How To Clean Leather Handbags Or Belts | Anyclean

updated: 03/11/2023


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 who hang on to our trusty old handbags for ages (no hunting around in unfamiliar pockets trying to remember which compartment has your cellphone and which one has that business card in it). Others of us like to pick up second-hand bags, including the replaced-every-six months designer bags. People in the latter two categories need to 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”.

Start with the inside of the handbag. Turn it inside out and give it a good shake. Lots of dust and fluff, and possibly crumbs, will fall out, and so will loose change (if you’re lucky), paper clips, bits of paper, a bottle top, a fluff-covered raising and half an old bus ticket. Recover any hidden treasures, then vacuum up the fluff, etc. Use the vacuum cleaner to suck up any other bits of loose grime that may be stuck in the seams. While the bag is inside out, see if you can find the care label. Some leather and suede bags should only be dry-cleaned.

Obviously, belts don’t have an inside, so skip this step! Briefcases are harder to turn inside out, so open up and shake well to remove any “hidden treasures” before vacuuming it out thoroughly.

If your bag or belt doesn’t need dry cleaning, start by sponging the inside of the bag with warm water. Let it dry before turning it right way round again. Then sponge the outside. A mixture of natural home cleaning products like warm water and sodium bicarbonate works well to get rid of the sweat and grease that leather just seems to collect. Rinse it off again by sponging with plain warm water.

Let the bag dry, but don’t put it in sunlight or in front of a radiator or some other source of direct heat. Intense heat dries and hardens the leather (too late – you’ve already dried it in the sunshine and the leather is stiff? Work it back and forwards, bending and twisting to soften it again.). Finish by polishing the leather with a wax polish, or else with saddle soap. Use a clear or neutral shade to keep the usual shade of the leather coming through without spoiling. Buff the dried polish to a shine with a soft cloth.

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

A common disaster in many handbags and briefcases is ink from a ballpoint pen leaking all over the place. Ink is soluble in alcohol, so the best way is to sponge the lining very lightly with a little meths 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 vivid marker pen. Rinse well afterwards. Regular felt pens are easier – they are water soluble and will just need wetting then blotting off with a paper towel or cloth.

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

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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.