How to clean leather purses — purse cleaning tips

It’s a fact of life: stains happen. Still, finding a stain is on your designer handbag (which might have been an investment you’d hoped to get some mileage out of), can be tough to take sitting down. We hear from customers with blemished bags nearly every day, so we understand these incidents are traumatic, and purse cleaning is expensive to boot. If you have a bag that requires professional cleaning, do give us a call at 800.240.3377 – we can clean your bag by mail if you’re not local to NYC.

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Don't let a bad stain happen to a good bag (click to enlarge)

Don’t let a bad stain happen to a good bag (click to enlarge)

For minor blemishes you can handle at home,  we’d like to share some purse cleaning tips to help you salvage your arm candy. Unfortunately, purse cleaning, especially cleaning a leather purse, isn’t as simple as washing a basic tee. Fair warning: cleaning designer handbags can be risky, and if you’re not careful, it’s all too easy to transform a salvageable bag into a total loss. So, treat your bag with care and always test a new product on an inconspicuous area first.

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This blog post will primarily cover leather handbags. Vinyl and plastic purses are simple to clean with mild soap and water. Purses made from exotic materials, such as snakeskin, are not a good at-home DIY cleaning project.
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When cleaning your leather purse, remember that all genuine leather was once a living hide. First and foremost, animal skins needs to breathe. If you suffocate your purse with the wrong cleaner, or allow a stain to become embedded, the leather will dry out, crack, or fade. For this reason, it’s important to steer clear of most synthetic cleaning products, especially ones that are petroleum-based. It’s also important to clean your leather purse with a cloth that won’t delaminate or crumble. Use a microfiber cloth like this to wipe your bag — never use soggy paper towels.

Our expert handbag cleaner Hassan working on a microfiber cloth (click to enlarge)

Our expert handbag cleaner Hassan working on a microfiber cloth (click to enlarge)

So, how to clean your leather purse? Let’s get started. It’s easiest to clean your handbag before it gets heavily soiled, so try to freshen up your leather purses regularly. The best way to do this is using baby wash and those previously mentioned microfiber towels. Heavily dilute the wash (a drop or two will do in 8-12 ounces of water) and mix the solution in a spray bottle. Never spray any cleaning product (even watered down) straight onto your leather bag; rather, spray the solution onto your towel , then gently wipe the bag. Try to go with the grain of the leather, and use smooth, even strokes. Pay particular attention to the areas of the bag you most often touch, such as the handle and clasp, as those sections are the most likely to be saturated by body oils. It’s also a good idea to condition your bag periodically with a moisturizer specifically tailored to leather purses.

These are the areas most commonly soiled on purses (click to enlarge)

These are the areas most commonly soiled on purses (click to enlarge)

If you have a major stain, don’t despair. In the cleaning business, we refer to two types of stains: wet stains (which can come out with water) and dry stains (which must be removed by, you guessed it, dry cleaning). A wet stain is a stain with a water-soluble contaminant. Ketchup is a common water-based stain. Wet stains can be removed at home, but “dry stains,” typically greasy blemishes caused by oil, paint, wax or lipstick will need professional attention.

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To treat stained leather, you’ll want to break out your microfiber clothes again and get your hands on a product called saddle soap. Be cautious! Saddle soap can streak or stain certain leathers. Test it out in an inconspicuous area first. Gently blot the affected area, or wipe if you must, but never rub a stain. You may end up grinding the contaminant in more deeply, or worse, removing leather dye with the saddle soap. This method will be most effective when a stain is fresh, so don’t delay cleaning stained leather surfaces! You can’t rush the process when cleaning handbags, so don’t be afraid to let your bag dry and repeat the process. Successful cleaning may take several tries.

Our expert tech Hassan applies specially formulated dye to scratched leather (click to enlarge)

Our expert tech Hassan applies specially formulated dye to scratched leather (click to enlarge)

Scratched bags are another common issue we see at Meurice. Shoe polish is acceptable for minor touchups, but be aware it’s a temporary measure and will rub back off over time. Be very careful not to apply too much polish, which could make a mess and cause your leather to stiffen.

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Don’t forget to pay attention to metal hardware such as brass snaps or stainless steel eyelets. Believe it or not, the best home remedy we’ve found to clean tarnished and grimy hardware are Mr. Clean’s magic erasers. Keep zippers moving freely with a piece of beeswax (you can find this in natural foods stores). Never use WD-40 or similar oils on a leather bag! They can drip and cause major blemishes.

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The easiest way to make sure your bag stays clean is to prevent it from getting dirty in the first place. Try not to carry pens in your good bags (ink marks are a bear even for professionals to remove) and always make sure liquid contents are secure. Be careful handling your bag at the salon, and after using cosmetics. Don’t set your bag down on dirty countertops, or worse, the floor. (yuk!) Finally, if the weather is inclement, you may want to reconsider bringing out a special bag.

We use our own dust bags because, well, we're the pros! (click to enlarge)

We use our own dust bags because, well, we’re the pros! (click to enlarge)

Take care when storing your designer purse. Never leave your purse in a sealed bag or container. (Leather must breathe, remember?) A much better storage option is a dustcover or old pillowcase. These will protect your bag without smothering it. Also, keep your bag off concrete floors (which can promote mildew) and try not to leave it in areas exposed to extreme temperatures, such as attics or closed cars on a hot summer day. If your bag has a chain handle, store the chain inside the bag to avoid scratching the outside leather when the bag is resting.

With proper care, it’s possible to enjoy most leather purses nearly indefinitely. So, if you have a designer handbag with timeless styling, don’t let wear or stains force you to retire it early. If you’re not comfortable cleaning your bag at home, we at Meurice can help! Send us an email about cleaning your leather handbag and we’ll get you a quote. Even if you’re not local to New York, Meurice can clean your handbag by mail and ship it right to your door.

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9 Comments

  1. Sandra Silverberg
    Posted October 19, 2014 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    I have a red Judith Leiber snake small bag. It got an oil or lobster juice stain on I.
    How should it be cleaned?
    Do I need to send it to you or back to Leiber?

  2. SheilaJ
    Posted October 22, 2014 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

    I have a beige patent leather coach purse.
    It was stored in a red bag in the top of my closet, along with another red purse.
    When the beige bag was removed from the bag it had red marks on it. They actually looked like lipstick stains, but are not.
    Can this purse be cleaned? Unfortunately, I have tried several “cleaners’ in the bag, with no effect on the stains. A shoemaker even tried a lacquer thinner on one of the stains. He told me that rubbing the solvent into the stains would just heat up the surface and crinkle the surface.

  3. Sherrie Kulwicki
    Posted November 7, 2014 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    I treated my Michael Kors brown leather purse with a Mr. Clean magic eraser to remove a few ink stains. Worked perfectly. So when I got another larger ink mark on my purse I used it again and this time it removed all the color! I have a large round dark circle. No ink and no leather either. Help!!! Have I ruined it?

  4. amy
    Posted November 9, 2014 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    i just purchased a coach leather bag with 2 ink stains on it one is small the other is a pen line what can i use to get them out or at least fade them out?

  5. Debbie Pierce
    Posted September 28, 2015 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    Amazing tips! “Leather must breathe”! I am going to try to clean my bags. I am so glad that I found your post. Bags are very expensive and we should be very careful with them. Greetings!

  6. Leticia garcia
    Posted December 31, 2015 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    Can a vanilla michael lots bag be cleaned from a new shirt stain?

  7. Helen Southerton
    Posted January 1, 2016 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    I just purchased a Michael Kors rose colored handbag. What product should I treat it with now to preserve the leather and minimize the risk of it getting soiled.

  8. Jessica
    Posted January 2, 2016 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    I got paint on my leather Michael Kors bag. I bought a leather cleaner, tested it on the inside of the bag and it looked fine. I tried it on the outside of my bag and it removed the dye! Anything that I can do to fix it or have it redyed?

  9. Tanya Pirelli
    Posted January 22, 2016 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    To protect your purse there’s a new product by a company called Collonil called Carbon Pro. It lets the leather breathe while protecting it.
    It’s just fabulous. There are online stores that carry it but you can get it at http://www.collonilnorthamerica.com

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