Are Your Reusable Shopping Bags Clean?

Reusable shopping bags are the easiest way to help the environment as they help cut down on waste, pollution, and fossil fuel usage. With the increased use of plastic bags, it is important to make sure you are cleaning your bags enough. This is especially true now that cleaning and sanitization have become more essential than ever. Now is a good time to look at how you are cleaning and disinfecting your reusable shopping bags. If you haven’t cleaned your shopping bags before, it’s okay because it is never too late to start. 

Facts About Plastic Bags

Throughout the course of a year, the average person will use over 350 plastic bags. Americans use 100 billion plastic bags a year. About only one percent of these plastic bags are returned for recycling, according to Waste Management. It takes about 12 million barrels of oil every year to make 100 billion plastic bags. As you can see, plastic bags pose a big problem for the environment and stretch our resources.

Bacteria and Your Reusable Bag — What You Should Know

A study by the American Chemistry Council found that there is a good chance microbes are in your reusable bags. However, these germs do not likely pose a threat to your health. Yet, it is important to be aware that germs are in your shopping bags so you can take better care to clean them regularly. 

In the study, researchers tested 84 reusable grocery bags in California and Arizona. They found that more than half of the bags held some type of coliform bacteria, which includes Escherichia coli, or E. coli. Furthermore, 97 percent of the 84 people interviewed in the study had never washed their reusable shopping bags. The presence of the bacteria combined with the lack of washing reusable bags is the perfect combination for cross-contamination, which could end up making you sick in rare cases.

The easiest way to get rid of this bacteria is to wash your reusable bags regularly. This helps to avoid cross-contamination while getting rid of any nasty bacteria that may linger from the grocery store.

General Cleaning Tips

If you use your large reusable shopping bags for produce, meat, and precooked food, then your bag should be washed after every use. Washing after every trip to the grocery store helps to reduce cross-contamination. 

When washing your bags, remove the insert to ensure the bottom gets cleaned as well. If something leaks in your bag chances are it will get underneath the insert, which is a prime place for bacteria to grow. 

Once you remove the insert be sure to clean it. Most inserts are made of cardboard and are covered with fabric or vinyl. Use a disinfecting spray on the insert to kill any bacteria and keep it clean. This will also help with any odors that may have built up over time.

When you are ready to clean your reusable bag, it is helpful to turn it inside out. This makes it easier to clean the corners and the entire inside of the bag. Pay close attention to the area around the seams as this is another prime spot for bacteria to hide.

Specific Tips for Bag Types

Many times you will find washing instructions on the label of your bags. If the bag you are washing doesn’t have instructions, then use the following tips to ensure your reusable shopping is thoroughly cleaned.

reusable shopping bag made of canvas

Cotton and Canvas Reusable Bags

Most of the time, cotton and canvas reusable bags can be put in the washing machine. Use the hottest water setting on your machine because this will kill any lingering bacteria. Your general laundry detergent will work for cleaning the bag, so just use what you have on-hand. 

Cotton or canvas bags can be put in the dryer, but be aware that it might shrink a little bit. However, if you don’t want to take that chance, then hang dry the bag in an area that has good ventilation to prevent any mold or mildew buildup. 

Nylon Reusable Bags

Nylon can be put in the washing machine as long as the wash settings are set to gentle. However, hand washing is generally the better option with nylon reusable shopping bags. Wash the bag with warm soapy water. Make sure to wipe down the entire bag, turning it inside out during the washing process. 

To dry the bag, hang it in an area with good ventilation as this helps to prevent mold growth. Do not put nylon bags in the dryer because the material may weaken or melt.

Recycled Plastic Bags

Some grocery stores have sturdy plastic bags, so it is a good idea to reuse them to limit waste. Wash these bags with warm, soapy water. Dry them with a towel or hang them up in a well-ventilated area. Do not use chlorine bleach on the bags because the bleach will weaken the fibers and damage the bag.

plastic shopping bag being used as a reusable shopping bag

If you are short on time and need to use the bags for your next shopping trip, then wipe down the bags with disinfecting wipes. Make sure they are completely dry before you use them again. Also, take care to get both the inside and the outside of the bag. Furthermore, do not put plastic bags in the dryer as they could melt.

Insulated Bags

Since insulated reusable shopping bags are made with liners to keep heat or cold in, clean them with a disinfecting spray. Spray the inside and outside of the insulated bag. Make sure to get the handles and zippers as well.

How to Store Your Bags

Don’t store your reusable shopping bags in the trunk of your car. This is a warm, dark, and humid environment that could promote bacteria growth. Instead, keep your reusable bags at home in a cool, dry place.