How to Clean Fabric and Straw Handbags

How to clean a straw or fabric purse

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Whether you spend hundreds of dollars on a new designer straw or fabric handbag or just a few dollars on a bargain brand, 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. 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 any stains.

Canvas or Fabric Handbag Care

All brands of canvas or fabric bags will eventually need to be cleaned. 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.

After you have emptied the bag and taken the first steps to get rid of interior and exterior dust, for an overall cleaning, use a clean, soft white cloth (colored cloths could bleed dye onto the fabric). Dip the cloth in plain water and wring out the excess. Wipe down the bag completely from top to bottom. You will be amazed at what just water will remove.

If stains and soil remain, add a few drops of dishwashing detergent to one quart of water. Use this mixture with the white cloth to rub away heavily soiled areas. Keep moving to a clean spot on the cloth as grime is transferred. Finish 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 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 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. 

Straw or Jute Handbag Care

Woven straw bags attract dust and dirt into the crevices and a vacuum cleaner is a great way to keep a bag dust and grime free. Use the upholstery brush (if you don't have one, place an old pantyhose over the vacuum hose 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 area on the straw, mix a few drops of dishwashing detergent in one cup of 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 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 lay flat to preserve the shape.