How to Clean Fabric and Straw Handbags

straw purse
Danita Delimont / Gallo Images / Getty Images

Whether you spend hundreds of dollars on a new straw or fabric handbag or just a few, you want it to look good and last as long as possible. Most handbags, especially those we carry to work, really take a beating. We overstuff them, fill them with goods that leak and spill, and toss them on the floor or ground.

Let's take a look at some handbag cleaning basics and how to care for straw and fabric bags.

First Steps for Cleaning Any Type of Handbag

  • Begin by emptying all pockets, then open all zippers and clasps, and shake the bag well upside down to remove dirt and trash.
  • Next, if possible, pull the interior of the bag to the outside or turn a fabric bag inside out so you can see the lining. Use a lint roller to capture dust and crumbs. You can also use the fabric brush attachment on a vacuum to tackle the interior. The vacuum works great on exterior fabric and straw finishes as well.
  • Examine the bag for care labels and/or type of materials used. Follow any recommended care guidelines and attempt to identify the type of any stains.

Canvas or Fabric Handbag Care

Whether you love Coach or Vera Bradley fabric bags, they will eventually need to be cleaned. Let's start with sturdy canvas bags. Since many of the expensive canvas bags are trimmed with leather, they should never be placed in a washer or dryer or allowed to soak in a sink.

Cleaning by hand is the best way to restore your bag.

For an overall cleaning, after you have emptied the bag and taken the first steps to get rid of interior and exterior dust, find a clean, soft white cloth (colored cloths could bleed dye onto the fabric), Begin by dipping the cloth in plain water and wring out the excess.

Wipe down the bag completely. You will be amazed at what just some water will remove.

If stains and soil remain, add a few drops of dish detergent or Castile soap to a quart of water. Use this mixture on the white cloth to rub away heavily soiled areas. Keep moving to a clean spot on the cloth as grime is transferred. Follow up by rinsing the cloth well and wiping away any detergent residue.

Allow the bag to air dry in a cool place away from direct sunlight or heat. If the bag will not hold its shape while damp, fill with white tissue paper. Don't use colored paper or newspapers since ink can transfer. Do not use the bag while it is damp, because damp fabric picks up stains more quickly than dry fabric.

For hardware on the handbag, use a good quality metal polish or brass cleaner to help bring back the shine. This will work best if you use a light hand because most of the hardware is simply plated base metal. Dip a cotton swab in the polish and apply to the metal. Use a clean soft white cloth to buff away the tarnish. Be very careful to keep the cleaner off the handbag fabric or straw as it can cause discoloration.

Fabric handbags that do not have leather trim or internal structural supports can be hand washed like a nice sweater.

Use cool water and a gentle soap. Do not wring. Rinse well and allow to air dry away from direct sunlight.

For specific stains on the interior lining or exterior fabric, follow established stain removal methods. Use as little of the recommended cleaning products as possible and take your time. 

Help for specific stains on fabric:

Straw or Jute Handbag Care

Woven straw bags attract dust and dirt into the crevises and a vacuum cleaner is a great way to keep them dust and grime free. Use the upholstery brush (if you don't have one, place an old pantyhose over the nozzle and use a rubber band to hold it in place) and give the bag a good vacuum. This will remove dust that can gather in the crevices of the woven straw.

If the bag has a fabric lining, vacuum out and spot treat any stains.

To treat a heavily soiled spot on the straw, mix a few drops of dish detergent or mild soap in some warm water. Find an old toothbrush and dip it in the soap and water mixture. Gently rub the stained area with the soapy toothbrush following the grain of the straw. Wipe the area with a clean white cloth that has been dipped in clean water to remove any soap residue and loosened soil. Never overwet the straw. Allow to air dry away from direct sunlight.

Handbag Care Tips You Can Use

  • Treat new fabric bags with a protective spray like TexGuard or Scotchguard to ward off stains.
  • Keep makeup in a sealed waterproof bag within your purse.
  • Never store handbags in plastic bags which can encourage mold and mildew growth. Use an old pillowcase or cotton bag to prevent dust from accumulating during off-season storage.
  • Stuff bags with tissue paper when not in use so they will keep their shape.
  • Do not hang handbags. Store upright or lie flat to preserve the shape.