Have You Washed Your Reusable Bags Lately?

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Reusable shopping bags are a sustainable option, but it is important to wash them regularly. ©eleonora galli/Getty Images

Amid the current discussions on how to practice safe grocery shopping, sanitize your groceries, and wash your hands frequently, it can be easy to overlook the importance of keeping your reusable totes and grocery bags clean. While these bags contribute to a more eco-friendly lifestyle by reducing the use of single-use paper and plastic, their reusability also makes them prone to germs, bacteria, and cross-contamination.

If you have not washed your reusable bags recently or ever, now is a good time to start practicing good hygiene habits that keep you and your food safe. By washing and storing your bags properly, you can prevent bacteria, yeasts, and molds from breeding inside and on them, according to the American Cleaning Institute.

Washing Your Reusable Grocery Bags

If you are like most people, you probably have more reusable bags than you know what to do with. Regardless of the number you have, the American Cleaning Institute recommends washing them after every use. Remove any plastic inserts from the bottom of your bags before wiping them with disinfectant while they are in the washing machine. Then, wash your bags based on their material and washing instructions.

Cotton, bamboo, and hemp bags can be machine washed and either line-dried or dried in the machine, depending on your preference. If you are concerned about shrinking, avoid using the dryer. Woven and nonwoven polypropylene bags, which are made from recycled plastic, can also be machine washed on a gentle cycle or hand washed with soap and warm water. Nylon and polyester bags can be treated similarly. Hand wash them in warm water, and hang them inside out to dry. Insulated bags require hand washing or cleaning with disinfecting wipes, with special attention to cleaning along the seams.

Separating and Storing Your Reusable Bags

Just as you would not place raw meat next to fresh vegetables in your fridge, you should not do the same in your bags. Meat juices can still leak onto the bag’s surface, leading to cross-contamination. If you are unable to wash your bags between uses, designate specific bags for specific purposes. For example, use one bag exclusively for raw meat and another for cleaning supplies. Do not use the same bag for raw meat and later use it to carry items such as diapers or sweaty gym clothes.

When storing your reusable bags, remember that leaving unwashed bags in a hot environment like your car can create an ideal breeding ground for bacteria. Instead, store them in a cool, dry area, preferably in your home.

Unfortunately, even reusable bags eventually wear out. If you encounter staining, wear and tear, or the bag just will not come clean, it is time to dispose of it. Recycling it is an even better option.

Interesting Fact

Using reusable bags is only environmentally friendly if they are used frequently. According to a study conducted by Clemson University in 2014, a recycled polypropylene plastic bag needs to be used 21.5 times to have the same carbon footprint as a regular plastic grocery bag.


1. Why do I need to wash my reusable bags?

Reusable bags are an eco-friendly alternative to plastic bags, but they can become a breeding ground for bacteria if not washed regularly. Food spills, moisture, and heat can create an ideal environment for bacteria to grow and multiply. Washing your reusable bags helps to remove dirt, grime, and bacteria, keeping them clean and safe to use.

2. How often should I wash my reusable bags?

You should wash your reusable bags after every use, especially if you have used them to carry groceries or other food items. If you have used your bags to carry non-food items, you can wash them less frequently, but it’s still a good idea to give them a thorough cleaning every few weeks.

3. How do I wash my reusable bags?

You can wash your reusable bags by hand or machine. If washing by hand, use hot, soapy water and scrub the bags thoroughly inside and out. Rinse them well and hang them up to dry. If washing by machine, use a gentle cycle with cold water and a mild detergent. Dry them on a low heat setting or hang them up to air dry.

4. Can I wash my reusable bags with other laundry?

It’s best to wash your reusable bags separately from other laundry items to prevent cross-contamination. If you do wash them with other items, make sure they are similar in color and texture to avoid any damage or bleeding of colors onto your other laundry items.

5. Can I use bleach to wash my reusable bags?

It’s not recommended to use bleach on reusable bags as it can weaken the fabric and cause them to deteriorate faster. Bleach can also leave a strong odor that may be difficult to remove, and it’s not environmentally friendly.

6. What should I do if my reusable bag is stained?

If your reusable bag is stained, you can try to remove the stain by spot cleaning it with a mild detergent and warm water. If the stain persists, you can try using a stain remover that’s safe for the fabric of your bag.

7. Can I put my reusable bags in the dryer?

It’s best to air dry your reusable bags to prevent shrinkage or damage to the fabric. If you do need to put them in the dryer, use a low heat setting and remove them as soon as they are dry to prevent any damage.

8. What should I do if my reusable bag has a bad odor?

If your reusable bag has a bad odor, you can try to remove it by washing it with hot, soapy water and hanging it up to air dry. You can also try using a fabric freshener spray or placing a dryer sheet inside the bag to help absorb any odors.

9. Do I need to replace my reusable bags after a certain amount of time?

Reusable bags are designed to last for a long time, but they can become worn or damaged over time. If you notice any tears, rips, or other damage to your reusable bags, it’s a good idea to replace them to ensure they are safe and effective to use.

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