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 you’ve picked up a steal on the high street, leather bags are designed to stand the test of time. And we're all for looking after our beloved fashion items and extending their life. Let’s face it, we can’t all have unlimited funds for shopping sprees like the Kardashian/Jenner clan.
So, we’re here to provide you with *all* the info on how to clean your bag in detail. From step-by-step explainers of how to remove liquid stains and odours, to the best tips for protecting and storing your piece to keep it in tip-top condition, who better to ask about leather care than the experts at The Handbag Clinic?
Specialising 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. Here, Charlotte Staerck, the Retail Director and Co-founder of The Handbag Clinic shows us how to give your bag a quick refresh with their Leather Care Kit. (It's a lot cheaper than a monthly clean, trust.)
Start by cleaning the bag inside and outside, creating a foam with the cleaning solution, and massaging it into the bag.
Leave 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-coloured 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 them a quick wipe down will keep them looking fresh for longer.
"Having the right cleaning and protective products on hand at home is essential for optimum maintenance," Charlotte says. "Our care kits come with everything you need including sponges, cloths, and a brush in the suede kit so you have all the tools required to keep your bags looking great."
How to remove liquid stains from a leather bag
"The most common issue we see at The 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."
Charlotte continues: "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 only make the staining worse.
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. If you have one of our Handbag Care Kits, you should clean the stained area with the cleaner in the kit.
As before, you should then proceed to dab the stained area with a dry cloth or tissue to absorb any left-over 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.
If any staining remains once dried, you can contact The Handbag Clinic for a quote. Their stain removal services start at just £50.
Things to remember when cleaning your leather handbag
Top tips from the pros:
Stick to a proper cleaner
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 colour, dry the leather out, create a build-up of grease, and any number of other problems.
Always spot-test a cleaning method before using 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 afterwards 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 odours from a leather bag
"Removing bacteria is the first step to removing stubborn odours, so the bag needs to be cleaned inside and outside," says 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 odour." She explains how you can do this yourself:
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, take it 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 places oils may have been absorbed - these can be a cause of odours.
Once cleaned, finish with protection cream on the bag (our version is actually scented with a rich leather smell to help reduce any unwanted odours). On fabrics, a fabric freshening spray will help. However, do not saturate the fabric or you may risk warping the bag or damaging any leather or metalwork.
What not to do when cleaning a leather bag
Top tips from the pros:
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 discolouring.
Don't leave your bag in direct sunlight
It can cause the colour to fade and damage the leather.
Avoid holding your handbag if you've just applied handcream
Or you're just ASKING for grease stains.
Do you need to protect your leather handbag?
"Prevention is the place to start when thinking about a bag's condition", says Charlotte. In fact, she 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."
She continues: "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 make-up bag and a pen lid. Throwing makeup brushes, a smashed powder, lipstick that loses its lid, or an open pen causes the bag to become heavily stained on the interior. Makeup and ink are some of the hardest stains to remove from fabric due to the high oil content. This means the interior of your bag needs protecting just as much as the outside."
Charlotte advises buying Stain Cover just in case your bag gets messy: "At the Handbag Clinic you can insure up to 15 handbags against stains for a small fee per month."
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.
"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 it because you have too much in your handbag, it's likely that you will be putting too much pressure on it. This causes friction, scratching and potentially risks 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 metalwork, re-plating is a great option as it 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
Top tips from the pros:
Keep your bag stuffed while you're not using it
It helps keep the 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.
Keep it covered
If you don't have a dust bag an old pillowcase will do!
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