How to Clean a Tool Bag Without Ruining It

tool bag

There are plenty of us who don’t like the idea of carrying around our tools in a dirty tool bag. That’s generally not a problem because there are easy ways to keep a tool bag as clean as the tools inside it. Keep reading to learn how to clean a tool bag without ruining it.

The tricky part about cleaning tool bags is to do so without causing any harm. Tool bags come in a variety of materials including canvas, vinyl, nylon, and leather. Among them all, leather is the most difficult to clean without damaging it. It can be done if you use the right tools and follow a few simple procedures.

Cleaning any tool bag involves four basic steps:

  1. Determining the material you are working with
  2. Assembling your tools and supplies
  3. Emptying and cleaning the tool bag
  4. Applying a protective finish (where applicable).

This post will go through each of the four steps in detail. If you have never cleaned your tool bag before, go slowly the first time around. There is no point in working so quickly and carelessly that you damage it. Over time, you will get faster.

1. Determining the Material

The material you are working with will influence how you go about cleaning your bag. This post assumes you know how to tell the difference between leather and all of the other materials mentioned above. Leather has a very unique look and feel that’s hard to miss. Note that, faux leather is generally not used for tool bags due to a lack of strength.

As for the other three materials, canvas is pretty unique as well. However, it can be confused with nylon or vinyl if it has been treated in a particular way. If you are unsure, your best bet is to look inside the bag for a label. There should be something in one of the pockets revealing what the bag is made of.

If you cannot find a label, perhaps you at least know the manufacturer. You can visit the manufacturer’s website and see if you can determine the material that way.

2. Assemble Your Tools and Supplies

The second step is to assemble the tools and supplies you will need to do the job. First is a detergent or cleaning solution appropriate to the material you are working with. If you are cleaning leather, you’re better off with a mild soap than a detergent. A soap will both clean and lubricate the leather simultaneously. For all other materials, use a detergent rather than a soap.

You will also need a brush with soft bristles, a rag or two, and a finishing treatment if applicable. Plan do the job over a sink or a plastic tub.

3. Emptying and Cleaning

With all of your tools and supplies assembled, it is time to empty your tool bag. Be careful to check every pocket and crevice to ensure that you have left nothing behind – including small nails and screws that could injure you as you clean.

Next, do the best you can to remove all loose dirt and debris. You might be able to vacuum your bag. If not, you might be able to turn it inside out and shake all of the dirt and debris out. Just do the best you can.

The next step is to apply your cleaning solution or soap. If you are cleaning leather, work the soap in with your hands and let it sit a few minutes. Apply some clean water and wipe it away with a rag. Note that soap and hard water do not play very well together. So if you don’t want to leave a film behind, make sure you’re using clean water. Purchase some distilled water if you have to.

For all other materials, apply the cleaning solution according to the directions. You will either spray it on or apply it with a rag. You may have to let it sit for a few minutes to allow the solution to work on stubborn stains. If the directions on your product do not call for letting it sit, then don’t.

Again, you want to apply some clean water as a rinse and then wipe everything down with a rag. An especially dirty tool bag may require numerous applications and rinses.

4. Applying a Finishing Product

Vinyl and nylon bags generally don’t need to be finished. Canvas and leather do. So if you are cleaning one of these two materials, give your tool bag plenty of time to dry thoroughly. You might set the bag in the sun for a couple of hours or just bring it into the house overnight.

A good three-in-one oil will work just fine on leather. There is no need to invest in expensive leather oil for the simple fact that your tool bag is not a fashion accessory or decorative item. It is a tool bag. If you don’t have three-in-one oil, any vegetable oil will do the trick. Linseed oil, olive oil, etc. are all good candidates.

If you are working with canvas, you’re going to need a finishing product designed specifically for it. You can find such products anywhere that canvas tents, canopies, etc. are sold. Boating and RV retailers sometimes have the products as well.

In Summary

Now you know how to clean a tool bag without ruining it. The key is patience. If you are cleaning your bag for the first time, also realize that you might not choose the correct cleaning solution initially. It might not work very well on stains, for example, indicating you’ll need to choose something different the next time. This is normal; don’t sweat it.

Do yourself a favor and pay close attention to how your tool bag reacts to the cleaning solution you use. Observation will tell you whether or not you made the right choice. After you do it a couple of times, you’ll become an old pro whose tool bag always looks clean and orderly.

Image credit: Typhoon at English Wikipedia / CC BY-SA (


I am a content creator by profession but I love tools. Merging the two created this website...

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