How To Disinfect Your Bags

How To Disinfect Your Bags
Photo: Shutterstock

At this point, we’re all washing our hands for the allotted 20 seconds (right?) and cleaning the surfaces in our homes—but what about our bags? Although recreational travel may be at a halt, many of us are still travelling to work or the grocery store. The CDC doesn’t consider objects like bags to be a major source of COVID-19 transmission, so you can get away with not disinfecting them. But let’s face it, we have a bit of time on our hands—so here’s how to clean your bags if you’re eyeing them with suspicion.

Just how dirty can our bags be?

The University of Arizona conducted a study that found that 51% of all reusable bags contained coliform bacteria, and 12% contained E. coli, indicating the presence of faecal matter and other pathogens.

Similarly, the National Centre for Biotechnology Information offered insight into just how germy handbags can get. Concluding a study that tested a total of 145 handbags, they found that 95.2% of the bags showed bacterial contamination. In other words, your bags are filthy.

Charles Gerba, a professor of Environmental Science at The University of Arizona, offers his findings:

I have only studied grocery bags and the bottom outside of women’s purses, which tend to have faecal bacteria in/on them. Grocery bags are bad because people put raw meat products in them and you tend to get faecal bacteria in a lot of them. Also people tend to use them half the time to put other objects in them like dirty laundry and shoes. In our interviews only 3% of people ever said they washed them.

It is important for us to note, that at this time there are no published studies directly related to bags and the possibility of spreading, contracting, or transporting the coronavirus.

Where to begin

It’s important to focus primarily on the areas of your bags that have been touched by hands, the ground, or other surfaces such as countertops. Our hands, especially, touch a multitude of germ-infested surfaces from our keyboards, mobile phones, and keys to money, shopping carts, or the ATM. So the handles and the bottom of the bag (including the wheels, if any) should be the initial point of disinfection.

Can You Really Catch Coronavirus From Food?

If it wasn't enough to worry about a steady supply of food in our pantry and fridge after the panic-buying chaos, now people are freaking out about the coronavirus disease spreading through takeaway food. Here's why you should take a breath before disinfecting your takeaway packaging or your actual pizza.

Read more

How to clean different types of bags

Leather and hardside

Leather bags are easy to wipe down and dry quickly. As we previously suggested, using microfiber cloths and disinfectant or disinfectant wipes to clean these surfaces is the best line of defence. Similarly, hardside bags, including luggage made of polycarbonate, are easy to wipe down with a spray and cloth or wipes. Spot-test these kinds of bags to ensure that the chemicals you use don’t ruin or discolor them.


For cloth bags, washing them in the washing machine is a great way to disinfect both the inside and outside of the bags. If you have a much bigger bag or one with wheels, you can spot clean with microfiber cloths and disinfectant or disinfectant wipes.

If you need to do a deeper clean, fill a bucket with lukewarm water and 2 tablespoons of mild detergent, or enough to make the water sudsy. To scrub your bag clean, use a cloth (microfiber or washcloth) or a sponge, then wipe down with clean water and air dry. You could also evenly coat the bag with disinfecting cleaning spray, and allow the bag to air dry.

Dr. Gerba’s recommendation:

Cloth bags are difficult to disinfect because they are so porous so you should wash them on a regular basis. For vinyl bags, use a disinfectant wipe.

Finally, whenever you’re cleaning your bags, keep in mind two things. First, it’s important for the bag to be able to air dry completely, so that mould doesn’t grow. Second, remember that sponges and cloths are very good at holding onto bacteria, so if they cannot be washed for whatever reason, throw them away.

Scientists Estimate How Long Can Coronavirus Survive In The Air And On Surfaces

The good news about the coronavirus is that it's a virus. That means it needs to be inside another living cell to reproduce. But that doesn't mean it can't survive outside a cell. Different viruses can survive for different times depending on whether they're in the air or on different types of surfaces. To provide some clarity to a nervous public, researchers have published data with estimates on how long the coronavirus can survive in the air and on different surfaces.

Read more

Log in to comment on this story!