Your tote bags are filthy. This is especially true of totes that are used for groceries; these should be cleaned regularly to ensure they remain free of bacteria that cause food-borne illness. (If you’re in the market for a new reusable grocery bag, this guide is for you.)
Nylon and lightweight cotton totes can be machine washed in cold water. Use a stain treatment product on particularly grimy totes; dirt, for example, is a protein stain, so choose an enzymatic pretreatment spray like Zout. For specific and identifiable stains that go beyond mere dirt, use the product best suited to the stain in question. (Need some direction? Start here.) When applying a stain treatment, pay special attention to the handles and bottom corners of the bag, which are likely to be the most in need of stain removal. Grocery totes that cannot be machine washed should still be regularly cleaned, either with an antibacterial wipe or an all-purpose spray.
Drying, however, should be left to nature rather than to machines, so opt for air-drying. Cotton bags tend to be wrinkled after laundering; if this doesn’t bother you, good! If it bothers you, come sit by me and I’ll tell you that you can certainly iron your tote bag — with spray starch, even — and also I will understand you completely.
Heavy canvas totes, such as the much beloved L.L. Bean Boat and Tote, can also be washed in the machine. But, caveat laundror: Machine washing a Boat and Tote is a bit like burying the family kitty in Stephen King’s “Pet Sematary” — it will come back, but it won’t be exactly the same. Washing a heavy canvas bag will soften it up, and it will lose some of its original structure and stiffness.
Another note on washing a heavy canvas bag: Because of its bulk, it can damage other things in the machine, so wash it on its own. And be warned: If you go this route, your bag might come out looking a little mangled. Not to worry; simply reshape the bag into its original form and let it air-dry right-side up.
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