Knowing how to clean a leather handbag (without ruining it) is a useful #lifehack that will serve you well for years to come. Whether you've invested in a designer piece or a high street gem, leather bags are designed to stand the test of time. And we're all for looking after beloved fashion items, extending their life, and making sure we get the best bang for our buck.
Here, we go through how to clean your bag in detail—from step-by-step explainers of how to remove liquid stains and odors, to the best tips for protecting and storing your piece to keep it in tip-top condition.
We asked about leather care from the experts at The Handbag Clinic, who specialize in designer handbag care and restoration. Here, they break down the most valuable advice on caring for your leather bag - including what to do, and common mistakes to avoid.
How to clean your leather handbag
While you might love the idea of taking your bag to a specialist to be pampered and cleaned every month, for many of us, that's not very realistic. But there are many steps you can take at home to keep your pride and joy in tip-top shape between specialist appointments, explains Retail Director and Co-founder of The Handbag Clinic, Charlotte Staerck. Here's what you can do for a quick refresh:
- Start by cleaning the bag inside and outside, creating a foam with the cleaning solution, and massaging this into the bag.
- Leave this to dry for a couple of minutes before applying the protection cream—take extra care with the handles, corners, and frequently touched areas. You then leave this to dry for ten minutes before buffing off any excess.
- This process takes no more than 15 minutes and could save you a fortune on restoration treatment in the future. It will also keep the value in your bag getting the most out of your purchase.
- If you have a light-colored bag or if it’s a very absorbent leather you may want to repeat the protection process a couple of times to really look after those easily stained leathers.
- If you don’t have time to do the full bag, focus on the main areas such as the handles, giving these a quick wipe down and this will keep them looking fresh for longer.
- Start by blotting the stained area as soon as possible with a clean, dry cloth or tissue. You want to absorb as much of the liquid as possible.
- Once you have removed the excess liquid, you should then blot the stained area with a damp cloth or tissue using warm water only.
- Start at the outside of the stain and work inwards; this will stop the stain from spreading outwards.
- As before, you should then proceed to dab the stained area with a dry cloth or tissue to absorb any leftover water or cleaner. Never rub the stained area as this can cause the stain to spread.
- Your bag is best left to dry in a warm room. Do not apply heat directly to the stained area as this can set the stain.
- Check the materials used on your lining and exterior and ensure you have the right products for all materials used on your item.
- If you have a lining that easily pulls out of the bag, pull this out and give it a really thorough clean.
- Get into all pockets to clear out the bacteria that will be causing the smell.
- Focus on the handles and anywhere oils may have been absorbed as these can be a cause of odors.
- Once cleaned, finish with protection cream on any leather on the bag. On fabrics, a fabric freshening spray will help but do not saturate the fabric or you may risk warping the bag or damaging any leather or metalwork.
How to remove liquid stains from a leather bag
"The most common issue we see at Handbag Clinic is a liquid stain on a bag," explains Charlotte. "Most items in luxury fashion are made from lightly treated leathers for their luxurious butter-soft feel, however, this means they are very absorbent. As bags are used outside and inside, they are prone to coming into contact with common liquids such as rainwater, beverages, perfume leaks and, believe it or not, hair dyes."
"Always protect your handbag when taking it to the salon as dye splashes are one of the most common liquid stains we treat. As always, prevention is better than a cure, and upfront protection is the best way to avoid a spillage/accidental marking becoming an actual stain.
"Obviously, accidents do happen though, so if you accidentally stain your bag there are some steps you can follow to reduce the staining and ensure this causes as little damage as possible:
Note: Do not apply water or any cleaning products you may have to hand. You will, at this point, only make the staining worse.
Things to remember when cleaning your leather handbag:
Stick to proper cleaner. The Handbag Clinic says: "Never use baby wipes, vinegar, or any other home remedy for cleaning or stain removal. Many of these products have chemicals and substances in them that can cause damage to the color, dry the leather out, create a build-up of grease in the leather and any number of other problems."
Always spot-test a cleaning method before you use it preferably somewhere on the inside of the bag that can't be seen by prying eyes.
The key to removing ink marks is to treat them straight away. Your first and best bet is to take your bag to see a professional as soon as possible. If you're unable to, try a special ink removing product for leather and follow the care instructions, making sure to condition the area afterward and leave it to dry properly.
If the ink stains are old, don't try to remove these yourself. They will likely be too stubborn and will need professional care.
How to remove odors from a leather bag
"Removing bacteria is the first step to removing stubborn odors, so the bag needs to be cleaned inside and outside," explains Charlotte. "Many people think that they only need to look at the inside of their bag but both need to be thoroughly cleaned to remove odor."
What not to do when cleaning a leather bag
Never use water on grease stains. These should simply wipe off leather surfaces.
Do not use saddle soap. It'll most likely be too strong for the leather on your bag and could cause discoloration.
Don't leave your handbag in direct sunlight. It can cause the color to fade and damage the leather.
Avoid holding your handbag if you've just applied hand cream or you're just ASKING for grease stains.
Do you need to protect your leather handbag?
When thinking about a bag's condition the place to start, is with prevention. In fact, Charlotte says this step is the most important thing you can do for your bag.
"Clean and protect it regularly, leather is a skin and needs its own kind of skincare regime too! We recommend that you protect your bag from day one."
"You will then need to keep on top of it—keeping a bag looking great is about regular maintenance rather than a quick fix.
"Using helpful tools and tricks to avoid signs of wear will also keep your bag looking new for as long as possible. Bag pillows are also a great way to keep your bags structured while being stored and a handbag hook will allow you to avoid placing your bag on floors, the hook folds out to fit on most tables and bar areas."
What you need to protect your leather bag
"At its most basic level, the must-have for every handbag is a makeup bag and a pen lid. Throwing makeup brushes, a smashed powder, lipstick that loses its lid, or an open pen into your bag causes the bag to become heavily stained on the interior. Makeup and ink are some of the hardest stains to remove from fabric with the high oil content and the interior of your bag needs protecting just as much as the outside.
How often you should clean your leather bag?
Perhaps not surprisingly, the regularity with which you need to clean your bag depends on how often you use it. The more it gets a run out on the top, the more cleaning it will need.
"If you use the bag every day you should do this every two to three months. If it is more of a weekend bag or when you are heading out for special occasions every six to nine months will be enough to keep your item protected."
Can you prevent or fix any scratches on the hardware?
We might sound like your Grandma but, it's true, prevention is much better than a cure. Hardware damage on a bag can be due to too much stress on the strap/s or details (e.g. overfilling your bag, or using it to carry heavy items).
"Whilst we all feel we need to carry a lot around with us in our handbags we need to remember that they are a fashion accessory and not designed to carry a huge load," explains Charlotte.
"If you have a turn-lock or any closure that requires some form of press or turning action and you struggle to close the item because you have too much in your handbag—then it is likely that you will be putting too much pressure on this causing friction, scratching and potentially risking the metalwork breaking. The same applies if you overload a bag with a chain handle or strap. The more pressure on the chain, the quicker it will become worn or broken.
"You can keep metalwork looking fresh with a simple metal polish but you need to avoid this coming into contact with the rest of the bag.
It's particularly important to look after any designer logo hardware because, once these custom plates and details are damaged, they're a lot harder to replace.
"We can source or replace a vast range of broken metalwork but... we are unable to source branded pieces, so you need to be extra careful with any branded metalwork elements," adds Charlotte.
"For worn or scuffed metal work re-plating is a great option and comprises the required composition of metals. Some branded metalwork is only thinly plated, which means it can be difficult to get high enough levels of conduction to re-plate it."
How to store your leather handbag
Keep your bag stuffed while you're not using it... to help keep its shape better.
If your tote came with a dust bag... use it. These aren't just for pretty packaging - they are intended to keep your bags dust-free when they're not being used.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com/uk. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.
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