Cleaning Your L.L.Bean Boat and Totes


The legendary L.L.Bean Boat and Tote takes a real beating in my family and the question of how to clean them came up last summer. 

bernese mountain dog puppy

You see, last summer we got a puppy and we used the bags for everything from carrying her bowls, food and water to well, actually carrying her! That meant that our already somewhat stained and dirty Boat and Totes got 100 times worse. 

boat and tote

I like to use the L.L.Bean Boat and Tote as a prop when taking photos around the house, like in my blue and white hallway above, and it helps make the picture come together if the bags are nice and clean. The problem is that I really do use the bags on a daily basis! 

fall l.l.bean

My green handled open top Boat and Tote is probably my favourite. It's the one that I bring on every market trip, road trip and just about anywhere else you would need a bag. Last fall while picking up a number of pie pumpkins from a local farm I got mud everywhere on my bag. Spot cleaning, which is what L.L.Bean recommends, just wasn't going to cut it this time. 

road trip with boat and tote

There are three ways that I recommend to clean your L.L.Bean Boat and Totes

Spot Cleaning (recommended by L.L.Bean) - They don't provide any more details than "spot clean" but basically this means use a mild detergent and a colour safe rag or sponge (one that won't transfer any dye/colour) and wipe away the stain. This works really well when your bag is new and the stains are minor. 

Cleaning Your L.L.Bean Boat and Totes

Vacuum - The second way actually addresses the inside of the bags. Using the upholstery attachment on your vacuum, clean the interior. I have found myself doing this a lot more in the last year as there seems to be an endless supply of black dog hair floating around. 


Washing Machine - The last way to clean your Boat and Tote is in the washing machine, cue gasp. Yes, I said it. People will warn you away from washing these canvas bags but I am here to tell you it works. Pop that baby in the washer and you won't believe how clean is gets! 

The problem with spot cleaning is it only takes you so far and if you have a large area, it's time consuming. After years of use the canvas can get dingy and there's no way to spot clean that. 

I tested this out with my large red open top tote, the above photo is my 'after' photo of cleaning it in the washer. 

The steps are simple. Wash alone with your favourite detergent on regular cycle in warm or cool water (hot will shrink the canvas). Reshape and lay flat to dry, or stuff with clean towels to dry upright. If there are any creases (mine had a large one near the monogram) you can iron that out. 

I was left with a sparkling clean Boat and Tote that had grown softer with the wash. It still holds its shape and is quite stiff. The canvas will get softer with each wash so if you prefer the stiff canvas, wash only every few years. 

If you are interested in getting your bag to be a little more soft and flexible, which I am hoping to achieve with my medium navy long handled tote, wash often until you reach the level of softness you are looking for. Spot clean from then on. 

If you've been thinking of adding a new L.L.Bean Boat and Tote before fall arrives, right now you can Shop L.L.Bean's End of Summer Clearance - Up to 70% Off! It's been a few years since I bought one, I just might grab a new one while this sale is on! And a reminder to my Canadian readers, you can shop their Canadian website at and visit them in their first Canadian store this coming Friday (aug 23) at Oakville Place in Oakville, Ont! 

Links to bags and sizes above

Green with Leather handles in Medium, sadly this is no longer available on the website
Red Open Top in Large with Regular Handles
Black Open Top in Extra Large with Regular Handles