Like all materials, leather will occasionally get dirty. But, when it does, are there best practices to get it clean and preserve its natural softness?


We’ll list a few leather-cleaning pointers below. But first, let’s take a moment to understand what kind of leather we’re talking about before we get out the soap and water.

Two types of leather dominate the marketplace – finished and unfinished. Finished leather includes a protective coating and is usually softer and smoother. Unfinished leather and suede tend to be less supple and feel drier to the touch.

So, make sure you know what type of leather you are trying to clean when considering any of the following recommendations.

Cleaning Your Leather Handbags

Saddle soap is your friend. Cowboys and cowgirls should know a thing or two about protecting and cleaning leather, and horse tack dealers know a thing or two about creating saddle soap. They mix mild cleaning agents with lanolin for softening and beeswax for coating and waterproofing. Almost any treated leather bag will come clean with some saddle soap and elbow grease. Always trust the cowboys.

Home remedies are not your friend. We’ve all heard some wacky do-it-yourself treatments. White vinegar and baking soda are fine cleaners for certain things in your kitchen, but leather is not one of them. Others swear by lemon juice or cream of tartar, but we’re trying to clean and preserve a leather bag, not bake a custard pie. These DIY tactics will often make your stain worse.

How to Properly Clean a Stain from Leather

Clean stains on leather bags as quickly as possible. Treat it with a soft, warm, and damp microfiber cloth to begin.

Remove as much of the stain as you can before applying any soap. If you’d like to use a leather cleaner that comes from a spray bottle, spray the solution onto the cloth and not directly onto the stain. Dab instead of rub, as rubbing could create a larger stain.

Remember to wipe in small circular motions. That will help avoid spreading the stain that back-and-forth movements tend to do.

Dry your handbag completely. If it’s in a warm room, this will occur naturally. If you need to dry it quickly, use a second, dry microfiber cloth to blot away some of the moisture. This will keep mildew and mold away from your handbag.

Use the professionals when needed. If your leather is stained by oil, grease, ink, or other industrial-type solutions, it won’t come out with gentle washing at home. Your best bet is to take it to a professional dry cleaner.

Let it sit. If all else fails, remember that leather is a durable and natural material that oftentimes will absorb the stain. It may be weeks or months, but that stain may go away naturally.

Test your solution first. If you’re at all worried about how well the cleaning solution you’ve chosen will work – and you should be, especially if your leather handbag is white or cream-colored – try it first on a small section of the bag that is unseen, like an inside corner. If you’re pleased with the result, apply it to the main stain. If you’re not happy, test something else. It’s better to leave a mark on an unseen area than on the front of your bag.

Preserving Your Leather Accessories

Wipe off natural dirt and grime. Make wiping down your leather handbag a regular part of your cleaning regimen. This will protect it from most natural wear and tear.

Leather jackets work with certain sprays that keep water from absorbing into the material. Leather shoes take waxing to prevent water damage. Ladies’ handbags and men’s leather briefcases work with either. Waterproofing will make your handbag just as usable in the wintertime as it is in the spring and summer months.

Use a leather conditioner. Just like we need to use creams and lotions to keep our skin supple, leather needs a healthy dose of conditioner as well. Consider treating your handbag this way once per month. Massage the conditioner in and buff it out.

Store your leather bag properly. Don’t just throw it down on the couch in front of your picture window. It can quickly fade or discolor from the sunlight. Keep it in a dry place away from the sun. You can also stuff your leather handbag with a clean, dry towel to help preserve its shape. Keep it in a dust-free bag during the time of year you aren’t using it.

Don’t forget, leather is supposed to look a bit rugged, but there’s a difference between a well-worn bag and a worn-out one. When you’ve spent good money on a leather handbag for work or travel, you want it to last a long time. With a little time and effort, the tips above should help you keep your handbag looking good for the foreseeable future.