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How to Clean and Care for Leather Bags and Backpacks? 10 Essential Advices

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A leather bag, whether it is a vintage leather backpack, handbag or travel bag, is worth a fortune.

And nothing is more frustrating than seeing your bag get stained and dirty, without knowing how to clean your lining or leather.

So how do you safely remove stains and clean a leather bag, pouch or purse?

We offer you easy and practical cleaning solutions. 

Let's dive into it! 

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What are the different types of Leather? 

Leather is a natural material obtained from the skin of an animal. It lives, evolves, moves and softens with use.

These skins may have small marks that are not defects. In full-grain leather, these distinguishing marks are even considered as an added value.

  • Full-grain leather: A leather that has not been treated to remove its imperfections. The natural and original grain has not been modified or adapted.
  • Grained leather: The natural grain of the leather is enhanced during treading (friction of the skins). It can be accentuated if necessary thanks to presses that print the leather.
  • Suede: Obtained by separating the skin into several layers, suede has a velvety appearance on both sides. This term does not indicate the origin of the skin (therefore does not come from this animal).
  • Nubuck: A leather treated with a light sanding that gives it a velvety appearance.
  • Patent leather: A leather with a surface covered with a flexible and waterproof film that shines like a mirror. In the past, this patent leather was made by applying oils, varnishes and lacquers.

the different parts of the leather material

How to care for a leather bag?

Leather goods do not necessarily require extensive recurrent maintenance to ensure their longevity but they must be regularly monitored to age well, preserve their beautify over time and survive daily use. They are some important point you should consider before buying a backpack.

Your bag or accessory can last for several years if it is regularly treated with care. Two or three times a year is usually enough.

This maintenance also benefits the threads of the seams, which must be constantly protected by a film of grease to prevent them from drying out and deteriorating.

Here are some tips and practical information on everything related to the care of the leather in our bags, backpacks or handbags so that your purchase is a pleasure that lasts a long time. 

1. Leather is a naturally durable and resilient material

Leather is a naturally durable material and is, in addition, very well prepared by the various stages of tanning and finishing.

Leather goods skins are nowadays treated by the tawny-shirt maker for daily use without constraint. It is, therefore, in principle, ready to face everyday life without having to take any special precautions other than what common sense recommends.

A bag is not as much exposed than shoes, for example. However, dust, temperature differences and ambient humidity can affect the flexibility and appearance of the material, depending on your lifestyle. 

2. Leather maintenance is simple and has to remain occasional

The best advice we can give to take care of your leather bag (except suede and velvet leather) is to feed it with a fluid and oily solution to preserve its mechanical qualities and prevent it from cracking or stiffening over time.

It is also the first protection against certain stains. To do this:

  • Massage the leather regularly and without pressing with a soft cotton cloth (or fingertips) impregnated with a soft skin moisturizing milk.
  • Gently wipe the leather with a soft, dry and clean cotton cloth to remove excess grease (if necessary). This helps to remove surface dust and maintain good skin suppleness by nourishing it.

Once a month is an ideal frequency, but generally, twice a year is sufficient. This product is not very greasy but is sufficient for routine maintenance.

It's important to carefully remove the excess of fat because it would not be beneficial to the leather.

From time to time in the year, for more advanced care, you can also use a nourishing cream that richer in fat and commonly used for leather shoes, colourless or tinted, according to your needs at the time.

Avoid waxing and grease: their high-density texture will be difficult to spread, may cause undesirable excess thickness in each relief and can clog the pores of the leather, damaging its "breathable" quality.

These products do not nourish the leather but form a screen, insufficient and inadequate for the skin's needs. We indicate at the bottom of the article some products and brands of creams for leather. 

3. The leather of new bags can be unstable during the first few days

However, beware of certain models whose leather could rub off on clothes by repeated rubbing or vice versa, jeans that rub off on the bag. Sometimes, leather bags can be not well stabilized and are therefore sensitive.

A good test is to wipe the new leather with light absorbent paper; the result will speak for itself. If you have any doubts or notice any tint residue on the paper, don't hesitate: an application of moisturizing milk can remove the unstable layer.

If the problem persists, a simple waterproofing spray will avoid many inconveniences! It will have to be repeated regularly for a lasting effect.

However, turned over skins and velvet leather will be entitled to special care (see below).




4. Avoid causes of premature wear and tear

If used under normal conditions that do not accumulate exposure to sunlight, humidity, dust or excess fat, two interventions per year are sufficient to protect it from external aggression.

Similarly, protecting the bag from repeated friction against walls, walls, floors and other surfaces will protect leather and seams from rapid wear and tear that would lead to renovation.

Finally, overloading a bag, especially school bags and city bags, is one of the recurring causes of accelerated wear and tear that can be avoided with a little common sense.

5. Regular leather care will enhance the appearance of your bag

If, however, you are concerned that you will not be able to avoid these sources of wear and if you want to obtain a beautiful sheen and incomparable suppleness from your leather at the same time as good preventive protection, you should, therefore, apply a moisturizing milk (the same as for human skin) or, if you prefer, a specialized product for fluid and oily leather regularly (once a month) with a dry and soft cloth. This regular care will only enhance the text and appearance of your bag while protecting it.

You can also apply a waterproofing spray to oily or suede leather if you are concerned that the bag may fade on your clothes or the other way around. To be done as soon as you buy and to be repeated regularly.

Finally, some specialized products in the form of balm or cream can also re-dye the skin of your bag while nourishing it.

Out of desire or necessity following a treatment that would have altered the finishing colour, it is practical.

See at the bottom of the page our indications of specialist brands that can be found online or in the city, in a large DIY store.

6. There are different types of stain cleaning for leather bags

An oily film or waterproofing spray on leather is good prevention because:

  • It limits the extreme penetration of stains into the pores of the skin,
  • It prevent the pigment in the leather from fading on a garment.

Follow-up maintenance is, therefore, a good method to avoid stubborn stains. Do not use cleaning products containing detergents.

The first advice in case of stains is to intervene immediately before the leather penetrates. This will greatly facilitate the result.

For cleaning a light stain, use a cloth impregnated in a highly diluted soap solution based on liquid Marseille soap or leather soap and work locally.

Apply in a circular motion without aggressiveness and use a soft brush for the most grained leathers.

Dry as soon as the stain disappears and then immediately apply a moisturizing cream or milk.

Use these products in very small quantities and always diluted, ideally with a cotton swab. Apply gently to avoid damaging the finish. All these products are easily available in classic or DIY stores.

Stains on leather: causes and remedies

      • Oil painting: Therebentine oil
      • Water-based painting: Soapy water.
      • Grease: Vaseline and talc (one after the other)
      • Tar, fuel: Glycerin.
      • Moulds: Essence of terebinthine.
      • Resin, grass: Alcohol at 90°.
      • Essence: Hot vinegar combined with soapy water.
      • Humidity: Vaseline.
      • Rust: Lemon + table salt + washing powder (mixture to be rubbed gently).
      • Soot, mechanical oil: Talc (powdering for absorption).
      • Red or white wine, soda, champagne, tea, coffee: 90° alcohol.
      • Fruit: Alcohol to be burned.
      • Fat content: Terre de Sommières (powder and let it be absorbed). Turpentine (stamp with a cotton swab)
      • Chewing gum: Harden the dough with ice, then dab with a sponge soaked in hot vinegar.
      • Chocolate: Burning alcohol diluted with warm water.
      • Milk, sauce: Amoniaque diluted at 15%.
      • Vinaigrette, cheese, mayonnaise: Terre de Sommières (powder and let it absorb a few hours before gently wiping). Terebentine on cotton.
Kyia ladies leather backpack



7. Cleaning a stain on a leather bag requires delicacy and promptness

As leather and its surface finish are sensitive, it is advisable to apply these products carefully and moderately, diluting or dosing them moderately (10 to 15% + warm water), testing on a discrete area, using a cotton swab for a precise action, always wipe the treated surface with a soft, damp cloth, then possibly applying a wax or cream to revive the hue and nourish the skin (except velour leather).

Intervene quickly before a stain penetrates the leather. If necessary, provide a colour renovator or leather wax after this type of intervention to revive the colour (sale in shoe shops or DIY stores/drugstore shelves).

8. Soften and renovate leather that is too stiff, new or old

There is an excellent natural remedy for leathers that are a little too firm, either because they are new and unworn or because they are old and dry; the softener with beef foot oil (brand Saphir, for example) is a greasy and fluid solution to apply with a brush on the leather bag (or shoes).

After a rest and drying period of 24 hours, the skin, abundantly nourished, regains a beautiful suppleness and its former luster for antique leathers.

9. Special leather materials require special care

Suede, nubuck and other velvet leathers will be specifically maintained with brushes, rubber and dedicated or suitable products.

Be aware that talc, baking soda or Terre de Sommières that is gently brushed is a good ( and inexpensive) way to remove an oily stain on suede and suede leather.

Nubuck leather is less sensitive to stains and traces than velvet leather such as suede or suede. However, it may benefit from the same recommendations.

To clean an ink stain on this type of leather, soak a cotton swab with 70% alcohol and dab the stain; wipe with a soft, damp cloth.

If a garment has faded on the bag, wipe a cotton pad soaked in make-up remover milk with alcohol at 70° and rub gently by renewing the dirty cotton pads then dry dry. White vinegar in small doses is also a good stain remover.

To restore a velvety appearance, brush with a suede brush or very fine sandpaper. Nubuck can also be waxed to obtain a satin surface.

10. Contact a qualified leather specialist

Don't forget that your local shoemaker is a true craftsman and an experienced leather professional; he is also perfectly competent to advise you and intervene in the repairs your bag would need.

His training and experience will be very useful to you so that your leather bag will be with you for several years. Trust him! Trust him!

Patient and meticulous, they always find solutions (good ones!) to remedy the various repairs on leather bags and are sometimes real artists...

Attention: On a bag, there is not only leather to care for. The zippers must also be regularly lubricated in order not to oxidize but also to slide easily and durably. Paraffin is a good lubricant, so is soap.

If you like leather goods and you have enjoyed our article, come and visit our premium leather bag collection, made of top grain leather only! We also have canvas backpack at hands if you like the combination of these two noble materials.

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Author: Baptiste

Baptiste is a passionate adventurer and lover of old and charming retro objects. Through this blog, he seeks to share his passion for travel and vintage fashion

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