Where can I find the best reusable grocery bags?
August 29, 2018 1:06 AM   Subscribe

My city passed a ban on plastic bags tonight, so I would like to stock our cars with reusable, washable grocery totes before the ban goes into effect in a few months. What is the best combination of quality, compact form and price?

I have a bunch of freebies from various sources with cheap handles that pull off if you lift them not exactly vertically, and I would like to avoid that. I’d like to be able to throw them in the wash with the towels if they get gross, and pack them fairly compactly in the trunk. I don’t mind spending a like more for durability and quality, but don’t want to spend $25/bag or anything.

Where should I look for my Platonic ideal of a grocery tote?
posted by charmedimsure to Shopping (40 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Stores in your city will very likely start selling branded bags or their own decorative line of reusable bags at the checkout. All of our grocery stores sell ones made of the same material and with the same straps as the famous blue IKEA bags, only in a more traditional "large tote" size. They fold flat and are great.

So basically while yes people make reuseable shopping bags they will happily sell you for $12, I would wait for those to magically appear for $1.

Or I can send you some from my local shops -- they're like a buck, and my current faves have a dia de los muertos pattern and an ice cream pattern... I missed the unicorns :(
posted by DarlingBri at 1:36 AM on August 29, 2018 [6 favorites]

I love all the Baggu bags. $10 but designy and fun. And they fold into a tiny little pouch!
posted by mdonley at 1:47 AM on August 29, 2018 [7 favorites]

Trader Joe’s are my favorite because they stand up on their own. You aren’t fighting with a shapeless piece of cloth trying to pack groceries. They are brightly colored, sturdy, and you can sometimes get mystery packs with bags from other regions. Fun for everyone to watch you open!
posted by JenMarie at 2:02 AM on August 29, 2018 [14 favorites]

We love these. They’re not cheap (esp if you’re not in the US). They’re strong, they last, and they tuck into themselves to nothing. We got our first ones nine years ago, and they’re still in perfect nick.

You can fit a case of beer in one bag, and it’ll hold it.
posted by pompomtom at 2:23 AM on August 29, 2018 [4 favorites]

Aldis bags hold up pretty well and I like their size. We use an IKEA for the 'everything in one bag and haul strategy .

Otherwise we just picked them up, the quality is pretty consistent across cloth bags .
posted by AlexiaSky at 2:44 AM on August 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

We got these Earthwise ones. They're huge and have a nice rectangle reinforced base with long straps that you can wear on your shoulder. Cotton so washable and biodegradable.
posted by Crystalinne at 3:03 AM on August 29, 2018

My favorites are the kind made from sort of a heavy shiny plastic material, like a tarp - they stand up on their own and are indestructible. Mine are all from grocery stores though, so I don’t have a specific recommendation. I also keep a couple of IKEA lightweight scrunch-up-able bags in my purse for surprise trips and small things.
posted by mskyle at 3:29 AM on August 29, 2018

Amazon.com: 100% Cotton Canvas Oversized Grocery/Multipurpose Tote Bag 5 Pack, Shoulder Length With Extra Strong Cotton Webbing Handles: Reusable Grocery Bags: Kitchen & Dining

I don't know what's up with the top picture on that page, but you can see a bit down in the 'other similar items' section.

I bought a set 6 years ago and they're sturdy AF (you can squeeze a 30-pack of beer in one just fine). Heavy cotton canvas, washes well (could probably use an ironing/starch or something because they sorta go soft enough to not stand on their own after washing). I think I got them on a sale for like $5 each.
posted by zengargoyle at 3:39 AM on August 29, 2018

I really like Chico Bags - they’re strong, machine-washable, and they fold up into their own little pouch with a tiny carabiner on it so you can clip them on to things. You can get them for $5-6 apiece.
posted by ourobouros at 4:07 AM on August 29, 2018 [6 favorites]

I have used SO MANY reusable bags over the years, even a few that have been listed here in this thread. My favorites? Honestly? These cheap af sacks they have at Ikea. They're roomy, so far I haven't encountered any ripping (and omg I have with others, in a variety of disastrous fashion), washable, fold up into themselves, and cheap enough you can buy a dozen of them and always have one at the ready.
posted by phunniemee at 4:16 AM on August 29, 2018 [5 favorites]

I use the same ones as phunniemee! They're strong, lightweight, hold a ton, easy to carry, and take up less space/bulk than the canvas bags I used before. And $2 each!
posted by mochapickle at 4:57 AM on August 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

We also have bags out the wazoo but I never remember to grab them so the only one I ever use is a Baggu that someone gave me because its lightweight enough to stay in my bag all the time. It's super cute and useful, I'd buy myself another one but the only annoying thing is that it folds into a separate pouch instead of a pocket built into the bag, doubly annoying because I've seen cheaper versions (Ikea) that do not have this problem. It's plenty big enough for city grocery shopping, if you generally drive, you might want something more structured over something packable.
posted by yeahlikethat at 5:23 AM on August 29, 2018

We use a number of the cheapie reusable bags (mostly from Trader Joe's), but I couldn't do without a few foldable totes like these...


I got mine at Giant Food. They are great for heavy things like milk jugs. They also keep your bags from falling out the back of your car when you open the hatch:)
posted by jraz at 5:25 AM on August 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

Seconding the 'flip and tumbles' mentioned by pompomtom. We keep those in the cars for impromptu shopping trips. For planned shopping trips, we use these. They are not cheap, but they hold a ton and are basically indestructible.
posted by Jacob G at 5:48 AM on August 29, 2018

We have a miscellany. The only ones that I've bought directly are Envirosax. They fold up, are cute, and very strong.
posted by dancing leaves at 5:53 AM on August 29, 2018

I like the Trader Joe's bags.

Yes, they are stiff so they make NOISE like an armful of sailcloth. But that also means that they will stand up on their own, and hold a ton of weight.

They fold flat, which is fine for leaving in the car trunk, but they're too bulky to carry along. (I am still looking for one to tuck into my work backpack.)

They are always printed with local designs, so we have them from several vacations (since we always hit TJ's & Target as soon as we arrive) and have sent a couple to my far-away sister, and that's fun.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:55 AM on August 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

I have had the same pack of Envirosax for over ten years. No fraying, no rips. I toss them in the washing machine from time to time and air dry (i pretty much never use my dryer). I love the manner in which they roll and how compact they are when rolled. I especially love that they have a little snap to stay compactly rolled (Velcro is the devil's tool for destroying clothing).

Even full of groceries, they fit comfortably over the shoulder. They hold more than 40 pounds easily and I'm always surprised by how much fits in each back. It's about three grocery store plastic bags per Envirosax.
posted by crush at 7:12 AM on August 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

If "throw them in the wash with your towels" and "sturdy enough the handles don't fall off" are your key criteria, you're looking at heavy-duty cotton totes. The primary disadvantage is the price (generally $15-$30 each depending on source) and that if you want them to stand up on their own for easy grocery bagging a la the LL Bean Boat and Tote, you're looking at the higher end of that price range.

- The stuff-sack type bags are machine washable but I would not wash them with towels; I wash mine on the delicate cycle with other items of similar weight. Given their nature, these will not stand up on their own for bagging. I usually see these for ~$10 or so.
- The plasticky squared-off stand-up grocery totes don't get machine-washed; they get spot-cleaned as necessary. At my local grocery stores, they generally sell for $3-$5.
- We also have a soft cooler backpack that lives in the car trunk for bagging things like milk, orange juice, ice cream, glass bottles and 6-packs of soda or beer, and other heavy items. This, too, only ever gets spot-cleaned. Ours was a present from my parents and I'm pretty sure they did not pay the $250-$300 some fancy brands are asking; $50-$75 seems more likely. We only have the one but it's all we generally need.

All of these except the cooler either fold up into softballs or envelopes that fit in my hand, or they fold flat, and then I tuck all of them into the cooler for storage between grocery trips.
posted by Pandora Kouti at 7:19 AM on August 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

Just a thought: are you looking to replace the small, disposable bags, or as a substitute for large, brown paper bags? That might help sort out the responses you get here.

You said you would "throw them in the trunk," which implies that they can be large/bulky, though most replacements for the disposable bags are small & light.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:20 AM on August 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

IKEA periodically sells its blue bags in a size that I would describe as "the size of an old paper grocery store bag," but it's not a reliable source. I bought a couple the first time I saw them, and had multiple people ask me when and how I'd gotten them, but they'd completely disappeared from stores after that. They showed up again a couple years later and I bought more, but I'm still not sure if they're a regular stock item. We also own a couple of the ones that fold into their own pouch, linked above by phunniemee, and they are most useful for throwing in a purse, laptop bag, or pocket as emergency shopping bags. Since they don't stand up on their own they can be annoying to fill, but they are surprisingly capacious. My biggest complaint with that style of bag is that the unstructured handles don't stay wide and flat when you're carrying a full bag; they scrunch up so it feels like you're carrying a thin rope handle, and it will cut into your hands a bit if the bag is heavy.

For regular grocery store shopping, though, the best shopping bags are the kind that stand up on their own. We periodically kill ours (a ripped seam, a detached handle, an oozing package of chicken) so we usually just end up with whatever they happen to sell at whichever store we happen to be shopping at after we've lost one too many bags. Since we end up having to replace ours periodically we haven't yet paid too much attention when buying them. We've got a Trader Joe's bag and it seems sturdier than the ones from Giant and Safeway, but it's also significantly thicker when folded flat. The standard sort of waffled Tyvek looking thing like they sell at other stores will come out of the wash seeming slightly less structured, with more of a tendency to collapse on itself before you load it. I haven't run a TJ's bag through the wash yet, so I don't know how it will perform after that.
posted by fedward at 7:25 AM on August 29, 2018

The best kind are the kind you use.

I use Baggu, I carry one in my bag at all times and have another bag full of them that goes in the car whenever I think we are going to the store. We have an insulated bag since we live an hour from the Whole Foods and shop there whenever we go to the city; we have a million canvas totes that get used in different ways too.

I have never had success with the nylon produce bags, but I try to minimize the number of plastic ones I use for veg - like, I can just put apples straight into a grocery bag. Plus we have cats, so we need a steady supply of plastic still.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 7:44 AM on August 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

I have a mix of bags, because I have never wanted to invest $N in assembling enough of the optimum grocery bags, but it turns out that a mixed fleet is exactly what I want. I have a couple of enormous heavy-duty canvas beach totes that are capable of carrying more weight than I can walk straight under, a couple of those nylon-sack style that fold to a tiny pouch, a few of the placticized cloth that stand up straight like TJ, a few of the floppy kind with the big flat cardboard piece in the bottom, a few like that the fold up into little packets... because sometimes you want the tiniest sack you can have on you at all times, and sometimes you need to carry 4x 2-liter bottles, and those are not the same task at all. So in the end, I say to get one or two giant canvas beach-bag type things, but the rest can be small/foldy.
posted by aimedwander at 7:58 AM on August 29, 2018 [4 favorites]

As an addition to your grocery totes, you might look at string bags, which are great for produce, farmers' markets, and miscellaneous weird-sized/shaped shopping, and crunch up small enough to fit in your jeans pocket. I'm still using ones I bought 15 years ago so they're pretty dang sturdy! That store sells them in two strap lengths -- hand length and shoulder length -- and the shoulder length are CRAZY comfortable to carry for long periods, I use them for all kinds of toting around of bulky things (laundry!).

(I will say grocery baggers are usually unfamiliar with them, so you either should say, "Put my produce in this one" or use them where you'll bag your own.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:05 AM on August 29, 2018

I have a bunch but I use the Chico bags almost exclusively.
posted by fshgrl at 8:10 AM on August 29, 2018

I second Chico bags. I have been using the same one for about 15 years. It is showing some wear now, but still it keeps going. I love being able to clip it to my keys or whatever - way increases the chance I will take it with me. I am sure it has saved about a thousand plastic bags by now.

I also love these insulated grocery box totes. I use it all the time in place of taking a basket at the store. Just put everything in the tote while shopping, check out and put everything back in the tote to take home.
posted by augustinetill at 8:16 AM on August 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

Putting in my support for Baggu bags. I think the design is similar but superior to the Chico and Envirosax bags. They open just a little wider and the material is a little nicer.

Baggus are:
- lightweight
- durable ripstop nylon
- machine washable
- easy to fit items in the bags
- you can secure the contents by tying the handles
- great handle size, fits over your arm well

I purchased six of these over 10 years ago and they are still going strong. Truly reusable!
posted by belau at 8:38 AM on August 29, 2018

Nthing the Envirosax bags. I like them better than the Baggu ones because the handles are on the sides instead of the ends and work better when I put them over my shoulder rather than holding them with my hands.
posted by kbuxton at 8:51 AM on August 29, 2018

Thrift stores are a great place to pick these up.
posted by SinAesthetic at 10:02 AM on August 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have a ton of different types, but I always use the bags from Trader Joe's for groceries. They stand upright when they're full, which is great when you're fumbling for keys. My canvas bags get slouchy and produce sometimes rolls out.
posted by heurtebise at 10:19 AM on August 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

I like Trader Joe's bags too, but the heavy duty CLOTH ones. They don't stand up, but they can hold a LOT Of weight and have long enough straps to sling over your shoulder with room to spare. There's nothing worse than a bag that doesn't have long enough handles and either cut into your shoulders or have to be carried at your side. They are workhorses, not-unattractive, wash well, and are only $3 each.
posted by QuakerMel at 10:44 AM on August 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

I, too, am a devotee of Chico bags, having been introduced to them in the Great MeFi Sack Swap of 2010, courtesy of Cat Pie Hurts I believe. Eight years later those two are still going strong, and I've added several more. I've got some very similar ones made by another manufacturer, but whoever makes them, the stuffable-nylon-with-integral-drawstring-pouch is the only style of grocery bag for me, all others being inferior.
posted by mumkin at 10:57 AM on August 29, 2018

I have had the same pack of Envirosax for over ten years. No fraying, no rips. I toss them in the washing machine from time to time and air dry (i pretty much never use my dryer). I love the manner in which they roll and how compact they are when rolled. I especially love that they have a little snap to stay compactly rolled (Velcro is the devil's tool for destroying clothing).

This is exactly what I came in to say. Mine are going ten years strong, and I regularly stuff them with, like, 10 kilos of canned goods.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 11:28 AM on August 29, 2018

Another vote for a a mix of bags. My personal stash includes five plasticky cloth grocery store bags that stand up by themselves like the Trader Joe's ones, and those are my preferred bags for doing a grocery shop, particularly because I do most of my shopping at Aldi which just has a long flat counter to bag on and nothing to hang bags from so those floppy bags would be a total pain to fill. I do have some of the floppy nylon bags, too, 2-3 each of the chico bags and the flip and tumble bags, and of the two I prefer the flip and tumble. Flip and tumble make both two-handled grocery store and one long shoulder strap types, and I like the shoulder strap ones better most of the time because I can carry it hands-free. I keep one in my purse all the time in case I'm out and about and buy something unexpectedly. I also have several produce bags, a few cloth and a few mesh, and I like the mesh ones better because they are lighter and less likely to add $ if the cashier doesn't tare them out when weighing (which hardly any do).
posted by rabbitrabbit at 12:07 PM on August 29, 2018

I like Trader Joe's bags too, but the heavy duty CLOTH ones. They don't stand up, but they can hold a LOT Of weight and have long enough straps to sling over your shoulder with room to spare. There's nothing worse than a bag that doesn't have long enough handles and either cut into your shoulders or have to be carried at your side. They are workhorses, not-unattractive, wash well, and are only $3 each.

Second this, plus the IKEA rec (I use a combo of both).

But really, it's hard to know your platonic ideal, because you should consider:
1. Size. Do you prefer fewer, heavier, bigger bags or more, lighter, smaller bags?
2. Carrying. Do you care if you can carry it on your shoulder, in your hand, or both?
3. Insulation. I highly recommend having at least one insulated bag - for me, that bag is the bulky one that becomes my bag-o-bags.
4. Shape. Some people like bags that can stand on their own for easy loading (the paper-bag-sized trader joe's ones are good for that) while some prefer bags that can collapse easily. Kind of like if you prefer paper or plastic sacks today. Carrying vs. driving is an important thing here (and remember that you'd probably use the bags to carry more than just groceries, if you're anything like me.)
5. Durability vs weight. Personally I don't love the super-heavy-duty canvas because it's too heavy and besides I'm probably not organized enough to go 15 years without losing a bag. Others are different, that's cool. Of course, there are more and less durable ones within the same weight category too - quality matters.
6. Aesthetics. This is an important thing too!
7. Price. Having a few cheapies/freebies that you can comfortably give away if you need to give someone something is always nice.

Come back with an answer to those considerations and I'm sure folks would have some more specific recommendations! Otherwise "perfect reusable bag" is almost as personal as "perfect t-shirt." Trust me, you'll accumulate too many in no time anyways :).
posted by mosst at 12:39 PM on August 29, 2018

Nthing the heavy-duty cloth Trader Joe's bags (the white and navy blue bags). I loooooooooove them so much I use them for other purposes too (which is probably weird, but I don't care). They have pockets on the side and are so spacious, you can load a lot of bulky groceries in them, but the straps still sit comfortably on your shoulder.

They also sell lighter-weight cotton bags (the brightly colored ones with the produce pattern) that fold up smaller and are still durable but not quite as amazing as the bigger ones.
posted by lunasol at 1:31 PM on August 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

I was at Costco today and they have a set of big stretchy mesh bags, about the size of the IKEA blue bags, for about $12. They were nice enough that I actually contemplated getting a set, but then I remembered the nearly dozen variety of cloth bags we have received as freebies (our library freebie bags are the best - a bit bigger than a paper grocery stack, with sturdy handles as they are meant to carry books).

If I were going to buy a grocery bag for myself I would get an insulated one, as those are pretty much never given as freebies, and as I sometimes fret about getting home before the milk gets too warm.

Fwiw I see freebie bags and string backpacks at Goodwill and Salvation Army all the time. Pick yourself up a variety.
posted by vignettist at 1:32 PM on August 29, 2018

I use BlueQ shopper bags. Fun designs, sturdy bags that can stand up by themselves, a little internal pocket for your phone/receipts/whatever, and two sets of handles - short ones for carrying in hand and long ones for shoulder. I've had several for years that are good as new. I pack them tight with heavy stuff and it doesn't stress the handles at all.
posted by pemberkins at 4:43 PM on August 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

The flip-n-tumble ones are superior if your goal is to make sure you always have one available for random daily shopping, because they actually "fold" on themselves. Every other type of bag like that I've had, I'm never able to get it to fold up properly, or I lose the little sack, or whatever, but the flip-n-tumble basically crumples up into its own pocket, small enough to go into a medium-sized purse or greater. I had one for several years and am only replacing it now because I lost it.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Tom Bihn Large Shop Bag is what I take on the weekly Whole Foods trip. It usually holds my entire shop (I cook for one), it's light, yet sturdy (the gridded colors are a light performance fabric), and it has ACTUAL PADDED HANDLES. They're taking pre-orders on a zipped version right now. In theory, you can stuff the LSB into its own pocket, but it's still a bit on the bulky side--it's better for planned trips.
posted by praemunire at 12:16 AM on August 30, 2018

Thirding the Trader Joe’s white & navy cotton bags. I basically carry one whenever I go out, instead of a purse or backpack and then can often fit stuff I buy in along with my other stuff. [Clearly I’m not someone to ask for fashion advice but this AskMe is not about fashion.] The side pockets are really handy. For the 3 or 4 dollars they cost they’re great. I would probably only wash them in a machine without a center agitating spoke but I do machine wash mine sometimes (and hang dry.)
posted by needs more cowbell at 5:49 AM on August 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

We’re still allowed to have plastic bags up here north of you, but I use reusable grocery bags all the time. I’ve found the Fred Meyer/Safeway ones are fine (the ugly ones that are woven out of plastic, not the pretty ones made of slick plastic) and durable—I have some from 10 years ago that are only just starting to get holes.

It’s nice to have some thin nylon ones that fold up into themselves that you can keep in your purse.

Check the straps, too—some of the Trader Joe’s bags have straps that are too short to put over my shoulder when full of groceries.
posted by leahwrenn at 1:42 PM on August 30, 2018

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