How to Clean and Care for Leather Purses

A leather purse and cleaning materials

The Spruce / Letícia Almeida  

Overview
  • Working Time: 30 mins
  • Total Time: 30 - 45 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Purchasing a leather purse is an investment that should last for many years—if properly maintained. Leather is a natural animal hide that's porous and easily absorbs oils from the skin and other sources. Faux leather can stain quite easily, too. Regardless of which kind you own, regular care for your bag is essential, especially when spills and stains happen. Examine the inside of your bag for care labels. Follow any recommended cleaning guidelines, and attempt to identify any stains (e.g., ink, food, or general grime) for treating.

How Often to Clean Leather Purses

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.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Vacuum
  • Soft-bristled brush
  • Cotton swabs (optional)

Materials

  • Leather soap
  • 2 cleaning cloths
  • Lint roller
  • Leather conditioner or white vinegar and linseed oil (optional)
  • Metal polish (optional)

Instructions

A leather purse and cleaning materials
The Spruce / Letícia Almeida  
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
  1. Empty the Bag

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

    A brown handbag with the flap open
    The Spruce / Letícia Almeida 
  2. Remove Debris From the Liner

    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 of a vacuum to tackle the interior. If the bag has no fabric lining, wipe down the inside with a slightly water-dampened cloth.

    A lint roller on a brown leather handbag
    The Spruce / Letícia Almeida 
  3. Wipe Down

    Purchase a good leather soap. Add a couple of drops to some warm water, and 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.

    Someone wiping down a bag with leather soap
    The Spruce / Letícia Almeida 
  4. Buff

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

    Someone buffing a purse with a white cloth
    The Spruce / Letícia Almeida 
  5. Clean the Hardware

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

    Someone cleaning purse hardware
    The Spruce / Letícia Almeida 
  6. Condition the Purse

    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 label.

    You can make a leather conditioner by mixing 1 part white vinegar with 2 parts linseed oil. Dip a white cloth into the mixture, and gently rub it into the leather. Allow to soak for 15 minutes, and then buff dry with a clean rag. Note that linseed oil may slightly darken the leather.

    Someone conditioning a leather handbag
    The Spruce / Letícia Almeida  

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, which can lead to mildew and the yellowing of white leather. Use a dust bag, an old pillowcase, or a 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 keep their shape. Don't hang them; store them upright or flat so the straps aren't stressed.

Repairs

If your bag breaks or rips in some way, it's best to take it to a shoe repair shop where they have the professional tools to do the job. You could also try a mail-in purse repair service. Some luxury handbag companies, such as Chanel, Mulberry, and Givenchy, will provide complimentary repairs within a year of purchase.

If you have a minor fix, such as fraying on purse straps, try a tear mender adhesive, found in fabric and craft stores. Trim off loose threads, use the adhesive per instructions, and allow to fully dry before using.

Treating Stains on Leather Purses

Some of the most common stains found on the inside and outside of leather handbags are ink, blood, food, and wine. The sooner you can treat the spots, the easier they'll be to remove. If your handbag gets a stain that you'd rather not remove yourself, some dry cleaners specialize in treating leather.

Determine if you have a full-grain leather purse, which is considered "unfinished." An unfinished leather purse with stains usually requires a professional to clean it. If you sprinkle a couple drops of water on your purse and they aren't absorbed into the skin, it's a finished leather purse, which has an added layer of protection, and stains can usually be removed at home. After removing any of the following stains, apply a leather conditioner to the entire bag.

  • Ink: Rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) works best for home removal of ink stains from leather. Use a cotton swab to apply the alcohol to your bag, and then blot until the stain is removed. Dab the spot dry with another clean cloth. Repeat if necessary.
  • Food and oil: Sprinkle the grease or oil stain with talcum powder, cornstarch, or baking soda. Pat in the powder, and let it sit on the stain overnight. Brush off the powder in the morning with a soft-bristled brush.
  • Wine: Mix a paste of equal parts cream of tartar and lemon juice. Apply the paste to the leather, allow to sit for 10 minutes, and then wipe it off. Allow to dry thoroughly, and repeat if necessary.

Tips for Washing Leather Purses

  • Never use a stiff brush or harsh cleaning products on leather, including bacterial wipes, baby wipes, ammonia, or alcohol-based cleaners.
  • To prevent staining, keep makeup in a zipped waterproof bag and pens in another pouch.
  • Cleaning a patent leather purse is easy because it's real leather finished with lacquer for a glossy, reflective surface. Clean the purse with a damp cloth to remove dust and soil. For scuff marks, use a pink artist eraser to lightly rub away the scuff. Finish by polishing with a dry cloth.
  • Regularly clean a faux leather purse, which is usually a plastic or vinyl material. Gather three soft, clean white rags, and then mix a bit of mild soap or detergent with warm water. Dip a rag in the solution, wring out the water, and wipe down your purse. Rub with another water-dampened cloth, and then dry with the last rag.