Fashion

How To Clean Canvas Tote Bags

What to do to preserve their stiff texture.
IMAGE L.L. Bean
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The L.L. Bean Boat and Tote is a beloved classic, and rightly so. The bag, introduced in 1944 as Bean's Ice Carrier (for transporting ice "from car to ice chest"), is perfect in just about every way. But just there's one problem with this staple of preppy life: It's frustratingly hard to clean.

The Sanctioned Way: Spot Treating


According to the care instructions provided by L.L. Bean, a dirty or stained canvas bag should be spot cleaned. Of course, "spot clean" is an instruction that's a little light on specifics, which is why you have me to break it down in more detail for you.

First, you'll need a mild detergent. Liquid laundry detergent is an obvious option, but you can also use hand soap or something like Dr. Bronner's Pure Castile Liquid Soap (above), along with water, a small bowl, and a light-colored sponge or rag. The "light-colored" part is really important, especially if you use a sponge, as dye transfer can very easily occur and then you'll have a whole new kind of spot in need of treating.

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Once you've assembled your tools, dilute a small amount of detergent (1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon will do it) with about a cup of water, dip your light-colored sponge or rag into the solution, wring it out so that it is damp and sudsy, and scrub at stains and soiled portions of the bag, working with the grain. Repeat as needed until the stains are gone, and then allow the bag to air dry before using.

The Rogue Method: Machine Washing


Caveats are required before I tell you how to machine wash a Boat and Tote. First, machine washing is not an officially sanctioned method of cleaning, which means that if you opt to go this route, it will invalidate any guarantees L.L. Bean makes to replace damaged items.

The second caveat is that machine washing a Boat and Tote will change the texture of the canvas. If you're a person who likes a more broken-in Tote, this won't be a problem at all, but if you want your bag to retain its original stiffness, machine washing isn't for you.

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If, after reading those warnings, you're still game for tossing your Boat and Tote in the wash, here are the instructions you'll want to follow:

  • Use cold water only. This is crucial because canvas is prone to shrinking, and hot water may well turn your Tote into a doll-sized bag.
    • Wash the bag on its own, or with other heavy canvas items, to prevent its weight from damaging more delicate things.
      • Select the regular or heavy-duty cycle.
        • Reshape the bag and air dry.

        When the Boat and Tote emerges from the washing machine, you may be worried about the state it's in, but push those feelings aside. You'll need to wrestle the bag back into a semblance of its original shape and, once you do that, allow it to air dry. As it dries, it will lose the bedraggled look it had when it came out of the washer and transform into the Boat and Tote you know and love.

        One Last Tip: Vacuuming

        You can press a vacuum into all manner of odd jobs, including ridding your Boat and Tote of dirt, crumbs, hair, sand, and other dirt. Either use a handheld vacuum, or a standard model fitted with an upholstery tool, to give the interior and exterior a thorough going over. A crevice tool can be helpful for getting into the deep folds in the interior of the bag. Vacuuming won't replace spot treating or machine washing, but it's good to keep in mind if a trip to the beach or a picnic in the woods leaves your favorite bag filled with debris.

        This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
        * Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.

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        Jolie Kerr
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