How to clean a bag without ruining it

From fabric to leather, we've got you covered.

A rainbow pastel ombre background with a pink backpack in the center and white stars either side.
(Image credit: Future / Amazon / Beth Mahoney)

Whether you’re the kinda gal who spends hundreds of $$$ on a designer bag or you’re more of a thrifter, you want to ensure that your bag stays lookin’ its best. Let’s face it, bags get hella grotty super quick, and with the amount of use they get, it’s easy to see why. 

I mean, we overstuff them, fill them with items that sometimes leak (travel mugs, we’re looking at you), and toss them onto the floor. So it’s no wonder our bags often end up in a seriously grimy state. 

The good news is that it is possible to clean *most* material bags, whether you want to learn how to clean a backpack or that new designer bag you just splurged on. The key here is knowing how to clean them and not just assuming you can chuck your bag in the washing machine to clean it up. 

So, how can you go about cleaning a bag without damaging it? We've put together a handy step-by-step guide to the cleaning process (JSYK we've tried and tested it ourselves).

Good to know

Time: 15 minutes

Difficulty: Easy

Helpful hints: Make sure to read the care label on the inside of the bag before you start the cleaning process. 

Here’s what you’ll need

How to clean a bag

Step 1: Prep the bag 

First things first. Prepare your bag to be washed. Empty everything out of it, including removing any bag trash that sits at the bottom. Open all zippers to check that the pockets are empty and give the bag a good ol’ shake to remove as much dirt as possible (you might want to do this over the trash to avoid making a mess).

Step 2: Vacuum the inside of the bag  

If possible turn the bag inside out so that the lining is on the outside. Then, use your vacuum cleaner on a low setting to collect any dust or crumbs. You can also use the nozzle of the vacuum cleaner to get into any pockets that can’t be turned inside out, removing any dirt or debris. 

Step 3: Wipe the bag down 

Take a microfiber cloth and dampen it down (making sure to squeeze out any excess water), then wipe down the bag completely on the inside and the outside. If your bag is excessively dirty you might want to repeat this step once more - or until the bag is completely clean.  

Step 4: Treat stains 

If you notice that your bag has any areas with heavy stains or marks that won’t come off with just a wipe, apply a small amount of dish detergent to the affected area and use a soft toothbrush to rub the stain. Then, once the stain has been removed, use a damp microfiber cloth to wipe the soap away. 

Step 5: Polish any hardware

If your bag features metal accents (think: zips or buckles) take the time to polish these up using a metal polish and a dry microfiber cloth. Just make sure to keep the polish off of the fabric of the bag or otherwise it could stain it. 

Step 6: Allow the bag to air dry 

Once you’ve finished cleaning your bag, the next step is to allow it to air dry. If the inside of the bag is very wet, turning it inside out and hanging it upside down to dry could be a good idea. 


How do you clean a fabric bag without washing it?

To clean a fabric bag without putting it through the laundry, follow the steps above - just make sure to read the care label beforehand. 

How do you clean a leather bag?

To clean a leather bag, it's important to follow the care instructions on the label to ensure that you don't damage the bag. But usually using a damp cloth to wipe over the leather and the bag's interior, and then applying a leather cleaner to the exterior of the bag should work well. 

Can you wash a handbag?

Some handbags can be machine washed, while others need to be hand washed to avoid damage. To make sure that you don't damage your bag, always read the care label before cleaning the bag. 

Beth Mahoney
Freelance journalist

Hi! I’m Beth Mahoney and I’m a former staff writer at Real Homes. I’ve been a journalist for the national press for the past six years, specializing in commerce and trends-related lifestyle articles, from product reviews and listicles to guides and features. With an eye for pretty things (think: quirky wall prints, scalloped edge furniture, and decadent-looking tableware) but a limited budget, I love nothing more than a bargain buy.