leather handbag with cleaning accessories

How to Clean Your Leather Purse or Handbag: The Complete Guide

When investing in a high-quality leather purse, you want your purchase to last for years. With proper care, it can last for decades.

Leather itself is made from tanned animal hide. It retains its porousness and so absorbs oils from your skin, leather-care products, and more. Due to this absorbency, cleaning spills and stains quickly is crucial.

Even if you have deftly avoided spills, a monthly cleaning routine can help keep your leather purse buttery smooth and shiny. These tips can also help with caring for faux leather handbags.

In This Article

Basic Cleaning

Fortunately, cleaning leather is quite easy with the proper tools. And even a quick clean can extend the lifetime of your leather product by years.

You will need:

  • Several Clean Cloths
  • Leather Cleaner
  • Leather Conditioner (see below)
  • Metal Polish

Not all cleaning products react well to all leather treatments. Spot-test a product on a small out-of-the-way part of your handbag before using it on the whole purse.

1. Dust

Brush off any dust or dirt that may have accumulated on your leather purse before cleaning. Using swipes with a clean, dry cloth is a great way to accomplish this.

Giving your purse a dusting every few days is a good habit to avoid dirt and dust from building up

2. Clean the Purse

Apply some of the leather cleaner (make sure it is meant specifically for leather) to a clean cloth, then gently rub it into the leather using circular motions. Try to avoid cleaning it inch by inch—rather, use big circles to clean large areas at once. This will ensure you clean the purse evenly.

After completing that, lightly dampen a cloth and use it to remove the cleaner. Scrubbing is not necessary, as the cleaner should come off with a gentle wipe. This step is important to avoid clogging the pores of the leather with cleaner.

Using a cleaner is the basic maintenance method for leather. You should repeat the cleaning a few times a year to keep your leather purse in top shape.

3. Clean the Hardware

Use a cloth you may not mind getting a bit bleached to apply metal polish to the hardware of your handbag. Rub the polish in gently, since this kind of metal usually has an outer plate covering the base metal. Scouring the hardware could eat away at the plating and cause it to flake. Finally, use a white or light-colored cloth to buff the hardware, removing any tarnishing and leaving your purse fresh and shiny!

When applying metal polish, watch that you do not get any on the leather itself, or any non-metal materials. The polish can cause discoloration to these materials.

4. Condition the Purse

Using a leather conditioner helps prevent the leather from drying out. This is less of a problem for faux leather, but high-quality genuine leather will start to crack without maintenance.

Taking a clean cloth, apply some leather conditioner to your handbag. Do not put the conditioner directly onto the leather, as you want as thin a layer as possible. Gently rub the conditioner across your bag in big sections to ensure it is applied evenly. Watch you apply it thoroughly to areas that are not flat, like around zippers or pockets, so nothing gets missed. Finally, use a dry cloth to buff the leather.

As part of a regular maintenance routine, you should condition your leather purse about twice a year, or more frequently if you live in a dry part of the world.

DIY Leather Conditioner

Instead of spending your hard-earned money on a commercial conditioner, make your own! Mix one part white vinegar with two parts linseed oil (aka flaxseed oil). Use the resulting conditioner following the instructions below to help maintain your leather.

For extra tips on the cleaning process, check out this video from a professional cleaner.

Cleaning Stains

Regular maintenance works wonders for a leather purse, but accidents still happen. Here is how to clean spills, stains, and more off your handbag.

Ink Stains and Scuffs

With a cotton swab or the corner of a cloth, apply nail polish remover or rubbing alcohol to the stain. Only lightly blot it, so as not to make the ink spread. Continue dabbing until the stain is gone. Finish by wiping the affected area clean with a damp cloth to remove any residue, then towel dry.

Oil or Grease Stains

Sprinkle a pinch of baking soda or cornstarch onto the stain. Both will help absorb oil and grease. Use a damp cloth to gently rub the powder into the stain. Let your handbag sit overnight, after which the stain will be absorbed. Clean the powder off with a cloth and wipe away any residue.


Mix together one part lemon juice and one part cream or tartar. Apply the resulting paste to the stained area and leave it to sit for ten minutes. Next, wipe the paste off and allow the leather to thoroughly dry. Repeat as necessary to eliminate the stain.

Liquid Stains

If you spill a lot of liquid on your leather purse, start by trying to absorb as much of the liquid as possible. Use tissues or a dry cloth to soak up the liquid. Next, dampen a clean cloth with warm water and dab at the affected area. Work your way from the outside in to prevent the stain from spreading. Finish by dabbing the area with a dry cloth to absorb any remaining moisture. Let your leather handbag dry in a warm room.

Do not rub the stain while cleaning, as this can cause the stain to spread or sink further into the leather. Additionally, do not apply direct heat like a hair dryer to the affected leather to dry it. This can cause the stain to set, making it much more permanent.

Denim / Jeans Stains

While talking about leather cleaner, it can be useful to it have around the home for denim stains. It works incredibly well to clean stained jeans.

Apply some of the leather cleaner to a white cloth and gently dab at the stain. The stain should transfer to the cloth as you dab. Be gentle and do not rub the stain, so as to prevent it from spreading. After the stain is removed, use a clean dry cloth to wipe off the cleaner.

Denim stains can also be cleaned with the baking soda or cornstarch method. Both of these compounds absorb most stains. Sprinkle a pinch of baking soda or cornstarch onto the stained jeans and let it sit for several hours. It should have absorbed the stain, so you can wipe the powder off and clean up with a damp cloth.

Removing Odors

Unpleasant odors wafting from your leather handbag are usually the work of bacteria. To remove odors, the inside and outside of the purse need to be cleaned.

Here are some tips specifically for cleaning to remove odors:

  • Since you will need to clean the interior lining, ensure you have cleaning products meant for the liner’s material.
  • Your purse may have a removable liner. Check and see, as this makes interior cleaning much easier.
  • While cleaning, dig into the pockets and corners of your handbag. Bacteria often forms in these places.
  • Thoroughly clean the handles and any high-use surfaces. Oils from your hand sinking into the leather can sometimes cause odors.
  • When finishing a clean, if you decide to use a freshening spray on the liner, do not soak it, as the moisture can cause the leather to warp or the metal hardware to tarnish.

Removing Mold

mold on old brown leather bag, fungus on leather bag

Mold can eat away at leather and cause odors or discoloration. Luckily, it is easy to clean in order to preserve your leather handbag.

Before cleaning, ensure your leather purse is utterly dry. You can accomplish this by leaving it in a warm room for several hours. For the first clean, use a damp cloth to wipe off any surface mold from the leather. If your handbag is dry enough, the mold will come off easily.

Leave the handbag to dry a second time after cleaning. Then, use a leather cleaner on your purse to address any deep-set mold hiding out of sight. In the future, be careful to store your leather handbag in a low-humidity environment to prevent more mold from growing.

How to Clean Leather Purse from Thrift Store

When buying a leather purse second hand, all the advice in this article still applies. However, since you cannot be sure how the handbag was previously stored or used, there is an extra cleaning step you should follow.

Disinfecting the leather handbag ensures any germs are dead before use. This can prevent disease and other ailments caused by touching the purse before disinfecting.

If you have access to medical grade anti-bacterial wipes, those are best for disinfecting your purse. Wipes can get into all the nooks and crannies of your handbag and can clean dirt off the surface, unlike spray disinfectant.

For more info on cleaning thrifted leather goods, check out this video.

Cleaning a White Leather Purse

white leather purse

A white leather purse is a cute fashion choice for warm weather. They go with most outfits and look bright and cheerful. However, as they are white, dirt and stains stand out more than on other handbags. While they might take a little more cleaning than other leather purses, you can restore your white leather handbag to pristine condition.

Put down a white tower to work on top of. The cleaning requires bleach, so you do not want to use a colored towel that might get stained. Additionally, the colored dyes might leak into your white purse while cleaning with bleach.

Be sure to wear plastic gloves when handling bleach. For the same reasons as above, use white or clear plastic gloves.

Bleach can be too powerful for your leather purse if it has a finish. In that case, substitute the bleach for liquid soap.

Mix 1/3 of a cup of bleach into 1 cup of hot water. The more diluted the bleach is, the gentler it will be on your leather purse, which can prevent bleach stains but also means less cleaning power.

Dip a white cloth into the cleaning solution and squeeze out the extra liquid. Gently rub any stained or dirty spots on your purse with the cloth. Keep resubmerging your cloth in the solution as you work to make sure you have enough cleaning solution. The stains will transfer onto the cloth, so switch to different parts of the cloth as you continue cleaning.

Once all the stains have vanished, use a dry white cloth to wipe excess cleaning solution off your white leather purse. Make sure the purse is completely dry. Then, apply leather conditioner or a spray leather protector to add a final layer of protection. Leave your leather purse in a warm room for several hours to dry.

Cleaning a Faux Leather Purse

Most of the cleaning tips mentioned apply to faux leather purses, but since they are made of plastic or vinyl, cleaning methods based on the natural porousness of leather will not work.

Instead, mix soap or detergent into warm water. Dip in a cloth and wring out any excess liquid. Use the damp cloth to wipe down your faux leather purse. Dampen another cloth with just warm water and use it to wipe off the soap solution. Finish by drying using a dry cloth.

Andrea Soke

Andrea has a background in economics and finance, but she's also passionate about gardening, sustainable living, and finding new ways to maintain a clean and orderly home. She believes in quality over quantity.

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