water. Gently wring out any excess water. Make sure the bag gets a proper rinse, as liquid detergent and other cleaning agents’ particles can damage the fabric in time, as they remain embedded in the fabric.

Machine Washing

how to clean canvas bags machine washing

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.

If you looking for more details machine washing, you can go to our How To Machine Wash A Canvas Tote Bag blog.



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 canvas 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.


These are the main steps, tips, tricks, and advice on how to clean a canvas bag. If you have other methods or if you use some DIY cleaning mixtures and techniques, feel free to share them with us!