How to Clean and Care for Leather Bags and Backpacks?

How to Clean and Care for Leather Bags and Backpacks?

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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. 
  • Aniline leather: This leather is coloured by immersion in a bath and the grain side is usually covered with a protective layer and a pigment layer.

the different parts of the leather material

How to clean and care for a leather product?

There are several methods to clean your leather accessory. But the method will depend on what kind of leather you have. Fortunately, there are methods that work for the vast majority of leathers.

The first step to properly cleaning leather is to use the right tool.

Start by getting a microfiber wipe, which is ideal for not scratching the leather. If you don't have a microfiber wipe, don't worry, you can use a flannel, a clean cloth, an old t-shirt, or a tea towel.

Now that you have the right utensil, you need the right cleaning materials. 

Ideally, use special leather soap or Marseille soap for those who have access to it. Make-up remover or baby cleansing milk is also very effective. Keep in mind that leather is made from the same material as your hair, so if you don't want to put a product in your hair, it is likely to be bad for the leather.

Finally, choose a leather nourishing cream that works for you, any specialist leather cream will do if it is of good quality 😉

Don't use saddle soap! This soap is great for cleaning a saddle, but it is not adequate to take care of soft leathers (backpacks, upholstery, coats...

How to clean leather according to its type

There are different types of leather, and not all can be cleaned in the same way. While the grandmother's method may work on some leather, it could damage another. Make sure to find out how your leather accessory was made before you clean it! 

From full grain leather to aniline leather to nubuck leather, in this section you will see how to care for your leather accessories. 

This list of leather is not exhaustive, otherwise this article would be extremely long 🥱

  • Full grain leather: Start by dusting with a dry microfiber wipe, then clean with the soap or milk of your choice. Nourish your accessory with your cream/care to nourish the leather. After that, your full grain leather will be as good as new! 
  • Grained leather: The method for cleaning grained leather is very similar to that used for cleaning full grain leather. Start by dusting with a dry microfiber cloth and clean with the soap or milk of your choice. The difference is in the use of leather nourishing cream. Most of the time you do not need to nourish the leather. Do a nourishing treatment very occasionally if needed. But be careful, the grain can become dirty, so don't hesitate to use a small soft brush.
  • Suede leather: For maintenance, dust dry with a soft brush.Suede leather is not as waterproof as other leathers, so waterproof your leather before you start! Waterproofing your leather with a quality waterproofing agent, 2 to 3 applications per year will help to fight against humidity and stains in the long term but also to protect the material correctly. Once you have done this, get a velvet suede renovation spray. This is the best maintenance product for your suede leather accessory. Use the spray at least 25 cm away from the leather without prolonged spraying, a small dose is enough. Let it sit for 15/20 min and it will be good. 👌 If despite all this you have a stain that persists, use an eraser for suede and nubuck leather. Be careful, the gum can damage the leather! 
  • Nubuck: Nubuck leather can be cleaned and maintained in the same way as suede leather.
  • Patent leather: For patent leather, you can dust it with a damp microfiber cloth, the patent makes the leather a little more waterproof (but not completely). You can nourish it with a drop of linseed oil or olive oil, which you rub in gently to maintain the shine and moisture.
  • Aniline leather: For aniline leather, cleaning and maintenance is the same as for full grain leather. Dust with a dry microfiber cloth, clean with the soap or milk of your choice and then nourish. You do not need to waterproof your leather.
  • Bonded leather: Bonded leather is not really leather, it has a much shorter lifespan than real leather. For this reason, it should be well cared for to try to increase its life. Rub gently with a slightly damp cloth (microfibre or not). You can also use a leather conditioner to help preserve the surface, but only if the accessory is badly damaged. 
  • PU (polyurethane) leather or artificial leather: Like bonded leather, PU leather is an artificial leather made from plastic (polyurethane plastic in this case), which makes it easy to clean. So you don't need to use a leather cleaner. Clean it in the same way as bonded leather. If the stain persists, you can use isopropyl alcohol or Javel water, but only for serious stains.

Now that you know how to care for and clean leather, it's time to look at how to care for the most common leather items.

How to clean your leather depending on the object

 How to clean your leather bag?

  1. Start by emptying the contents of your backpack
  2. Then dust your leather bag, you can shake the bag but we recommend vacuuming. Ideally used with a HEPA filter. The HEPA filter for High Efficiency Particulate Air is a filter that is able to trap very small particles such as coronavirus. Viruses like COVID-19 are particularly small so a HEPA filter is much more effective.
  3. Now that the bag is dusted, use the appropriate method for your bag's leather to clean it. (You can find the composition of your bag on the label).
  4. If stains remain, don't worry, tip number 6 of the "10 quick and easy leather care tips" will help (rub gently). (optional)
  5. The last step is to dry your backpack. Do not use a tumble dryer! The best way to dry your bag is to lay it inside out and wait. Avoid exposing it to the sun for too long, as this can damage the leather.
full grain leather backpack

How to clean your leather shoes?

  1. Start by removing the laces from the shoes to avoid damaging them and dirtying the shoe eyelets 
  2. If you have shoe trees, you can put them in your shoes so that there are fewer creases. (optional) 
  3. Now it's time to dust. This step is important because you risk trapping the dirt in the next steps. Use a soft bristle brush if you have one, if not, use another brush but scrub gently so as not to damage the leather. If you are cleaning suede shoes, a special suede brush is highly recommended.
  4. If you have scratches or stains on your shoes, you can use your soft shoe brush, small scratches should come off easily, for larger ones you can use a shoe eraser but rub gently. (optional)
  5. Finally it's time to clean, to do this look on the label of your shoes to see what leather it is made of. Then refer to "How to clean your leather according to its nature".
  6. If you get your shoes wet when cleaning them, let them dry.
  7. We suggest spraying your shoes with a protective spray to increase the life of your shoes and to waterproof them (especially before winter). We recommend re-waterproofing your shoes after wearing them about ten times outdoors. 
  8. If you feel that your shoes do not shine sufficiently, you can polish them with the product of your choice. Be careful to use a product that is suitable for the leather of your shoes. (optional) 
  9. Finally, deodorise your shoes by sprinkling baking soda on the soles. Wait at least 2 hours for it to absorb the sweat and moisture and then remove it with a hoover or paper towel. 
clean leather shoes

How to clean leather jackets?

  1. Before you even think about cleaning your leather jacket, you need to learn how to take good care of it! For example, store your jacket on a hanger so that it doesn't get twisted, instead of throwing it in a heap on the sofa or hanging it on a coat hook.
  2. As with your backpack and shoes, remove dust from the leather before washing to prevent it from sticking to the leather. You can remove the dust with a slightly wet microfibre cleaning cloth or a brush. 
  3. Don't forget that a jacket can't be washed, it has to be cared for! So no washing machine, tumble dryer, tumble dryer etc.
  4. Now you can wash the jacket, look at the label on the jacket to see what kind of leather it is and go to "How to clean your leather according to its nature" above to see how to clean your jacket. But one thing is certain, do not clean your leather jacket with an abrasive product. Always choose a gentle option.
  5. If stains remain after washing, don't scrape them off with your fingernail or the scratching side of the sponge. You will remove the stain but you will end up with scratch marks. To remove the stain, refer to point number 6 of the "10 quick and useful tips for leather care" further down in the article. (optional)
  6. Then remove the excess cleaner with a soft, clean wipe and let your jacket dry on a hanger. But don't expose it to direct sunlight; find a room at ambient temperature
  7. The next step is to waterproof your jacket. It should be waterproofed at least once a year but we recommend 2 to 3 times if you wear it regularly. This step is important to protect your leather jacket from the elements and to preserve its colour for lighter coloured jackets.
  8. The last step is to nourish the leather. A nourishing treatment will protect the jacket from drying out and cracking. To do this, take the leather nourishing cream of your choice and gently rub the jacket with a soft brush. Use circular movements all over the jacket. After drying, give the jacket a final wipe with a soft brush. 
clean leather jacket

How to clean leather car seats?

  1. The first step in cleaning your leather car seats is to dust the area to be cleaned. To do this, use a damp microfiber cloth and rub gently. Alternatively, you can vacuum the area if you don't want to get the seat wet.
  2. Now you can wash your seat. There are several methods available to you depending on what leather your seat is made of and what you have at home. But for most car seats, milk or soap will do the trick. Cleansing milk or baby cleansing milk is great for polishing your seats.
  3. As for drying, let time do its work but do not expose the leather to direct sunlight as this may damage it. 
clean leather car seats

How to clean leather sofas?

  1. You're starting to get the hang of it, first remove the dust from your sofa before cleaning it. Rub gently with a clean, warm and slightly damp microfiber cloth. If you don't have a microfiber cloth, you can use a flannel, a clean cloth, an old t-shirt, or a dishcloth. If your sofa is well cared for, you're done. 😂
  2. If you want to give your sofa a thorough wash, feel free to use soap and warm water. In addition to cleaning, the soap will disinfect the cleaned surface. You can also use your leather cleaner, cleansing milk or baby cleansing milk. One thing is certain, do not use isopropyl alcohol, disinfectant sprays or Javel water. And avoid excess foam and water! 
  3. If it's a stain you want to remove, refer to point number 6 of the "10 quick and easy leather care tips". That said, one tip works regardless of the leather: if a stain appears, the sooner you take action the better.
  4. To dry your sofa, you can rub it gently with a dry cloth or let time do its work. But as we've seen before, don't expose the leather to direct sunlight for too long to avoid damaging it. 
clean leather sofa

10 Useful Quick Tips on How to Care for Leather?

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).

Leather Duffle Bag
Leather Duffle Bag
Leather Duffle Bag
Leather Duffle Bag
Travel Duffle Bag
Travel Duffle Bag
Leather Weekender Bag
Leather Weekender Bag

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.

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 bags collection, made of top grain leather only! We also have canvas backpacks at hands if you like the combination of these two noble materials.

Vintage Leather Backpack
Vintage Leather Backpack
Leather Travel Backpack
Leather Travel Backpack
Brown Leather Backpack
Brown Leather Backpack
Men's Leather Rucksack
Men's Leather Rucksack

Favelas, Rio de Janeiro

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Baptiste is an adventurer with a passion for urban and wilderness exploration and adventure, and a lover of vintage objects with timeless charm. As a Founding member of the Eiken team, he tries to share his passion and expertise for travel and vintage fashion through his articles.

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