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Your reusable shopping bags could be covered in bacteria—here's how to clean them

Prepare to be grossed out.

Reusable Bags Credit: Rg Studio/Getty Images

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Like the environmentally-conscious do-gooder that you are, you likely use your reusable bags all the time, whether you're grocery shopping or doing your weekly Target run. But chances are you rarely—if ever—clean them.

And while that might not seem that bad (after all, they look clean enough), think about all the places your bags have been—and what's been placed inside of them. Public bathroom counters, unwashed produce, dirty subway floors... the list goes on and on. A.k.a. your reusable bags are probably a lot grosser than you think.

Below is exactly what's lurking inside your reusable bags and how to clean them the right (and most effective) way, according to our senior lab testing technician, Jonathan Chan.

How disgusting your reusable shopping bags really are

Bags
Credit: Getty Images

What's really inside of your bags?

You might want to wash your hands after holding your reusable bag—because it could be covered in fecal bacteria. Quest Diagnostics in Albuquerque swabbed reusable bags and discovered enteric bacteria (which is often found in human feces) on most of them. Not only that, but an earlier study from 2011 found that 99 percent of tested bags contained some type of bacteria (including e.coli and coliform) and only 3 percent of people had ever washed their reusable bags.

How to clean reusable shopping bags

Reusable Bags
Credit: Amax Studio/Getty Images

Keep your bags (and your produce) bacteria-free.

Fortunately, cleaning your reusable bags (and keeping them that way) isn't difficult, according to Jonathan. "For all bags, I'd suggest first shaking them out—you'd be surprised just how much large debris, like bits of food waste and dirt, can get trapped down there," he recommends. Jonathan adds that if you notice any odors, you should wipe down the interior of the bag with a disinfecting wipe to kill off any bacteria.

As for a deeper clean, it depends on the material of your reusable bags. "Bags made of cloth or canvas should go in the washer with a load of other laundry to help protect them from fraying," Jonathan explains. "Plastic bags can be washed by hand with a little warm water and soap. I'd also wipe it down with a towel when you're done to help prevent mildew." If you don't dry it off with a towel, let your bags dry thoroughly before folding them up and putting them away.

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