How to Restore Your Leather Handbag

Cleaning your leather handbag/purse

For many, leather handbags and purses can be a wearable piece of art that defines who we are out in the world. And for many... it's a real investment that many of us are willing to make. Though women tend to "invest" in handbags more than men, the men of today carry handbags and leather luxury goods more and more. 

A Proper Man-Purse. 

A Proper Man-Purse. 

Like a diamond engagement ring or collector's watch, when you've invested a lot of money in a handbag, you'll want to make sure it sticks around for a lifetime. But taking care of leather goods can be tricky - and when it's an item you've fallen in love, with much more lies at stake.

So, how do you clean a leather handbag?

The very first place to start is with an ounce of prevention. This should begin the day that you purchase your leather handbag and you should treat your bag with a cream or leather care product designed for it, at least once every 60 to 90 days. 

Secondly, regular cleaning should be a no-brainer - even if it's a quick wipe down. For quick, regular cleanings simply wet a damp cloth and remove dust and build up that can damage the bag, it's lining and interior pockets. But once your bag has some age or wear on it, it will typically need a more thorough cleaning by a professional color restoration specialist every few months to keep it like brand new. 

Protecting your handbag can prevent the pentration of grease, staining, and all other spills and mishaps later on.


Here are the DIY do's and don'ts. 

  • Once per week - wipe your bag with warm, soapy water. You can mix a small amount of mild liquid soap with warm water and use a soft damp cloth to wipe away any dirt from the outside of your handbag. Make sure to wipe with the grain of the handbag to avoid ruining the leather. If you've ever sanded a board or trimmed a filet, you get the idea. Grain is where it's at. 
  • Avoid the usual household wonder liquids. You should never pull out baby wipes, vinegar or any other 'home remedy' for cleaning or tackling stain removal on your luxury handbag. These products have chemicals (whether occurring naturally or man-made) that can destroy your hard-earned investment. 
  • Ink and pen marks! The key to removing ink marks is to treat them immediately. Your best bet here is to call your local Color Glo Specialist and schedule an appointment. If you're a die-hard or simply unable to, try a special ink removing product for leather and follow the care instructions, making sure to condition the area afterward. Then leave it to dry properly before using the handbag again. If the ink stains are old, do not try to remove these yourself. Seek professional help... you will need it.
  • Stuff your bag while not in use. If you're a collector of leather handbags or have a few of them that come out on special occasions, then it would behoove you to stuff your bag with terry cloths or some filling material. It will keep its shape for a lifetime. 
Keep your handbag stuff when not using it. Photo: Handbag Clinic

Keep your handbag stuff when not using it. Photo: Handbag Clinic

  • Grease Stains. Just wipe them off. Using water or liquid will simply make them a mess to clean up. 
  • On tougher dirt and ground in problem areas, use a professional leather cleaning agent. A good cream does not need to be rinsed (which could damage your bag further). You may find a bit higher investment in good leather conditioning creams, but like most things in life, they will perform far better. 
Use a leather conditioning/cleaning product that is made for the material your handbag is made out of.


  • Always use a product designed for use on your particular material. A general leather cleaner will not be as effective on a suede or nubuck interior than a product specifically designed for it. Just do your homework or consult with the manufacturer's recommendations.
  • Spot testing is key. Always, always spot test a small area that out of sight. You would do the same thing before spraying Scotchgard™ on your brand new fabric couch. You should take the same care with your luxury leather handbag purchase. It's likely you paid more for it than the couch...
  • Dust bags - use them! If your bag came with a dust bag, then you should probably ask yourself, why? Dust bags are not intended for nice branding and good looking packaging, they are intended to keep your handbag DUST-FREE when they are not being used. 
You can always use a pillow case or something similar if you don't have a dust bag.

You can always use a pillow case or something similar if you don't have a dust bag.

  • Sunlight. Don't leave your handbag in direct sunlight. Just like your good furniture, you wouldn't leave in the window in blazing sun every day. The same color fasting will occur. 
  • Do not use saddle soap. It will most likely be too strong for the leather on your bag and could cause it to discolor.
  • Smelly bags... to forever banish lingering effluvia, put an open container of baking powder carefully inside your bag, place your bag into a dust bag or pillow case and leave it to sit for 24 hours. It should absorb that scent you didn't like.

For the Fashionistas...

You may not have thought of this, or maybe it has affected you already. Do not rock light color handbags with dark clothing. The dye from your dark clothing may run and transfer to the handbag. This is one of the single hardest stains to remove.

If you do end up with a really stubborn stain, try matching a shoe polish to the color of your bag and buffing a small amount over the affected area.

Want to hire a professional?