How to Clean and Care for Fabric and Straw Handbags

A stained straw handbag by other accessories

The Spruce / Ria Osborne

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 10 mins
  • Total Time: 1 hr
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Whether you spend hundreds of dollars on a new designer straw or fabric handbag or just a few bucks on a bargain find, you want it to look good and last as long as possible. Most handbags, especially those we carry with us every day, really take a beating. We overstuff them, fill them with goods that leak and spill, and toss them on the floor. But, with these simple tips, you can keep your favorite fabric and straw bags in great shape for years to come.

How Often to Clean Fabric and Straw Handbags

All brands of fabric and straw bags will eventually need to be cleaned. If you use your handbag every day, clean it every two to three months. For special occasion purses, a good cleaning every six to nine months should suffice. Take the time to clean your bags properly. Since many expensive fabric 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.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Vacuum
  • Clean white cloth
  • Toothbrush
  • Sink or large tub for hand-washing (optional)

Materials

  • Liquid dish detergent
  • Warm water
  • Lint roller (optional)
  • Metal polish or brass cleaner (optional)
  • Cotton swabs (optional)
  • White tissue paper (optional)

Instructions

Items for cleaning a straw handbag

The Spruce / Ria Osborne

How to Clean a Fabric Handbag

  1. Prep the Bag for Washing

    Begin by emptying the purse and all its 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. Then use the fabric brush attachment on a vacuum to tackle the interior and exterior.

    Examine the bag for care labels and/or type of materials used. Follow any recommended care guidelines, and attempt to identify any stains.

  2. Wipe Down the Bag

    Begin by simply wiping down the bag with a soft white cloth (colored cloths could bleed dye onto the fabric) that’s clean and dampened with plain water. Wipe down the bag completely from top to bottom.

  3. Treat Stains and Heavily Soiled Areas

    If stains and soil remain, add a few drops of dishwashing detergent liquid to 1 quart water. Dip a white cloth in the solution, and blot heavily soiled areas. Keep moving to a clean spot on the cloth as grime is transferred. If there are stubborn stains, use a toothbrush dipped in the soapy solution to scrub them out. Finish by rinsing the cloth well in water and wiping away any detergent residue.

  4. Clean the Hardware

    Use a good-quality metal polish or brass cleaner to help bring the shine back to the purse's hardware. This will work best if you use a light hand because most 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 as it can cause discoloration.

  5. Allow the Bag to Air-Dry

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

How to Clean a Straw Handbag

  1. Empty and Vacuum

    Completely empty the purse and all interior pockets. Woven straw bags attract dust and dirt into the crevices; using your vacuum cleaner's upholstery brush attachment is the best way to keep the straw free of dust and grime.

    If you don't have an upholstery brush attachment for your vacuum, place an old pair of pantyhose over the vacuum hose nozzle, and use a rubber band to hold it in place.

    Someone vacuuming a straw handbag
    The Spruce / Ria Osborne
  2. Clean the Lining

    If the straw bag has a fabric lining, vacuum it well, and spot-treat any stains as you would on a fabric handbag. If the lining is removable, hand-wash it in the sink, and allow it to dry completely before reinserting.

    Someone wiping the inside of a bag
    The Spruce / Ria Osborne
  3. Clean the Straw

    For surface dirt, slightly dampen a clean cloth with water, and gently wipe the dirt away.

    To treat a heavily soiled area on the straw, mix a few drops of dishwashing detergent in 1 cup warm water. Find an old toothbrush, and dip it in the 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. Don't wet the straw too much.

    Someone using a toothbrush to spot clean a straw bag
    The Spruce / Ria Osborne
  4. Dry the Bag

    Allow the bag to air-dry away from direct heat and sunlight.

    A bag air-drying near a plant
    The Spruce / Ria Osborne

Treating Stains on Fabric and Straw Handbags

To clean ink from a fabric handbag, dip a cotton ball or swab in rubbing alcohol, and squeeze it so it's damp but not wet. Dab the stain gently to dissolve the ink, and then blot firmly with a dry paper towel. Repeat until the stain is gone.

To remove makeup stains from a fabric handbag, remove as much damp or dry makeup as possible with a dry paper towel or a hand vacuum. Next, wipe with a damp paper towel, and treat with a laundry stain remover as recommended for specific types of makeup stains.

Treating stains on a straw handbag can be almost like caring for a straw hat. For an oily or greasy stain on a straw handbag, cover it with cornstarch or talcum powder to absorb the stain. Wait a couple of hours, and then brush away the powder with a soft-bristled brush.

Tips for Washing Fabric and Straw Handbags

  • Fabric handbags that don't have leather trim or internal structural supports can be hand-washed like a sweater. Use cool water and gentle soap. Do not wring. Rinse well, and allow to air-dry away from direct sunlight.
  • Treat new fabric bags with a protective spray, like TexGuard or Scotchgard, to ward off stains.
  • Between cleanings for a straw purse, use packing tape, with the sticky side out, and tap it all around the handbag to pick up dust, lint, and dander.
  • Keep makeup in a sealed waterproof bag within your purse to keep prevent stains.
  • If the care label says to avoid washing the bag at home or you don't want to use water on the fabric, take the purse to the dry cleaner.
  • To help remove odors, fill a small container with baking soda, place it inside the bag, and let it sit for 24 hours to absorb the smell.
  • Be mindful of where you set down your bag to avoid soiling the purse. The floors of public spaces can easily stain your bag, which will require more cleanings.