How To Clean Leather Handbags Or Belts

updated: 12/07/2024

A line of stacked leather handbags on a wooden shelf

You probably won’t need this advice if you’re one of those people who have the latest designer handbag every six months – you won’t have time to get it dirty before moving it on (please – don’t tell me that you consign passé handbags to the back of the wardrobe – sell it on!). The rest of us hang on to our trusty old handbags for ages (no hunting around in unfamiliar pockets trying to remember which compartment has your cell phone and which has that business card in it). Others like to pick up second-hand bags, including designer bags that have been replaced every six months. People in the latter two categories must know how to clean a leather handbag. The same advice applies to leather belts and leather briefcases, so guys, you can keep reading, too, even if you don’t own a “man-bag”.

A woman holding a pink leather handbag

A Step-by-Step Guide For Cleaning Your Leather Handbag

1. Empty the handbag’s contents. Leaving all the zips and catches open, hold it upside down and shake it hard to dislodge all the accumulated dirt.

2. Wipe the insides of the handbag with a clean, dry cloth.

3. If there are any stains on the fabric inside, dampen a cloth with a mild home cleaning solution and rub the stain. If the stain does not come off, it’s best to leave it alone—no one will see it anyway.

4. Use a soft cloth to remove dust from the handbag’s exterior.

5. Mix a few drops of mild liquid soap in two cups of distilled water. Distilled water is safer than tap water, which contains chlorine and other chemicals that could damage the leather.

6. Dip a clean sponge or soft cloth into the mixture and squeeze it until it is almost dry – just about damp.

7. Wipe the outside of the handbag with this sponge or cloth.

8. Dry the handbag with a clean, dry towel, rubbing reasonably hard to buff the leather.

9. Rub the surface with a clean chamois cloth to complete the buffing.

10. You can now apply a leather-protecting agent (usually a silicone-permeated sponge) to the leather if you want to.

11. Dull metal clasps and buckles will look odd against the clean, shiny leather. Use the appropriate metal polish to give the metal a shine. Be careful not to let any metal polish fall on the leather.

An open cross-body leather handbag with its contents on display

Useful Cleaning Tricks For Dealing With Ink Stains On Handbags

Patent leather should be cleaned with petroleum jelly and buffed to a good shine with a soft cloth.

A typical disaster in many handbags and briefcases is ink from a ballpoint pen leaking everywhere. Ink is soluble in alcohol, so the best way is to sponge the lining very lightly with a bit of meth or rubbing alcohol – or even vodka. Take care that you don’t get any on the leather. If you do, and even if you don’t, rinse off well with plain water. Hairspray directed on the spot (hold the spray nozzle close to concentrate the spray onto the site of the ink) will also work, and it can remove a vivid marker pen. Rinse well afterwards. Regular felt pens are easier – they are water soluble and will need wetting before being blotted off with a paper towel or cloth.

If you wear studded leather, belt buckles (and studs) will need polishing to keep them shiny. Use a little baking soda rubbed on with a soft cloth.

About the author 

Nick Vassilev

Nick blogs about cleaning. He is a cleaning expert with more than 25 years of experience. He is also an NCCA-certified carpet cleaner. Founder and CEO of Anyclean.