I get asked a lot about how I clean my handmade bags and my usual response is: 'I spot wash them'. I thought it was high time that I went into a bit more detail about how I care for my bags.
Do I wash my bags?
Well, for starters I do not wash a majority of my bags, this is because I own squillions of them (funny that) and this means that as I rotate them they don't get that dirty (I do have my mummy bags - that of course take a beating, but more about them in a minute).
Another reason I don't wash my bags is I find that washing them can reduce fabric colour vibrancy and worse - the bags' structure is never quite as as crisp as before washing. I've tested this, I've taken a bag that I've used (until admittedly it's getting pretty crusty) and I've compared it's structure to a similar design bag that is much newer and has been cold washed. And would you believe, the crusty bag wins out as being more structured than the newer washed one - I assume it's not dirt and yucky stuff acting as the stiffening agent...
NB: If I know I'm not going to wash my bag I don't prewash my fabric (see below)
When do I tend to wash my bags?
But, I do pop a few of my bags into the washing machine. I like to wash my grocery totes, beach bags and any other bags that Mabel is likely to come into regular contact with! What is important is what these designs have in common; they are simple designs with a minimum number of features - they don't have fancy straps, they have little hardware, they are always made from colourfast fabrics and they tend to be soft structured (vs firmly interfaced). All of these features combine to make these bags far more washing machine friendly. Conversely, bags that are more intricate i.e they have fancy straps, quite a bit of metalware, highly-dyed fabrics, lots of pockets with flaps, a stiff structure and so on, are not going to fare well in a washing machine - don't even attempt it!
To clean bags (that I'm not going to machine wash), I'll first spray my newly handmade bag with Scotch Guard protector. As you may know this is pretty heady solvent-ridden stuff! I advice against using it on heavily dyed fabrics like black or deep indigo denim - it can make the colours run. ERK! If'/when the stain occurs I'll get to work on the stain ASAP. I'll get a clean damp cloth (we don't want to use a kitchen cloth - who knows what'll be hiding inside it) and I'll dab the cloth with warm water and use one of several detergents: dishwasher liquid (if the stain isn't crazy), one of those laundry stain removers (for a medium crazy stain); or Ace Bleach (for a 'ohhh crap!! Blueberry juice! Ahhhh!' Kind of stain). Depending on the nature of the stain, I'll either dab at it or I'll leave the detergent to do it's thing (whilst I pace outside the utility room like a wide-eye expectant father - haha, not really!) Try not to overdo the water or detergent or you might have a nice water mark to deal with as well.
NB: If I am going machine machine wash my bags I'll alway pre-wash my fabrics.
Get protected (and get high!)
One of those laundry stain removers.
This stuff is (Ace Bleach) is brilliant. If you have kids/partner/clothes, you need this!
Al needs these as he has not yet grasped the difference between whites and...blah blah blah! But they are still great for when you have different colour fabrics (on the same bag).
To pre-wash or not
You might be thinking to yourselves: issues such as colour fade and loss of a crisp handle can be dealt with by pre-washing - why not pre-wash and let the colour fade a tad, let the fabric shrink a bit and wash out that 'manufacturer starch' - and that way you'll begin at the beginning and know what you're dealing with. And I do think these are important considerations for dress making fabrics, but as a bag maker I'm not worried about pre-washing.
Considering I'm a self confessed sewing and pattern making PRECISION FREAK- AHHHHH!!!, I'm very lax about pre-washing. (Unless I intend to wash my bags - see above) I never to pre-wash my bag fabric or interfacing because I actually love the vibrant colour of unwashed new fabrics and I like crisp handle that comes from fabric manufacture starch - remember, it also present on my fave interfacing too (woven) - so the effect is multiplied when you fuse fabric and interfacing together (ohh! I'm getting a bit excited!). So as I'm don't machine wash my bags I'm not concerned about pre-washing my bag fabrics. In my 10+ years of being a bag maker I've never had a slapped wrist or thunderbolt from heaven for omitting this (some might say essential) step.
If do pre-wash my fabrics (grrrr! more ironing!), I might first prevent my raw edges from fraying by zigzag stitching them (if fabric is scarce). Then for extra protection I'll put it into a one of those laundry mesh bags (I actually made myself a large-size one for this very purpose). I'll use a touch of gentle non-bio detergent (no softener) and wash on a 30-40 degree, mid-length wash (my machine has a cycle that lasts 45 mins) and a fast-ish, but not crazy fast spin). Then I'll take the fabric out and smooth it out as best as I can (yeah whatever, it's still going to be a joy to iron!). Then I line-dry it and will it to dry quickly (whilst I pace inside the kitchen like a wide-eye expectant father - haha, not really!)
How do you like to care for your bags? Do you pre wash?