caring for your handmade bag


Once in a while i get asked about how I clean my handmade bags.  I wouldn’t say that I have it down to a science or anything, but I can offer some tips that might help you.  I don’t wash mine very often and usually only if there’s a huge spill on it or at the end of a season (I usually change mine with the seasons, don’t you?!).  I really like having the ability to put mine in the wash and freshen things up!

First, I don’t usually pre-wash my fabrics.  I used to all the time, but then it became overwhelming with piles of washed fabric sitting in the corner waiting to be pressed.  Pressing huge chunks of fabric is my least favorite thing to do.  So I gave up pre-washing (except for when I’m making clothes), but there are definitely a few things that I do that helps with anything that might go wrong in the first wash.  If you do pre-wash, you’re probably safe to wash the bag on the same setting as you did for the pre-washing.

Use a color catcher.  I jumped on the color catcher bandwagon after seeing Jeni use them for her quilts. I end up using them a lot and it’s always fun to see what colors get sucked up by the little sheets.

They’re similar to a dryer sheet, but these you throw in the washing machine with whatever you’re washing and it grabs onto any colors that are leaking out into the water.  Sometimes I throw two in if I’m feeling especially cautious.  I’ve only used these Shout brand, but maybe there are others available?

Use a Lingerie bag.  I’m sure you might already have these laying around or maybe you use them already.  It’s a zippered mesh bag used for washing delicate items.  I mostly end up washing my bags with a normal load of laundry and feel that the lingerie bag helps protect them.  Most of my bags that I’ve made have fit inside.  It helps to close any zippers, magnetic snaps or velcro strips before tossing in the bag.

Perfume/dye free detergent.  I exclusively use a perfume and dye free detergent.  But I think it’s always a good idea to use something gentle with handmade items.

Wash on cold.  Like I said before, I don’t pre-wash, so I think washing on cold would  help reduce any bleeding or shrinking and is definitely more gentle on fabrics.

Line dry!  I either lay them over a clothes line or lay flat on a dry towel.  I try and shape it back into it’s original shape and smooth out big wrinkles.  I wouldn’t dry a bag ever, just my two cents.  Plus if a stain didn’t come out, you’d have a much harder time getting the stain out if you dried the bag.

Press after it’s dry.  Whenever I’ve pulled my dry bags off the line they’re still not quite ready for using. Some are better than others, but I think a quick press with the iron in wrinkled spots really helps get that crisp look back.  I’d be a little conservative though on pressing, you don’t want it to shift any of the interfacing around.

Hope that helps a bit!  And don’t hesitate to ask questions, I’m sure if I don’t know, some other lovely readers might!

16 thoughts on “caring for your handmade bag

  1. Stephanie says:

    I’ve found that blowing up a balloon inside my bags helps them dry in a more bag like shape, and avoids some of the ironing. Or drying them upside down on a bottle of wine, depending on the shape..

  2. Great tips Anna! I have never used the stain catchers, but I just put it on my grocery list!. On the home decor and linen weight bags I make, I will go outside and give the bag exterior a gentle spray of Stain Guard. I have not tried it with other materials yet, but I have good results and my customers report good luck with it too. Stephanie – the balloon tip is great! Cindy

  3. Heather says:

    I was wondering if others have used scotch guard/stain guard like the previous poster mentioned on regular quilting cotton? I am ready to dive in on a super tote, but I know it will be going to a lot of playgrounds and parks so I am hoping to make it last and I thought a stain blocker might help??

    1. Great post! I love the balloon tip! Heather, I read somewhere that you can just use hairspray instead of scotchguard for a cheaper alternative. Worth a google at least.

    2. Heather says:

      Thanks for the tip! Now to just find the time to sew 🙂 I also have two boys that I love to make things for – can’t wait to check out your blog!

    3. Linda Zimmer says:

      I used Scotch guard religiously on bags I made. Then I made a really nice computer bag with Home Dec fabric, The black straps, handles, and piping were made from heavy weight black canvas from Hancock’s. After being treated with Scotch Guard, the black shoulder strap rubbed off on my daughters white denim jacket. I took the black untreated fabric and attempted to get the color to rub off on other fabrics by rubbing furiously together–wetting the black canvas, etc. The black did not rub off. I attributed the problem to the Scotch Guard and do not use it anymore on handbag fabric. Neither do I prewash, but I prewashed scraps of the black canvas with the home Dec fabric and it did not bleed on the other material. This was just a one time experience, but my first with Scotch guard on black canvas.

  4. Great post! Thank you so much for the helpful hints.

  5. buggin2stamp says:

    Thank you for sharing these tips. I’ve not washed too many of my hand made bags for fear of ruining them. I had no idea those color lifter sheets were available. Will be getting some of those and I always use dye and fragrance free cleaners, so I am set there. Thanks again. 🙂

  6. Lesley says:

    I find spraying the finished bag with scotch guard or waterproofing camp/shoe spray really helps to keep the bag clean longer

  7. Martha says:

    Thank you for the wonderful tips. I don’t pre-wash my fabrics either so I’m always worried on the first wash. I’ve never tried those color catcher sheets. I’m definitely going to stock up on those.

  8. Becky says:

    Thanks for your tips, Anna. I love using garment bags in the wash. They really protect most of my items that I would normally have to hand wash. I’ve made several of your bags. For my most recent Super Tote that I made back in December, I did pre-wash all of the fabric. I use it for my work bag and it gets washed every few weeks. It is lined with fusible fleece and SF101. I also dry it in the dryer on medium-low. It’s held up great. One suggestion I will share from personal experience with the bags I’ve made, is that the higher the quality of fabric that I use, the better it handles washing and drying. I’m sure that’s pretty common sense, but a few of the items I’ve made with regular quilting cotton have faded and begin to look worn when I wash them.

  9. Brenda says:

    Thank you for these tips—I made a simple quilted tote bag for my mom to use when she goes to the library and couple of years ago, and it REALLY needs to be washed. My mom is usually a laundry-diva, but she is afraid she will ruin it if she washes it. I think I will use Scotch Guard in the future—I haven’t used it on bags, but I swear by it for my car seats, so I know it works.

  10. Scotch guard is really toxic. It needs a lot of ventilation and time to let the sprayed item to release vapors away from living areas. It gives me an asthma attack.

  11. Ok, I gotta admit, when I glanced at the article title and image, I thought you were talking about special care for your lingerie bag. Lol

  12. rebecca says:

    do you treat your interface prior to using?

    1. Anna Graham says:

      no I do not. 🙂

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