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How to Clean a Leather Purse So It Looks Brand-New — No Pricey Products Required!

Plus, learn why baby wipes are a no-go!

Leather purses can be a splurge, but their benefits certainly make them appealing: they’re comfortable to carry, versatile and long-lasting. The only problem? You may be unsure of how to keep the material looking like new without damaging it! Thankfully, getting the surface spotless doesn’t have to be daunting. We asked a leather craftsman and a handbag designer how to clean a leather purse, what items can ruin the finish and the secrets to prolonging the life of your bag.

How to clean a leather purse

A handbag in great condition after knowing how to clean a leather purse
Luc TEBOUL/Getty

Before diving into how to clean a leather purse, it’s key to know what to avoid doing or using. “Leather purses require a bit of love and care, but if you take care of the leather, they can last for generations,” says Nick Duvall, master craftsman and owner at Duvall Leatherwork. “Taking care of leather means knowing when to clean or condition — and when not to.”

One of the biggest mistakes you can make with a leather purse is using too much cleaner or over-wetting it. “Excessive moisture can cause water stains or damage the leather’s texture,” shares Andrea Benahmed Djilali, who designs luxury handbags (including leather) for AndReal. “To avoid saturating the leather with water or cleaning solutions, use a damp cloth rather than soaking the leather with the solution.”

Getting a leather purse clean is easier than you may expect, and you don’t even need any specialty products! “Water is the universal solvent,” explains Duvall. “A damp cloth or paper towel can clean leather safer and more effectively than most chemicals in your home. You can amplify the cleaning strength by using a tiny amount of basic dish soap.”

This is the ideal cleaning method for patent, vegetable-tanned and aniline leather. Note: It’s still best to spot test in an inconspicuous first to ensure you don’t damage the leather or cause discoloration. Suede,  a type of leather with a napped finish, requires its own special care. (Click through for how to clean suede accessories like shoes).

To do: First, mix a few drops of mild dish soap in a small bowl of warm water to create a sudsy solution and spot test as mentioned above. “Then dip a soft clean cloth or sponge into the soapy solution and wring it out until it’s just damp,” says Duvall. “Gently wipe the surface of the leather handbag, avoiding excessive water.” When wiping, it’s important not to vigorously scrub at the material as it can ruin the finish. Gentle care is best to keep the accessory in good condition.

Finish by wiping down with a clean, damp cloth to wipe off any soap residue. (Note: Remember not to saturate the leather with water.)  

Looking for a store-bought product that will leave your purse looking like new? “I highly recommend the Collonil Lack Polish product (Buy from Amazon, $15.48) for specialized patent leather cleaning,” shares Djilali.

Related: The Astonishingly Easy Way to Deep Clean a Leather Jacket At Home

How to clean stains from a leather purse

Even with regular cleaning, it’s possible to end up with unsightly spots from food, ink or other sources on your handbag. “For fresh stains, gently blot the affected area with a clean, dry cloth to absorb excess moisture or substance,” says Djilali. “Avoid rubbing vigorously, as it may spread the stain or damage the leather.”

Baking soda can be used to clean a leather purse
new look casting/Getty

For set-in stains, start with the dish soap method described above. But if that still doesn’t help, enlist the help of a pantry staple: baking soda. “Try a small amount of baking soda on the stain and let it sit for several hours or overnight,” says Duvall. “Then, gently brush off the powder with a soft brush.” Baking soda absorbs stains so the surface looks spotless.

If the stain persists, a professional leather cleaner or specialty product might be necessary.

What *not* to use when cleaning a leather purse

Since leather can be prone to damage if not cared for properly, you’ll want to stay clear of certain items that can risk ruining your purse. The first: baby wipes! “Regular use of baby wipes will cause the finish to peel off like sunburnt skin,” cautions Djilali.

Bleach, ammonia, acetone or alcohol-based cleaners should also be avoided as they’re harsh cleaners. “These can strip away natural oils, dry out the leather, or cause discoloration,” she adds. Similarly, don’t use any household cleaners that were not made specifically for leather.

Finally, while oversaturating the leather is never good, it’s equally important to not over-dry it with a super hot heat source like a hairdryer, radiator or direct sunlight. “Let it dry naturally at room temperature,” says Duvall.

Related: How to Safely Clean Leather Furniture, Shoes, and Handbags

How to keep your leather bag in tip-top shape

Keep it conditioned

Once your purse is clean, it’s important to apply a leather conditioner suitable for the type of leather you have. “Conditioners help prevent drying and cracking and keep the leather soft and hydrated,” says Djilali.

See how to condition your handbag in the YouTube video from Saddleback Leather below:

Wax the zipper

Another part of your purse that may need a bit of extra attention is the zipper. “For easy zipper function, rub a small block of paraffin wax on the zipper teeth, then heat with a hairdryer,” says Duvall. The wax cuts down on friction so your zipper can glide with ease.  

Store it *this* way

How you store your leather purse is also important to ensure it stays in great condition. Avoid leaving it in hot attics or areas prone to dampness, and keep it in a dust bag or product box.

Also smart: “Always keep your bag stuffed with an old sweatshirt, paper or towels to ensure it keeps a natural shape when not in use,” adds Duvall.

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