A Vanguard camera bag is designed to be used for years, and over that time, it’s inevitable that it will pick up signs of use. Most of these can add character to your bag, or bring back memories of previous trips. However, there’s likely to come a time that you will need to clean your bag.
Unfortunately, you can’t just throw it in your washing machine on a pre-set cycle and leave it to technology. This can damage the padding that protects your camera, remove water resistant layers that have been applied to the material, move key features (such as lumbar support) out of place, and can damage some of the materials (such as leather trim).
In addition, if water gets into the padding, it will also take a long time to dry, and drying is critical. If not thoroughly dry, the bag can go mouldy over time for which there is no remedy.
It’s not possible to give a detailed list of cleaning instructions for every material combination, but here we try to give you a simple guide to cleaning your camera bag.
Before you start:
Even if you’re just cleaning the exterior of your camera bag, it’s probably worth emptying your bag. This eliminates any risk to your gear as you clean, whether it’s spilt liquid or applying a little too much pressure.
If you’re cleaning the interior, it’s definitely worth removing the dividers too as there are fewer corners and crevasses for dirt to get trapped in.
Also, don’t forget to check every pocket. The last thing you want to hear is a crack from a filter that you’d slipped into a pocket on your last trip that you’d forgotten about!
Cleaning the Exterior:
Use a brush to remove any loose debris, such as dust or sand, especially from any seams. The brush should be as soft as possible for your bag’s material, so it’s better starting with the softest bristles and the least pressure possible, and getting firmer as you go. The last thing you want is brush marks on a nice leather bag! For the seams, something narrow is clearly best, such as a toothbrush.
The next step is warm soapy water. This should be applied lightly using a cloth or sponge, and building up to a brush for more stubborn stains. If you do use a brush, be very gentle. Scrubbing too hard may remove the stain, but when the bag dries it may leave a noticeable mark, and may have removed a water resistant coating leaving a weak spot for the next shower.
If the stain does not come out with warm water, leave it to dry completely and you can use a little cleaning alcohol solutions or cleaning naphtha on a soft cloth, then wipe clean with warm soapy water and leave to dry. If using a cleaning solution, always read the instructions to ensure it is suitable, and you use it safely.
Cleaning the interior:
With the interior empty, to remove material like sand and dust, can vary based on the material. If it’s on a smooth material, then it’s relatively straightforward with a dry cloth or brush, but the material used in the camera compartment is packed with loose fibres that are designed to ensure a tight hold on the Velcro of your dividers. This material can trap the particles and make them difficult to remove. We’d recommend a soft brush and patience. If that’s not your thing, you can consider using a gentle handheld vacuum cleaner with care. Don’t forget to pay special attention to the seams here too, otherwise you may keep finding sand and dust appearing long after the bag has been cleaned.
For stains, it’s the same as cleaning the exterior, but the material and padding can absorb water more easily than the exterior, so it’s even more important to apply any water sparingly and dry thoroughly. Or use a volatile cleaning solution like alcohol that will evaporate.
Drying your camera bag:
As mentioned earlier, this is crucial to avoid water being trapped in your bag and your bag going mouldy.
If you’ve cleaned your camera bag with any liquid, put it in a warm dry spot out of direct sunlight, ideally with good air circulation. You can put your bag in sunlight, it’s designed for the outdoors after all, but in strong sun, or if left too long, it can result in fading to the material.
Open all the pockets and compartments so the air can get into every part of the bag, and you may want to put in some supports to ensure the pockets and compartments stay open. If you’ve cleaned any inserts, the same applies. Remember to turn all the damp components over every now and then so the warm air can get to every part of your bag and inserts.
Over the years, it’s inevitable that your bag will need cleaning occasionally to maximise the life of the bag, and to keep your camera kit clean and safe. It takes a little time, but we’d argue it’s time well spent.