How to Clean Leather Handbags
A thorough breakdown of how to clean and condition genuine leather handbags, as well as preventive measures and tips for lining and hardware care.
Genuine leather handbags are a give-and-take proposition: They give years upon years of toting your things around, but they take a little extra attention compared to low-maintenance synthetic accessories. While real leather softens and takes on a natural patina over time -- a look you might like if you're going for boho chic -- keeping your handbag in tip-top shape requires a combination of regular cleaning and preventive maintenance.
After about a week of regular use, start the cleaning process by giving your leather handbag a simple wipe-down with a clean, soft and lint-free cloth -- microfiber works well here -- dampened with a bit of water and mild liquid soap. This removes day-to-day surface dirt.
At least once or twice a season, treat your bag with an all-natural leather conditioner, available at most shoe stores and leather specialists. Apply a dime-sized dab of the conditioner to a clean microfiber cloth and gently wipe down the entire surface of the leather. Allow the bag to rest a few hours, and then remove excess conditioner with a clean portion of the cloth before storing the handbag.
Whether you're wiping down with water or using leather care products, always wipe in the direction of the leather's grain. Test an inconspicuous spot of your bag before applying leather cleaning products, and follow any care directions provided by the bag's manufacturer.
Avoid home remedies such as vinegar or baby wipes, which can stain or dry out leather. Likewise, stay away from synthetic conditioners. Stick to simple, time-tested methods instead.
The Lining and Hardware
Lining materials vary, so turn to a gentle fabric detergent for a catch-all solution. Before you apply the detergent, start by shaking the empty bag free of dirt and debris, and follow up with a thorough vacuuming, using a small nozzle attachment. Turn the lining inside out, if you're able, and smooth it out over a thick, folded towel. Saturate a sponge with a mix of warm water and detergent, and then thoroughly wipe the lining on each side, letting the towel soak up excess moisture. Keep the lining turned out and allow it to air dry completely before you store the bag.
If the lining is attached, lightly dampen the sponge with the water-detergent mix rather than saturating it. Give the lining a wipe-down, and then stuff the bag with a clean, dry towel for about a half hour to soak up moisture before leaving the open handbag to air dry.
Polishing up your handbag's hardware -- such as its zippers, tabs, and emblems -- entirely depends on what sort of hardware you're dealing with. In any case, you'll want a liquid metal polish matched to the type of metal you have; for instance, a cleaner recommended for silver works on silver hardware, gold cleaner for gold hardware, and so on. For nonprecious metals, standard metal polish does the trick. Whatever type of metal you have, simply apply a tiny dab to a very small microfiber cloth, rub it into the metal -- being very careful not to get any excess cleaner on the leather -- and buff it out with a clean, lint-free cloth. Keep your zipper working smoothly by rubbing it with a tiny amount of beeswax.
For a quick and easy hardware cleaning, use a melamine foam "eraser"-style household cleaner.
Don't clean hardware with oily products, which may drip onto the leather and stain it.
Careful handling extends the life of your handbag and makes cleaning much easier. To avoid grease stains, always allow your hands to dry completely after applying moisturizer or lotion. Likewise, ward off weathering by choosing a cloth or synthetic bag when you venture out in rain or snow. Be mindful of pairing light-colored leather handbags with dark jeans, especially new ones; dye from your pants can easily transfer to the leather, resulting in a stain that often requires professional cleaning to remove, if it can be removed at all. Speaking of ink stains, steer clear of storing pens in your handbag, if possible.
If your purse came with a breathable dust bag, use it whenever you store your accessory. In a pinch, a pillowcase stands in for a dust bag just fine. Store the item in a cool, dry area away from direct sunlight, stuffed with paper to maintain its shape over long storage periods.
If ink blots or other stains occur, use a specially formulated leather stain remover on the spot as quickly as possible. Follow the instructions provided by the spot remover's manufacturer and follow up with an application of leather conditioner.
Dan combines his decade-long experience as a freelance writer with hands-on experience in landscaping, flooring, painting, maritime maintenance and handy man work. Previously, he's published with Black+Decker, Geeks On Home, GardenGuides.com, GOBankingRates.com, USA Today, SFGate Home and others.