March 10, 2020

How To Clean — and Disinfect — Your TOM BIHN Bag

A TOM BIHN bag being washed with lots of soap and suds.

We’re all being asked to do our part in stopping the spread of COVID-19 by washing our hands frequently and disinfecting commonly touched surfaces.

Many of us may want to wash or disinfect our bags on a more regular basis. In an effort to help, we want to share an expanded range of options for cleaning your bag.

Hand wash with dish soap, scrub with a wash cloth, and line dry

The same washing instructions we’ve always shared are the most effective — with one addition: add a wash cloth to the process and scrub down your bag. In many cases, especially with coronaviruses, the friction and the soap are what break down the relatively delicate virus.

Full Cleaning Instructions:

We recommend hand-washing your TOM BIHN bag with a mild detergent — environmentally friendly dish soaps work well, but as always, with any soap, it's a good idea test it on a small, inconspicuous area of the bag before you use it on the entire bag.

Dawn® and similar soaps won't ruin your bag, and will likely be better at removing stains than the more gentle/natural soaps. However, the same thing that makes those dish soaps good stain and oil removers make them more likely to remove the exterior DWR treatment on your bag. That DWR treatment can be re-applied with Nikwax Tent & Gear Solarproof (available through us or your local outdoors shop.) That said, if, let's say, you have a particularly stubborn stain and you scrub the heck out of it with Dawn®, you might remove the DWR in that spot alone, changing the overall color or reflectivity of that spot of fabric, making it potentially uneven. We've used Dawn® in our own experiments and haven't seen it change the color or reflectively of the fabric, but we wanted to state that possibility for the record.

Fill your sink or bathtub with warm water, add a little soap (a little goes a long way), and let the bag soak for a half hour. If there are visible spots of dirt, gently rub the area with a washcloth, or you can apply a little soap directly to that spot and let it soak. Rinse your bag thoroughly (this is a lot easier if you've only used a little bit of soap) and lay your bag flat on top of a bath towel to dry. If you'd like to disinfect your bag, you can spray it with isopropyl alcohol.

Spray your bag with isopropyl alcohol

Need to disinfect your bag but don’t have time to hand wash and line dry? Spray it down with 70% isopropyl alcohol — that’s what we do with our own bags and it’s what we do with repairs that come in and are… a worrisome level of cleanliness. It has no adverse impact on the materials. According to Consumer Reports: "Alcohol solutions with at least 70 percent alcohol are effective against coronavirus. Do not dilute the alcohol solution. Alcohol is generally safe for all surfaces but can discolor some plastics, [Richard Sachleben, an organic chemist and member of the American Chemical Society] says."

Customers who use disinfecting wipes to wipe down their bags report no adverse impacts on the bag or the material its made out of.

And if you really must machine wash your bag….

Let's face it: sometimes you might need to do this. It's not a good idea but it may happen anyway and we know that, so here's our best advice and our request of you if you decide to go that route.

Never dry it. Let the bag line dry fully. Putting your bag in the dryer will effectively destroy its urethane coating and DWR finish; it may melt Halcyon; and, in general, it’ll simply wreak havoc on your bag.

Less of an issue, but still an issue, is the washing machine. It could damage your bag. We ask that if this happens you tell us it was machine washed and we’ll charge you a very reasonable fee (we don’t make money on repairs!) to repair your bag (assuming it can be repaired). The thing we’re trying to avoid here is: because we don’t make money on repairs, it could become expensive for us to repair bags that have been machine washed or otherwise used not-as-intended under the lifetime guarantee (so, no charge for the repair). We can still repair bags even if they’re machine washed; we just want to be able to charge a reasonable cost to help us offset shipping and labor costs. Some of you report absolutely no issue with machine washing your bags; others have experienced issues that necessitated their bags being repaired.


Yaroslav - November 7, 2022

Is it possible to use wet wipes as an alternative to washing?
TOM BIHN replied:
Hi Yaroslav! We have seen people use wet wipes or baby wipes in a pinch for small amounts of dirt on a bag. We’d suggest testing out any product on a small area of the bag, as some detergents can be harsher on our fabrics or potentially discolor them. To fully clean the bag however, we do recommend soaking the bag in a tub or sink with a bit of dish soap.

Trane Levington - May 15, 2020

Hello. Can you please email me the sanitize-and-wash instructions, so I can forward it to the person that turned me on to your bags ?
Thank you for all that you are w—being sensible and logical. I don’t care about this appearing online.

Thank you, Trane Levington

Peter - April 17, 2020

Just my experience, for what it’s worth: I throw my Aeronaut in my side-loading washing machine after every trip, using Ecos detergent and warm water, not hot, then let it air dry, all zippers open and straps exposed. Years later, after many such washings, it’s good as new.

Kathryn P - April 2, 2020

Thank you so much for your mask making efforts. I applaud you from the confines of a high risk self-imposed quarantine at home. Yes, we are doing fine and are so glad we took this step. Also, a great big THANKS for the extended cleaning instructions. My bag has been begging me for this extra TLC but I really wasn’t sure how to proceed. I appreciate all your wonderful workers, your company, your designs and your spirit! I all shines. :)

Darcy - CEO - March 20, 2020

Jack: Yes, an Absolute Shoulder Strap can be washed using the same instructions.
Hans: With the precautions we’ve been taking, what’s inside the box should be fine. However, I would recommend taking precautions with the outside of the box. Here’s what I am doing personally with deliveries I am receiving: you can either wear reusable gloves to open the box and then dispose of it (flip the contents of the box out so you don’t touch it while wearing the same gloves) and then wash the gloves, or let the box sit for 3 days before touching it.

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We're the TOM BIHN crew: we design bags, make bags, ship bags, and answer questions about bags. Oh, and we collaborate on blog posts, too.