DIY: How to clean an old and dirty leather bag like a pro

When I visited Rome, I spotted this leather carry bag from a vintage store. The bag was a mess though — the pockets were stuffed with some gooey paper substance, there was an unused (thankfully) tampon inside, the bag was covered in dust and pen marks, and it smelt like my grandma’s cupboard. Despite all the faults, I saw the potential it had and bought it for 45€.

When I got back to the apartment, I immediately started googling the cost to get the bag  professionally cleaned. Prices ranged from 30€ all the way up to 100€, so I decided it would just be cheaper do it myself. Having  destroyed  my suede boots the week before trying to clean it with bleach, I thought I’d ask for some expert advice from a local leathersmith near the Vatican.

So here are some simple steps from an Italian “leather maestro” to clean leather without damaging it.

What you would need:
– Saddle wash
– Shoe cream (colour that matches the leather item the closest)
– Cloth
– Towel
– Bowl of warm water

Step 1: Apply a bit of the saddle wash onto the cloth and dip it into water. Clean the item in a circular motion and build up a bit of lather. Work on a small area and constantly rinse the cloth. The water will get super dirty, so make sure you replace it with a clean batch.

Step 2: After you’ve thoroughly cleaned the small area, rinse out the soap with a damp, clean cloth. Then, quickly dry it with a towel to sock up any water droplets.

Step 3: Check for dirt marks and repeat the process over the problem areas. In my case, I had pen marks on some of the areas, so I used the green scrubber of a sponge and applied a bit of pressure to gently scrub it away.

Step 4: After you’ve cleaned all the surface, grab a clean, dry cloth and start polishing it with the shoe cream. Again, work in small areas and buff in a circular motion.

And there you have it. Simple, easy, and quite therapeutic. I was very surprised by the results and now the bag almost looks newish again! The dirt and pen marks are completely gone! In total for the saddle wash and shoe cream, I paid just under 12€.


7 thoughts on “DIY: How to clean an old and dirty leather bag like a pro

  1. To clean the leather bag you can also, mix a solution of warm water and dish soap, dip a soft cloth into it, wring it out and wipe the exterior surfaces of the purse. Use a second clean, damp cloth to wipe off the soap. Dry with a towel. Warm, soapy water will also remove water stains and scuffs.

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  3. My mother has about 300 shoes/bags acquired over the last 25 years. They’re just rotting. I am going to try your advice to restore them all and do something positive with them. My sister’s style is totally different and they have different shoe sizes so I guess they’re mine(but I’m a guy:) so….)

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