A leather bag is a timeless fashion accessory. Whether it is a sleek handbag, a sturdy backpack, or a chic tote, they are a worthwhile investment that can carry all your essentials and help dress up your outfit, no matter the occasion.
Unfortunately, bags are prone to general wear and tear and must be regularly cleaned. This keeps your bag looking its best and helps to protect it from any damage caused by dirt, stains, or moisture.
However, leather is a delicate material, so you must use specific techniques and products when cleaning it to avoid damage to the surface.
In this article, you’ll learn how to clean a leather bag safely. We also provide some general care tips to help keep your bag in excellent condition for many years. Read on for all you need to know!
How Should You Clean Your Leather Bag?
You should never put leather in the washing machine. Therefore, you need to clean your leather bag by hand using proper commercial leather cleaners and a gentle touch, as explained below.
To keep a leather bag in pristine condition, we suggest giving it a deep clean every one to three months.
Even if your bag isn’t noticeably dirty, the below cleaning routine will help protect it from future damage and ensure the leather keeps its lustre.
You will need the following:
- Leather soap
- Soft cleaning cloths, preferably white
- A lint roller
- Leather conditioner
- Leather stain remover
- Metal polish (optional)
- A vacuum cleaner
- Cotton buds (optional)
Step 1: Empty the bag
Before properly starting the cleaning process, ensure that your leather bag is emptied of everything.
Check all the pockets for forgotten items, and shake the bag upside down to help dislodge anything you may have missed.
At this point, it is also a good idea to check your bag for a care label. If the instructions given by the manufacturer differ from those provided below, it is always best to stick to the care label to prevent damage to the leather.
Step 2: Remove loose dirt and debris
With everyday usage, your bag will slowly collect crumbs, dirt, and other debris that needs to be removed.
The easiest way to do this is by vacuuming the inside of your bag, including any pockets. If your bag’s lining is made of fabric, you can also use a lint roller to get rid of the build-up.
Additionally, we advise wiping down your bag’s exterior with a damp cloth to dislodge any dirt before going in with your leather soap.
Pay close attention to any nooks and crannies that will be prone to dirt accumulation.
Step 3: Spot test your leather cleaner
If the leather soap you have chosen has never been used on your bag before, you should do a small patch test before moving on to step 4.
This allows you to check for any discolouration or other damage the cleaner could cause to the leather.
Try to test your soap in an inconspicuous spot so that any potential damage is hidden from view.
Simply leave the cleaner on the leather for a few minutes and then wipe it off to view the results. We highly recommend trying Leather Honey’s cleaning solution if you’re looking for something new to try.
Step 4: Clean the leather bag
Once you’re sure the leather soap is safe, you can start cleaning the rest of the bag.
Depending on the cleaner, you may have to dilute the solution in a bowl of warm water before applying it to the leather, so always check the packet instructions first.
Use a soft, clean cloth to apply the soap to your bag in a gentle circular motion. Always wring the cloth before wiping the leather, as too much moisture could damage the material.
Step 5: Wipe off residual cleaner
Use another clean cloth to gently wipe any residual cleaner from the bag and help the leather to dry off.
At this point, your bag will be mostly clean, but a few remaining stains may need to be treated directly.
Light-coloured or highly absorbent leather may also need to be wiped with the soap multiple times to become properly clean.
Step 6: Remove lingering stains
It’s always best to treat stains immediately when something is spilt on your bag.
This being said, any dried-in stains can be removed at this point in the cleaning process if necessary. Your best bet is to use a leather stain remover on these patches.
The exact instructions you must follow will differ based on the product you are using, but most will require you to apply the stain remover to the discoloured area, leave it to sit, and then wipe it away with a damp cloth.
If you encounter a stain that will not come out, we suggest taking your bag to a professional to have it cleaned.
Step 7: Clean any metal pieces
If your bag has any metal pieces, you can use a metal polish to brighten them up. This includes zips, buttons, and other decorative embellishments that are starting to look dull.
We suggest using a cotton bud to apply the polish to the metal areas and then using a cloth to buff away any tarnish.
When doing this, be careful—most metal pieces are plated and could flake away if too much force is used. You also need to avoid getting any polish on the leather, as this may stain.
Step 8: Apply a leather conditioner
When you’re happy with the look of the leather, apply an even coat of leather conditioner to the bag. This helps the leather remain soft and flexible and provides some protection from stains.
The best way to apply a conditioner is to rub it into the leather with a clean cloth and then wipe off any excess.
However, always follow the label instructions for the best results.
If you need help deciding which product to buy, Leather Honey makes a great conditioner that is highly recommended by thousands of users.
Step 9: Buff to a shine
Once properly conditioned, leave your bag to air dry in a well-ventilated area away from sunlight and other heat sources.
Although it may be tempting to use a hairdryer or heater to speed up the drying process, these can cause the leather to crack and warp, so they are best avoided.
The final step is to buff and polish the surface of your bag until its shine has been restored. This is best done using a soft cloth to rub the leather in a small circular motion.
Top Tips on Caring For a Leather Bag
A bag that is used regularly is highly prone to damage.
Although giving the leather a regular maintenance clean will help prevent this, there are some other things you can also do to protect your bag from wear and tear:
- Keep it out of the sun: Direct exposure to sunlight will cause the leather on your bag to fade. Of course, it is sometimes impossible to avoid sunlight while the bag is in use, but it is best to store it in a cool, dry place to protect it wherever possible.
- Handle with care: When using your bag, avoid overloading it or dragging it on rough surfaces, as this will cause damage to the leather and stitching. It is also best to only handle your bag when your hands are clean to avoid stains. Greasy stains, like hand cream, can be particularly tough to remove from leather.
- Implement proper storage techniques: Between uses, we suggest storing your bag in a dust bag or pillowcase to protect it from dust, dirt, and scratches. Avoid using a plastic bag for this, as it could trap moisture, leading to mould growth. If your bag has a structured shape, you can also stuff it with tissue paper or bubble wrap to help maintain it.
- Remove stains quickly: Stains that are treated as soon as they occur are much more likely to come off your bag. If you accidentally spill something, use a paper towel to absorb as much liquid as possible and then gently blot the stain with warm water. For tougher stains, you can also apply a little stain remover.
- Pay attention to straps and handles: The straps and handles on your bag take the brunt of the weight when you are carrying it around. This means they are more prone to damage and the build-up of dirt, oil and sweat. To prevent this, try to use all of the handles evenly and spread out the weight of your items so that the straps aren’t as strained.
- Protect against the rain: When using a bag out and about, it is hard to prevent it from getting wet. If you’re ever caught in the rain, pat the leather with a cloth and leave it to air dry as soon as possible to prevent water damage. You can then use your leather conditioner to help restore any lost moisture.
Hannah is a freelance content writer with a passion for cleaning. She worked her way around Australia by cleaning hostels in exchange for free accommodation and used her cleaning skills to bag her a job as a chalet host for a luxury ski company in France.