Washing reusable bags: Is it necessary? How do I do it?

Congratulations on committing to reduce plastics consumption! But, have you committed to washing reusable bags after you’re finished? How do you do it? That’s not as easy to answer as you’d think. It really depends on what the bag is made of.

Machine Wash?

Cotton reusable grocery bags and many hemp reusable grocery bags are machine washable and dryer safe—making them the easiest to wash.  If your personalized reusable bag is screenprinted or dyed in any way, you should wash in cold water for the first few washings.  Some polyester reusable grocery bags can be machine washed, but we only recommend machine washing ‘poly-canvas’ bags. As with anything made from 100% cotton, these bags can shrink and wrinkle with machine washing. To limit this, wash in cold water and air dry.

Nonwoven polypropylene reusable bags, jute reusable bags, and recycled PET reusable bags are trickier to clean. Some people do wash these bags in a washing machine, but we don’t recommend it.   If you feel you must machine wash these bags, use cold water only and definitely don’t put them in the dryer.  However, machine washing shortens the overall lifespan and can ruin them.

Hand Wash?

We recommend hand washing your jute bags, recycled PET bags, and non woven polypropylene reusable bags in a sink filled with warm, antibacterial soapy (preferably antibacterial) water.  Let them air dry completely, both inside out AND right side out. This ensures all the seams, nooks, and crannies are dry and aren’t retaining any moisture that can turn into mold.Nylon or poly-nylon reusable bags should also be hand washed in warm soapy water and hung to dry—again, inside out and right side out to ensure all the moisture is gone on the inside.

Wipe Down?

Laminated reusable bags (either laminated polypropylene bags or laminated recycled pet bags) should be wiped down with a wet cloth or “washed” with a disinfectant spray. Other non-fabric reusable shopping bags can also be cleaned this way. Non woven polypropylene bags can also be sprayed down with an antibacterial spray cleaner, but remember to turn the bags inside out and carefully clean the inner seams.

If you’re unsure of how to wash a particular reusable shopping bag, or if you’re not sure what your bag is made of, contact us and we can help!

Finally, to further avoid contamination, sort and assign specific bags to specific tasks:

MEAT: Choose a bag that’s easily identifiable. For example, look for a specific personalized reusable shopping bag, color or design that will remind you that this is your ‘meat bag’. Make sure it’s made of machine washable material. Pull the bag from your pile and put the meat on top at checkout, then tell the cashier to use that bag for meat. Don’t forget to wash it when you get home.

PRODUCE:  Use a reusable shopping bag for produce to avoid plastic produce bags. Unload your fruits and veggies at checkout, then reload them into the same bag. Don’t forget to wash your bag, and your produce,  when you get home.

PREPACKAGED FOODS:  Once your meat and produce bags are separated, you’ll know that the rest of your bags are only used for prepackaged foods and groceries.  With layers & layers of packaging used these days, your food should be more than safe.


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