Reusable grocery bags are great; they’re both practical and durable. Compared to plastic bags, they’re also much better than the environment. You won’t have to worry about contributing to the landfill every time you head to the store (did you know that they take hundreds of years to degrade?). They might be more expensive compared to their one-use counterparts but it’s definitely worth it, especially in the long run.
With the coronavirus pandemic, however, many people have made the switch back to plastic bags and for good reason. That is, there’s a high chance of contamination; it can easily transfer the virus to shop employees or other individuals. The risk is especially high at high-contact points such as food scanners, check-out conveyors, and grocery carts.
Should You Stop Using Reusable Grocery Bags?
The answer is—it depends. While it’s true that they can all grocery bags can be contaminated, some are more “resistant” than others. Take polypropylene bags, for instance, they are known for being hard to disinfect; they also happen to be one of the most common types of reusable bags sold in stores. Made from recycled plastic, their construction prevents them from being properly sterilized even when exposed to heat. You can spray disinfectant but chances are, it won’t reach the pathogens that are lodged in the crevices.
Instead, get a reusable bag that’s made from natural fibers such as canvass or cotton. Machine washable, they can easily be sanitized after each use. If anything, they’re just as durable if not more so. Keep in mind, however, that they’re only a good option if you can keep up with the washing. If you don’t have time to run them through the washer each time, it may be a better idea to just go for single-use plastic bags.
The Risk of Using Reusable Grocery Bags
The coronavirus can stay “alive” on different surfaces for many hours, including plastic—at least that’s what’s been suggested by recent studies. Given that, it’s not surprising to know that many people have ditched them for disposable alternatives. With that said, there’s a lack of scientific evidence to suggest that these bags are responsible for rising cases. Nonetheless, consumers are recommended to err on the side of caution by using disposable bags. They can be thrown out after each use so that the risk of potential contamination is significantly lower.
Types of Reusable Grocery Bags
Like we said earlier, there’s more than one type of reusable grocery bag. Here’s a brief overview of the different choices.
Polypropylene is a form of plastic. Due to their low cost, they’re a popular option for reusable grocery bags. Not only is the material strong, but it can also be dyed a variety of colors and patterns. Like we said earlier, though, they can be hard to sanitize due to the fact that they’re not machine washable.
Nylon bags are another popular option. Not only is the material strong and durable but it’s also lightweight. On top of that, it’s compact. For instance, you can fold it and stuff it in your bag. Water-resistant, it won’t get damaged if exposed to a bit of moisture. Similar to polypropylene, however, nylon takes a long time to break down so it’s not the most eco-friendly choice.
Polyester bags are water and abrasion-resistant. They also fold easily so that you can easily take them with you on the go. Unlike polypropylene, the fabric is machine washable so you can sanitize it with heat and soap.
Cotton bags are great in that you can easily machine wash them with your clothes. While they’re not as compact as some of the other options that we’ve mentioned above, they are soft to the touch. The only thing is that they can shrink if exposed to heat so be careful when you’re selecting your washer settings.
How to Wash Reusable Polyester Grocery Bags
Washing Polyester Bags By Putting Them in the Washer
All polyester bags are machine washable. As you would for clothing, you want to start by turning it inside out; that’ll allow for better cleaning. From there, you can place it in the washer. It’s perfectly fine them wash them with other garments as long as they’re not of opposite colors (that can lead to dye transfer). If you want, you can protect the bag by placing it in a garment bag; this is especially important if you’re washing it together with coarse items such as denim jeans.
Once everything has been added to the machine, put in your detergent—we recommend one scoop of ACTIVE detergent. Its specifically made for synthetic fabrics so you know that it’ll do a good job of cleaning your polyester bag. While you can adjust the amount based on the number of items that you’re washing, you don’t want to add too much as it can make rising it off difficult. Do not add bleach.
Set the washing machine to a gentle cycle (this is more for your clothes than your bag) and run a cycle with cold water. While hot water is better at sanitizing, it can damage the polyester material over time. As long as you’ve added detergent, you shouldn’t have to worry about it not coming out clean.
Retrieve your polyester bag from the washer once everything’s done washing. Use a hanger to hang it up so that it can air-dry. Do not dry it by putting it in the dryer; you don’t want to expose it to unnecessary heat. Polyester is quick-drying anyway so it shouldn’t take long for all the moisture to evaporate.
Hand Washing Your Polyester Bags
Flip the polyester bag inside out. Prepare a container or sink with water and add a bit of ACTIVE detergent. Wait until it’s completely dissolved before submerging the bag in the liquid. Gently massage the fabric with your hands, paying extra attention to the handles; that helps to work in the soap suds. Leave it alone in the sink to soak for 10-20 minutes afterward.
Drain the container or sink and refill with fresh water from the tap. Swish the bag through the water to remove the detergent. You may have to squeeze it out of the fabric with your hands a few times depending on how much it’s absorbed. Continue to rinse until it’s clear that there’s no more soap.
Blot the polyester bag with a clean towel; it will help remove the excess water. From there, you can line dry it. Remember not to stuff it in the dryer.
Note: Reusable nylon bags can be washed in the same way as polyester bags; the materials behave very similarly.
Washing Instructions for Reusable Cotton/Canvas Grocery Bags
Running Cotton/Canvas Bags Through the Washer
Most cotton or canvas grocery bags come with a bottom insert; it’s important that you take it out before washing, otherwise, it’ll become non-usable. Once you’ve done that, turn the entire bag inside out. Close any zippers if there are any and put the item in the washer. Laundry bags are optional; they’ll protect your bag from friction damage but they’re not necessary.
Note: Depending on the bag, your bottom insert may be made of cardboard or plastic. Either way, you won’t be able to put it in the washing machine. What you can do, however, is give it a good wipe with some water and soap (assuming that it’s plastic). If it’s made of cardboard, you may wish to replace it with something else.
Dunk the bags into the washing machine. Add your other laundry (make sure that you’ve sorted out the colors, or else your cotton bags might come out a different color). From there, add one scoop of ACTIVE detergent to the detergent drawer or drum. Remember, it’s important that you don’t add too much. Avoid bleach.
Run your wash cycle on a gentle setting. With cotton, you never want to use hot water as the heat can cause the fibers to shrink (it can happen even if the cotton material is preshrunk). Wait for the washing machine to finish working its magic before retrieving the bag. Hang it up and wait for it to air dry.
Hand Washing Your Cotton/Canvas Bags
Start by taking out the insert at the bottom of the bag. Next, flip the cotton or canvas bag inside out. Make sure that all zippers are zipped up. Set the bag aside while you prepare a sink with water and soap. More specifically, you want to fill it up with cool water; add half a scoop or so of ACTIVE detergent and you should end up with a soapy mixture.
Put the grocery bag in the container or sink, making sure that it’s fully immersed in the detergent water. Rub the fabric gently with your hand; pay extra attention to the crevices near the handle as that’s where gunk tends to build up. Swish it a few times through the soap before letting it soak for 10 to 20 minutes.
Rinse the grocery bag afterward by lifting it up toward the faucet. As an alternative, you can drain the dirty water from the sink and refill it with fresh water. It doesn’t matter which you pick as long as you rinse out all of the soap suds.
Let your bag air-dry afterward. Remember not to expose it to heat by stuffing it in the washing machine. It’s also not recommended that you hang it up outside where it might be exposed to sunlight.