How to clean leather handbags

You treat yourself to an expensive luxury leather handbag only to later discover that something has stained its surface. Different types of leather require different cleaning and maintenance techniques for optimal results, but all retail leather-cleaning products have certain elements in common. Some type of emulsifying solution is used to break down and dissolve surface dirt and oil-based stains (this includes ink). This solution usually contains some type of alcohol as the primary emulsifying agent, although a chemical name or a trademarked/copyrighted term may be listed instead with the ingredients. Some type of gently moisturising or conditioning substance is applied to replace lost natural oils and to restore suppleness and sheen. In the vast majority of cases, careful handling and the use of simple household items will clean your leather handbags just as well.

Apply rubbing alcohol to a cotton ball.

Gently pat the stained area, using very little pressure. Avoid rubbing vigorously if possible.

Allow the alcohol to remain on the bag undisturbed for 15 minutes or until dry.

Stroke the area lightly with the alcohol-soaked cotton ball to see if the stain has improved or been removed. Repeat if you are not yet satisfied. If the stain is gone, continue to the next step.

Discard the first cotton ball. Place a small amount of oil onto a fresh cotton ball. Gently rub the oil onto the bag wherever the alcohol was used. Use another dry cotton ball to remove any excess oil before using your handbag again.


If you are unsure about using this technique, try it first on a less visible area of your handbag. This method is especially helpful in removing ink from pens. Remember that leather is basically processed skin. Retail brand leather moisturisers are very much the same as very rich oil-based skin moisturisers. However, the leather on your handbag is no longer living, so the cells will not be replaced if they are worn away. It is best to avoid using any skincare product on your bag that promises to "exfoliate" or "renew."


Avoid using this method to clean your suede handbags.

Things You'll Need

  • Rubbing alcohol (at least 65 to 70 per cent solution)
  • Cotton balls
  • Light oil (safflower, soy, grapeseed, flax seed, olive or jojoba)
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About the Author

Genae Valecia Hinesman, former banking executive, entrepreneur and fashion model, began writing professionally in 2002. She is a Cum Laude graduate of the University of Southern California where she studied business, finance and exercise physiology. Her articles featured in Living Healthy: 360, Life 123, the American Chronicle and Yahoo Voices.