How to Clean and Care for Fabric and Straw Handbags

Pile of straw purses

Danita Delimont / Getty Images

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

All brands of canvas or fabric and straw 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.

How to Wash Fabric Purses
Detergent Mild dishwashing liquid
Water Temperature Cool
Cycle Type Do not machine wash
Drying Cycle Type Do not machine dry
Special Treatments Hand wash only
Iron Settings Do not iron

Project Metrics

Working Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 10 minutes to 1 hour, depending on air-drying time

Skill Level: Beginner

What You Need

Supplies

Tools

  • Clean white cloth
  • Toothbrush (optional)
  • Sink or large tub for handwashing

Instructions

  1. Prep the Bag for Washing

    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.

  2. Wipe Down the Bag

    Begin by simply wiping down the bag with a clean, soft white cloth (colored cloths could bleed dye onto the fabric) that’s been dampened with plain water. Wipe down the bag completely from top to bottom. You will be amazed at what just water will remove.

  3. Treat Stains and Heavily Soiled Areas

    If stains and soil remain, add a few drops of dishwashing detergent liquid to one quart of water. Use this mixture with the white cloth to blot at 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 plain water and wiping away any detergent residue.

    Treating Stains on Fabric Purses

    • Ink: Dip a cotton ball or cotton swab in rubbing alcohol and squeeze it so it's damp, 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.
    • Makeup: Remove as much damp or dry make-up 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.

    Fabric handbags that do not 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.

  4. Clean the Hardware

    Use a good quality metal polish or brass cleaner to help bring the shine back to 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 or straw 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 will not hold its shape while damp, fill it 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.

How to Care for Straw or Jute Handbags
Detergent Liquid dishwashing soap
Water Temperature Warm
Cycle Type Do not machine wash
Drying Cycle Air-dry only
Special Treatments Pretreat stains, do not over-wet

Project Metrics

Working Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 10 minutes to 1 hour, depending on air-drying time

Skill Level: Beginner

What You Need

Supplies

Tools

  • Vacuum
  • Toothbrush
  • Clean white cloth

Instructions

  1. Empty and Vacuum

    Completely empty the purse and all interior pockets. Woven straw bags attract dust and dirt into the crevices and a vacuum cleaner is a great way to keep the straw dust and grime-free. Use the upholstery brush and give the bag a good vacuum. (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.) This will remove dust that can gather in the crevices of the woven straw.

  2. Clean the Interior Lining

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

  3. Clean Soiled Areas on the Straw

    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.

  4. Drying a Straw Bag

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

Handbag Care Tips

  • 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.
  • 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 floor of public spaces can easily stain your bag.

Repairs

Don't get rid of that purse just because of a small repair that needs to be done. Make these repairs instead:

  • Broken strap: Pin the strap where it's supposed to be attached. Use a needle and thread (that matches the color of the purse) to hand-sew the strap back in place. If the strap seems unrepairable, consider having the bag refitted with new straps.
  • Lost or broken hardware: Find a piece of metal hardware at a craft store that matches the style of the bag. Use fabric glue or a needle and thread to attach the metal to the bag.

Storage of Handbags

Never store handbags in plastic bags, which can encourage mold and mildew growth and avoid hanging them up, which can cause the bags to lose their shape. Instead, store your handbags upright or flat in old pillowcases or a 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.