How to Clean and Care for Leather Purses

A woman holding a leather handbag

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Purchasing a leather purse is an investment that should last for many years. Leather is a porous, natural animal hide that easily absorbs oils from our skin and other sources. Proper care for your bag is essential, especially when spills and stains happen. Even if your bag is free of spots, monthly cleaning will keep it looking sharp. If you don't have a real leather purse, these tips can also help to spruce up a faux leather handbag.

How to Wash a Leather Purse
Detergent Leather soap
Water Temperature Cold
Cycle Type Do not use washer
Dryer Cycle Type Do not use dryer
Special Treatment Use white cloth 
Iron Settings Do not iron

Project Metrics

Examine the inside of your bag for care labels. Follow any recommended cleaning guidelines and attempt to identify any stains (ink, food, or general grime).

Work Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Skill Level: Beginner

What You'll Need

Supplies

  • Leather soap
  • Two white cleaning cloths
  • Lint roller
  • Leather conditioner (optional)

Tools:

  • Vacuum
  • Soft-bristled brush

Instructions

  1. Empty Bag

    Start by taking everything out of the pockets, opening all zippers and clasps, and shaking the purse upside down to remove smaller items and trash.

  2. Remove Debris

    If the bag has a fabric lining, pull the interior lining to the outside. Use a lint roller to capture dust and crumbs. You can also use the fabric brush attachment on a vacuum to tackle the interior. If the bag has no fabric lining, wipe down the inside with a slightly water-dampened cloth.

  3. Wipe Down

    Purchase a good leather soap. Add a couple of drops to some warm water, then dip in a clean, soft white cloth (avoid using colored rags as they can cause dye transfer). Wring out excess moisture and wipe down the outside of your leather bag.

    Tip

    Never use a stiff brush or harsh cleaning products on leather including bacterial wipes, baby wipes, ammonia or alcohol-based cleaners.

  4. Buff

    After wiping down, buff the bag dry with another white cloth. The leather should start to feel more supple and begin to shine.

  5. Clean Hardware

    Use a metal polish or brass cleaner to brighten your bag's hardware. Dip a cotton swab in the polish and apply to the metal. Use a white cloth to buff away the tarnish. Rub gently as most hardware is simply plated base metal that can sometimes flake. Be very careful to keep the cleaner off the leather or any fabric trim, as it can cause discoloration.

  6. Condition

Finish by applying a leather conditioner to help the bag remain flexible and stain-resistant. You can purchase high-quality commercial leather conditioners online or at your local home improvement store. Follow the application instructions on the product.

Make Your Own Leather Conditioner

You can make leather conditioner by mixing one part white vinegar with two parts linseed oil. Dip a white cloth into the mixture and gently rub it into the leather. Allow to soak in for 15 minutes and then buff dry with a clean rag.

Storing Leather Purses

Never store leather handbags in plastic bags. The plastic can stick to the leather, and it may pull off the outer layer and ruin your bag. Also, plastic bags trap moisture that can lead to mildew and cause the yellowing of white leather. Use an old pillowcase or cotton bag to store your purses to prevent dust from accumulating during off-season storage. The fabric bag will allow the leather to breathe and help it remain soft and flexible.

Stuff your handbags with tissue paper when not in use so they will keep their shape, and do not hang them but store them upright or lie flat so the straps are not stressed.

Treating Stains on a Leather Purse

Some of the most common stains found on leather handbags are ink, blood, food, or wine. The sooner you can treat the spots the easier they will be to remove. The following tips can help remove stains from your purse:

  • Ink stains: Rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) works best for home removal of ink stains from leather. Use a cotton swab to apply the alcohol your bag, and then blot dry with another clean cloth. Repeat if necessary.
  • Food, oil or wine: Sprinkle the grease/oil stain with talcum powder, cornstarch, or baking soda. You can even use a slice of bread to help absorb the stain. When you get home, mix a paste of one part cream of tartar and one part lemon juice. Apply the paste and allow to sit for 10 minutes, and then wipe off. Allow to dry thoroughly and repeat if necessary. To finish, apply a leather conditioner to the entire bag.

To prevent staining, keep makeup in a separate zipped waterproof bag. It's also a good idea to keep pens in an additional pouch.

Repairs

If your bag breaks or rips in some way, you can try taking it to a shoe repair shop. You could also try a mail-in purse repair service. Some luxury handbag companies, like Chanel, Mulberry, and Givenchy, will provide complimentary repairs within a year of purchase.

If your handbag gets a stain that you'd rather not remove yourself, some dry cleaners specialize in treating leather.

Faux Leather Purse Care

Most faux leather is a plastic or vinyl material. The key is regular cleaning with a mild soap or detergent. Gather three soft, clean white rags, and then mix a bit of mild soap with warm water. Dip a rag in the solution, wring out excess water, and then wipe down your purse. Next, rub with another water-dampened cloth, and then dry with the last rag.

Patent Leather Purse Care

Patent leather is real leather that has been finished with lacquer to give it a glossy, reflective surface. Cleaning can usually be done with a damp cloth to remove dust and soil. For scuff marks, use a pink artist eraser and lightly rub away the scuff. Finish by polishing with a dry cloth.