How To Clean Leather Purses: Purse Cleaning Tips


It’s a fact of life: stains happen. Still, finding a stain is on your designer handbag (which might have been an investment you’d hoped to get some mileage out of), can be tough to take sitting down. We hear from customers with blemished bags nearly every day, so we understand these incidents are traumatic, and purse cleaning is expensive to boot. If you have a bag that requires professional cleaning, do give us a call at 800.240.3377 - we can clean your bag by mail if you're not local to NYC.

Don’t let a bad stain happen to a good bag.

Don’t let a bad stain happen to a good bag.

For minor blemishes you can handle at home,  we’d like to share some purse cleaning tips to help you salvage your arm candy. Unfortunately, purse cleaning, especially cleaning a leather purse, isn’t as simple as washing a basic tee. Fair warning: cleaning designer handbags can be risky, and if you’re not careful, it's all too easy to transform a salvageable bag into a total loss. So, treat your bag with care and always test a new product on an inconspicuous area first.

Before we begin:

1. Treat your bag gently, as the surface is very delicate. Test a new product on an inconspicuous area first like the bottom corner of the bag, and wait to see the results. If there is no major negative reaction, then carefully move on to cleaning the rest of the bag.

Vinyl and plastic purses are simple to clean with mild soap and water. Purses made from exotic materials, such as snakeskin, are not good at-home DIY cleaning projects.

2. When cleaning your leather purse, remember that all genuine leather was once a living hide. Animal skins needs to breathe--therefore if you suffocate your purse with the wrong cleaner, the leather will dry out and fade. Steer clear of most synthetic cleaning products, especially ones that are petroleum-based.

3. It’s also important to clean your leather purse with a cloth that won’t delaminate the leather's delicate finish. Use a microfiber cloth like this to wipe your bag — never use soggy paper towels.

Be sure to use microfiber cloths.

Be sure to use microfiber cloths.

If you have a major stain, don’t despair. In the cleaning business, we refer to two types of stains: wet stains (which can come out with water) and dry stains (which must be removed by, you guessed it, dry cleaning). A wet stain is a stain with a water-soluble contaminant. Ketchup is a common water-based stain. Wet stains can be removed at home, but “dry stains,” typically greasy blemishes caused by oil, paint, wax or lipstick will need professional attention.

Here are the steps to clean your leather handbag:

1. Get some baby shampoo and those previously mentioned microfiber cloth. Heavily dilute the wash (a drop or two will do in 8-12 ounces of water). Never spray cleaning product directly onto your leather bag. We've seen some tutorials suggest this and we definitely do not recommend.

Dip your cloth in the solution and gently wipe the bag in the direction of the leather's grain. Use smooth, even strokes. Pay particular attention to the areas of the bag you most often touch, such as the handle and clasp, as those sections are the most likely to be saturated by body oils. 

These are the areas most commonly soiled on purses.

These are the areas most commonly soiled on purses.

2. Saddle soap is your friend. Saddle soap is a specially designed soap used to treat leather stains. To treat stained leather, you’ll want to break out your microfiber clothes again and get your hands on a product called saddle soap. Be cautious! Saddle soap can streak or stain certain leathers. Test it out in an inconspicuous area first. Gently blot the affected area, or wipe if you must, but never rub a stain. You may end up grinding the contaminant in more deeply, or worse, removing leather dye with the saddle soap.

This method will be most effective when a stain is fresh, so don’t delay cleaning stained leather surfaces! You can’t rush the process when cleaning handbags, so don’t be afraid to let your bag dry and repeat the process. Successful cleaning may take several tries.

Our expert tech Hassan applies specially formulated dye to scratched leather.

Our expert tech Hassan applies specially formulated dye to scratched leather.

3. Scratched bag? Shoe polish is acceptable for minor touchups. But be aware --it’s a temporary measure and that will rub off over time. Be very careful not to apply too much polish, which could make a mess and cause your leather to stiffen.

4. Don’t forget to pay attention to metal hardware such as brass snaps or stainless steel eyelets. Believe it or not, the best home remedy we’ve found to clean tarnished and grimy hardware are Mr. Clean’s magic erasers. Keep zippers moving freely with a piece of beeswax (you can find this in natural foods stores). Never use WD-40 or similar oils on a leather bag! They can drip and cause major blemishes.

Remember: The easiest way to make sure your bag stays clean is to prevent it from getting dirty in the first place. Try not to carry pens in your bags (ink marks are extremely troublesome to remove, even for professionals) and always make sure liquid contents are secure.

Be careful handling your bag at the salon, and after using cosmetics. Don’t set your bag down on dirty countertops, or worse, the floor. Finally, if the weather is inclement, you may want to reconsider bringing out a special bag.

We use our own dust bags because, well, we’re the pros!

We use our own dust bags because, well, we’re the pros!

Another pro tip: Take care when storing your designer purse. Never leave your purse in a sealed bag or container (remember, leather has to breathe). A cost effective solution is a simple dustcover or old pillowcase. Keep your bag off concrete floors (which can promote mildew) and try not to leave it in areas exposed to extreme temperatures, such as attics or closed cars on a hot summer day. If your bag has a chain handle, store the chain inside the bag to avoid scratching the outside leather when the bag is resting.

With proper care, it’s possible to enjoy most leather purses for many, many years. So, if you have a designer handbag with timeless styling, don’t let wear or stains force you to retire it early.

Still Can't Get The Stain Out?

We hear from customers with blemished bags nearly every day, so we understand these incidents are traumatic. And given how much you spent on your designer handbag, purse cleaning can be a very intimidating endeavor. If you’re not comfortable cleaning your bag at home, Meurice had decades of experience cleaning high-end purses and handbags. If you’re not local to New York, We gladly accept bags shipped from all over the world.

For even more info on how to clean leather handbags, we created a video tutorial to show you exactly how it's done