What to do with all those tote bags

There are many good uses for your unwanted bags:

  • Use them to bring clothing donations to shelters, places of worship, or goodwill, and leave them as part of the donation.

  • Bundle food donations for soup kitchens and food banks in reusable bags instead of disposable bags so the bags can be passed on to customers.

  • If your supermarket has a food bank box, donate extra grocery bins there.

  • Donate a stack of clean bins to short-term shelters, libraries, senior centers, preschools, or charities like Bags4Kids.

  • Use them instead of gift bags when bringing gifts or food to friends and family.

  • Bins that are no longer usable can still be donated to organizations like ChicoBag’s Pay It Forward program.

But if your tote bag collection makes you happy and it has no adverse effect on your life, of course, keep going. One more thing.

[Like what you’re reading? Sign up here for the Smarter Living newsletter to get stories like this (and much more!) delivered straight to your inbox every Monday morning.]

Yesour tote bags are dirty. This is especially true of bins that are used for groceries; these should be cleaned regularly to ensure they remain free of bacteria that cause foodborne illness. (If you’re looking for a new reusable grocery bag, this guide is for you.)

Nylon and lightweight cotton bags can be machine washed in cold water. Use a stain treatment product on particularly dirty bins; dirt, for example, is a protein stain, so choose an enzyme pre-treatment spray like Zout. For specific, identifiable stains that go beyond just dirt, use the product best suited for the stain in question. (Need direction? Start here.) When applying any stain treatment, pay special attention to the handles and bottom corners of the bag, which are likely to need the most loosening. Grocery bags that cannot be machine washed should still be cleaned regularly, either with an antibacterial wipe or an all-purpose spray.

Drying, however, should be left to nature rather than machines, so opt for air drying. Cotton bags tend to crease after washing; if you don’t mind, great! If it bothers you, come sit next to me and I’ll tell you that you can certainly iron your tote bag — with spray starch, even — and also I’ll completely understand you.

Heavy canvas totes, like the popular LL Bean Boat and Tote, can also be machine washed. Corn, warning launderer: Washing a boat and a tote in the washing machine is a bit like burying the family cat in Stephen King’s “Pet Sematary” – it will come back, but it won’t be exactly the same. Washing a heavy canvas bag will soften it and it will lose some of its original structure and stiffness.

Another note on washing a heavy canvas bag: due to its bulk, it can damage other items in the machine, so wash it on its own. And be warned: if you go this route, your bag might look a little mangled. Do not worry; just reshape the bag back to its original shape and let it air dry right side up.

Previous Best Multimedia Tote Bags, Ranked
Next Away Luggage Launches Lifestyle Longitude and Latitude Tote Bags