Cleaning Leather: How to Care for Your Leather Handbag

Let’s face facts— almost everyone loves and uses leather items and accessories, especially leather handbags. There is a reason they are so popular, and that is due to not only their overall durability but for their timelessness and elegance as well.

Leather bags are also naturally-waterproof and are breathable, which means it can protect your items from getting wet in a light rainstorm and can breathe out odor-causing bacteria and dust mites, if well taken care of. With all of these qualities, it's no wonder leather is a worthwhile investment, and you get more bang for your buck, compared to other synthetic fibers that can break down and fall apart over time.

Leather has been around for a very, very long time, and its initial use has even been traced back almost 7,000 years ago. Long before we were using it today, our ancestors were using it because of how great of a fabric it is.

In fact, leather is often used for other items such as the following:

  • Clothes
  • Furniture
  • Car seats

Leather is also made from natural materials, which means it isn’t concocted in a lab somewhere made of chemicals that we have never heard of, let alone can even pronounce. But, you probably know all of this, don’t you? I mean, that is the reason why you are here, right?

We’re guessing you most likely already own a leather bag and know how valuable it is, or you are thinking about taking the plunge and buying one of your own but are worried about the upkeep. Well, both of you are in luck!

We've got the lowdown on what you need for cleaning supplies and how you will need to clean your leather handbag, which will help protect your leather bag from deteriorating over time. Before we dive in, let’s explore why it is so important to maintain leather upkeep.

Understand Why You Need to Clean Leather

Maintaining clean and healthy leather for your leather handbags will ensure that they have a long and healthy lifespan. Leather, like skin, needs constant care to keep it in good condition. You wouldn’t let your skin get in bad shape, so why do the same to your leather handbag?

All quality things require care, especially quality fabric, like leather. 

If you aren’t sure if it’s time to start cleaning up your leather handbag, the following are helpful indicators that it's time your leather handbag needs some TLC:

  • Cracked and dry - Leather handbags that have visible cracks or feel dry to the touch definitely need to be cleaned and restored. You should treat leather like you treat skin: if it’s crackling, you need to moisturize it ASAP.
  • Stained - Like other fabrics, leather can also stain if not taken care of properly. Anything from oils, foods, drinks, or anything that will and can make a mess can stain your leather handbag.
  • Stretched Out - Leather can also stretch out over time due to constant use, and once it has stretched out, it can’t go back to its original structure. One rule of thumb to prevent this is making sure that you don’t overload your leather bag with too many weight-bearing items.
  • Moldy and Mildewy - Leather can also suffer from developing mold and mildew if not properly cared for, especially if you live in a humid place or if it rains a lot in your area. Like all things that aren’t weatherproof when exposed to water, leather can also be ruined by the elements if not cared for.

Therefore, it is extremely important that you take care of your leather. Since leather is such a quality fabric and can last a lifetime or more, you owe it to you and those who will one day own and cherish your leather handbag to make sure it is well taken care of.

Prepare Your Bag for Cleaning

Now that you are well aware of all the things that could happen if you don’t take care of your leather properly, let’s start prepping your bag for cleaning.

First Step - Make sure that your bag is completely empty.

This means emptying it of all its former contents entirely. This includes any debris in your handbag as well. We all know that even if we don’t store food in our bags, crumbs and other small bits of trash can collect at the bottom.

To make sure everything is properly taken out of your bag, try carefully pulling the liner slightly out (remember not to pull it hard or it will tear!) just to get all loose pieces of dirt out. If you have one, try also using a mini vacuum device to clear out anything else still lingering in the liner.

Second Step - Wipe down your bag with a clean and soft cloth.

After you have successfully cleaned out the interior of your leather bag, it’s not time to prepare the leather exterior for cleaning. Before you get into the thick of cleaning the leather, use soft material like a microfiber cloth to wipe away any loose particles on the leather’s exterior, so it doesn’t cause any abrasions during the cleaning process.

Always remember to use a soft cloth when wiping down your leather handbag. Using any other harsh fabrics could cause tears and scrapes on your leather.

Third Step - Prepare a clean and open space to clean your leather handbag.

The last step in preparing your leather handbag for cleaning is to make sure you have a clean and open space to clean your leather handbag. If you use a cluttered space or don’t properly consider your surroundings when in the process of cleaning your leather handbag, you may end up making a mess and accidentally causing stains, marks, or tears when in the process of cleaning.

Try using a flat space such as a table, countertop, or a desk. Anywhere where you can freely clean your leather handbag without the possibility of causing an accident around you will work best.

Select Proper Cleaning Supplies

Now that you have had your leather handbag prepared for cleaning, it is now time to select the cleaning supplies you will need. It is very important that you pay close attention to the types of cleaners you use on your leather handbags. Some cleaning materials that boast they are good for leather can be filled with harmful chemicals for both you and your leather handbag. 

Although these may seem like cheap and easy options because of how easy they are to locate, definitely make sure you stay away from the following chemicals:

  • Alcohol - Although alcohol is thought to be a great disinfectant, it can be extremely harmful to leather. Because of its disinfectant properties, it is also a stripping agent, which means bad news for your leather’s color and texture. If you use alcohol regularly on your leather handbag to get it germ-free, it can cause it to dry and crack.
  • Acetone - Another chemical that’s harsh on your leather is acetone, the same ingredient in nail polish remover. If knowing that fact alone doesn’t make you want to keep your leather handbag far, far away from it, we'll be happy to explain why it’s definitely not good to use. Acetone destroys the grain side (aka, the upper wear layer) of leather as well as the tanning and fiber structure of the leather itself. This causes it to crack and become brittle, which we all know is NOT a good look for your leather handbag.

Instead of defaulting to these harsh chemicals, go for something more natural instead. Since leather is organically sourced, it needs to be cleaned with organic materials

When looking for a natural leather cleaner, be on the lookout for the following ingredients:

  • Beeswax
  • Seed oils
  • Lipids like natural fats
  • Organic soaps

It’s always best to go natural for cleaning products anyway, and the same should be used on your leather handbag as well.

Also, you will need to get a finishing cream for your leather handbag as well. 

Once the leather handbag is clean, the finishing cream will allow it to moisturize and protect your leather handbag from drying and cracking.

And the same rules apply to the use of natural materials. Ensure your finishing cream has organic and natural materials in it, too, before applying it on the leather. 

The Process of Cleaning 

You’re finally at the stage where your leather handbag has been prepared for cleaning, and you have your natural and suitable leather cleaning supplies. So, how do you use this knowledge to clean your leather handbag? 

If you can believe it, it only takes two simple steps. 

Step One - Start by taking your cleaning materials and creating a sud-like foam on the leather exterior.

Remember when we said to wipe down the exterior of your leather handbag? It was for this very reason. By having a clean exterior surface, you are allowing the cleaning substance to soak into the leather through the water and soap mixture. This will allow the mixture to remove any leftover dirt and debris. 

Once the bag has been wiped down with the soapy mixture, wipe it off with a soft damp cloth to remove any excess soap. After the exterior leather has been wiped down with the soft damp cloth, let it air dry before continuing on to the next step.

Step Two - Once dry, apply a finishing cream to moisturize and protect the leather. 

Now that your leather handbag has been properly cleaned with a soap and water mixture and has properly air-dried (stay away from hair dryers as tempting as they may be - the extreme heat can cause more drying out and cracking!), you are now ready for the moisturizer.

Apply a liberal amount of your moisturizing cream and begin to massage it all over the leather exterior of the handbag.

Make sure you are paying close attention to the obscure areas such as the handles, corners, and any areas you are prone to touching. Once again, you will leave this to air dry, which can typically take about 10 minutes.

After air drying, you will then buff out any excess cream that wasn’t absorbed by the leather. Be sure you once again use a soft cloth so as not to scratch or damage the leather. Also, be sure to note the following instances during your cleaning process as well:

  • Stubborn stains - If your leather handbag is light-colored or absorbs the protectant quicker than the projected 10 minutes, you should consider repeating the moisturizing process a couple of times, especially if you are trying to remove those pesky stains.
  • Time crunch - If you're on a time constraint and your leather handbag is essential to getting things you need to get done (we definitely understand that!) and you can’t clean your entire bag, try doing a modified version of the cleaning process and only cleaning off areas that noticeably need it. 

You don’t need to be a professional to know how to clean your leather bag and can clean it properly with just a little bit of time, patience, and preparedness. 

By referring to these steps, you can ensure that your leather handbag will get the quality care and polish that it deserves to keep it optional for your daily use.

Treat Your Leather Right

Owning a leather handbag is very special because they are extremely valuable and durable handbags.

Not only are they trusty for all of your every day and on the go belongings, but they are extremely stylish and pair well with any outfit, regardless of the occasion. Since leather does so much for you for your essential and style needs, it’s time you give back and keep it in the best care possible.

If you haven’t stopped to think about how to take care of your leather handbag, the time is definitely now. Once your leather handbag is cleaned up, it will look as new as the day you got it, and you’ll be able to use it for a lifetime— if not longer. 


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