Diapering Guide

How To Clean and Disinfect Your Diaper Bag

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Diaper bags are essential items for new parents.  They come in all shapes, colors, and sizes.  You can find inexpensive vinyl ones, moderately priced printed fabric ones, or even top-of-the-line Italian leather ones. But, regardless of what you pay or what it’s made out of, the dirty truth is, diaper bags get messy. Really messy.

Since it’s not always an option to toss our diaper bags in the trash when they become too soiled, it’s best to concede to the idea that you will need to spend some time caring for your trusty sidekick.

For the most part, diaper bags can be cleaned and cared for with just a few simple non-toxic household items. If you put a little time and effort in every now and again, your bag shouldn’t have any trouble going the distance and staying with you for the long haul.  While there are several cleaning agents on the store shelves that claim superior cleansing power, most bags can be cleaned with water, vinegar, baking soda, and dish soap. There are, however, those times when you’ll need to pull out the heavy-duty cleaners. Following is a guide to cleaning and disinfecting your diaper bag.  Remember, staying on top of general cleaning will help you save time and money in the end. A few minutes every other week or so is all your bag needs to stay in tip-top shape so that you can avoid having to have it professionally cleaned or, worse yet, replaced.

Supplies For Proper Cleaning and Disinfecting

  • Water
  • Baking soda
  • White Vinegar
  • Old Toothbrush
  • Soft rag (a discarded t-shirt or face cloth will do.)
  • Spray bottle
  • Baby wipes
  • Vacuum

Additional Supplies for Tough Stains or Leather Surfaces

  • Leather cleaner
  • Leather Moisturizer
  • Stain remover or Magic Eraser
  • Plastic knife or butter knife
  • Salt

Diaper Bag Cleaning 101

Here is the quick and easy step-by-step guide for bags that just need a quick touch-up.  This simple cleaning procedure works for most bags. Before you jump in, though, take a minute to look at the manufacturer’s labels inside your bag.  Believe what the label says. If you go against the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions and your bag becomes damaged in the process, it’s unlikely the warranty will be honored.

  • Empty all the contents out of your bag, including all zippered and snapped compartments, and discard ANYTHING that is expired or broken.
  • If you have a bottom panel in your bag, remove it and then turn the bag inside-out and shake out any extra debris that is lingering in the seams or corners of your bag.
  • Vacuum or wipe the interior with a damp rag or baby wipe to catch any lint, errant crumbs, etc.
  • If you have the time, put a small opened box of baking soda inside the bag and let it sit overnight. The baking soda will absorb and neutralize odors and leave your bag smelling fresh and new again. (If your bag is really stinky, it may be more effective to sprinkle the baking soda around the interior of the bag as well as the pockets and compartments. Let it sit overnight, then shake out the bag and vacuum any remaining powder.)
  • Once the baking soda has done its job, remove the box and return the bag right-side out. Shake and reshape your bag.
  • Spray the interior lightly with white vinegar to disinfect and let dry. The vinegar smell with evaporating once the bag is dry (about 5 minutes.)
  • Replace the bottom panel.
  • Re-fill with necessities, making sure they are all up-to-date, properly sealed, and in good working order.

That was easy.  And it should only have taken about 10 or 15 minutes of your time.  There are going to be days, though, when you need to get down and dirty with your bag.  Spilled sippy cups, dirty diapers, forgotten burping rags – the list can go on and on. We’ve all been there. Our best intentions get kicked to the curb when our baby is sick or when we’re in a hurry or when we’re having one of those days when we seem to forget EVERYTHING! That okay. Life happens.  Here’s how to clean it up.

Diaper Bag Cleaning – Advanced

First, you need to determine what kind of material your bag is made of.  Each option has its advantages and disadvantages, but each can be cleaned properly with just a little extra effort.

Cleaning Cloth, Plastic, or Vinyl Bags

If you have a cloth bag, it’s pretty likely that the fabric can withstand some warm water and soap.  Some cloth bags are not color safe, though, so it’s wise to test a small spot to make sure it can handle your cleaning solutions first. Then, follow the directions below.

  • Follow the first 3 steps in Diaper Bag Cleaning 101.
  • Locate any stains (interior and exterior.) For crusty food stains, begin by scraping off the dried, hardened crumbs with your knife. Don’t dig or scrape too hard. You just want to flake off the crumbs, not gouge or scratch the material.
  • Take a towel dampened with warm water and dab at the remaining stain.
  • If the stain is still there after the warm water treatment, add a drop of mild soap (dish detergent or whatever you wash your baby’s clothes in) to the damp rag and gently rub the stain in a circular motion.
  • Dab the soapy area with a clean rag dipped in warm water to remove the soap.
  • Let the area, or areas, dry.
  • If the stain is STILL there when the fabric is all dried, it’s time for the baking soda. (To save time, you can skip the mild soap and water step if you feel the stain is going to be a stubborn one, but, in my experience, most stains will come out with just some soap and water.)
  • Take a small amount of baking soda and add just enough water to mix it into a thick paste.
  • Apply the paste to the stain by rubbing it gently into the fabric with a rag or old toothbrush and let it sit for 5 – 10 minutes.
  • Once the paste begins to dry, take your knife and gently scrape away the paste.
  • With your rag and warm water, gently remove the remaining paste by rubbing it gently in a circular motion.
  • Let the bag dry.
  • If the stain refuses to budge even after the baking soda treatment, then you may need to opt for your trusted stain remover or Magic Eraser Follow the directions on your remover and don’t forget to perform a spot test on the fabric first to make sure it can handle the agents in the remover.
  • Once your bag is clean, spray the interior lightly with white vinegar to disinfect and let dry. The vinegar smell with evaporating once the bag is dry (about 5 minutes.)

Some bags claim they can be machine washed.  While this may sound good, I don’t always feel comfortable machine washing bags.  Not all machines operate the same way.  Some are more gentle than others.  If you have any doubt, play it safe and hand wash your bag either using the spot-cleaning method above or by submerging the bag in a large bucket or sink and letting it soak for 10-15 minutes to release any dirt and stains.  Then, shake out the bag, reshape it, and hang it to dry.  If your bag’s fabric is fade resistant, try hanging it outside in the sun.  Sunlight is a natural disinfectant plus it will leave your bag smelling fresh!

Cleaning Leather Bags

Leather bags certainly have their advantages, but they do require extra care.  If you have a leather bag that’s in need of a heavy-duty cleaning, it’s vital that you follow the manufacturer’s care instructions.  Always clean a test spot first to make sure the solutions you’re using won’t damage the bag and proceed with caution from there.  That being said, caring for your leather bag shouldn’t be something to be frightened of.  After all, you bought a leather bag for its durability, right?  Right.  So, let’s get started.

  • Follow the first 3 steps in Diaper Bag Cleaning 101.
  • If the interior smells dirty or musty, place the open box of baking soda inside the bag and leave it to do its magic overnight.
  • Once the baking soda has absorbed and neutralized any odors, remove the box and get to work on the exterior of your bag.
  • If you want to disinfect the bag, spray some white vinegar onto a rag and gently rub the rag along the interior surfaces, being careful not to get vinegar on any leather visible on the exterior.
  • Locate any stains on the surface of the bag and attend to them according to the instructions on your leather cleaner. Take your time and be gentle.
  • Once you’ve cleaned the leather, it’s time to condition it. This should be done at least twice a year to keep the leather moisturized and prevent cracks and splits.
  • After you’ve conditioned the bag, you can wipe it briskly with a soft cloth or chamois to shine it up and get it looking brand new again.

A Word on Mold

Mold is NOT something you want to tangle with.  If you find mold in your bag or if you notice a distinctly foul odor, it may be time to have the bag professionally cleaned.  It’s important to eliminate any mold from your bag because it can be highly toxic.  Something that horrible needs to stay away from your baby or any of his supplies.  If you think you have a moldy bag, bring it to a professional cleaner and let them assess it.

The Final Touch

Now that your diaper bag is all spiffed up and smelling like flowers (or at least not like old juice and wet diapers) it’s time to put all the essentials back in whatever way is the most organized to you.  Then, take a quick moment to appreciate your work. (It won’t look like that for long!)  And, remember, a few minutes every few weeks or so spent tidying and wiping up will save you a lot of aggravation down the road.  Treat your bag respectfully and it will treat you well for years to come!

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