HOW TO CARE FOR LEATHER BAGS: A COMPLETE GUIDE
Natural leather bags, vintage leather handbag purses and real leather wallets are not just material things. For most people, they are prized possessions. They can be an expensive investment, no doubt, but they have value beyond their dollar amount. If your leather women's bag was a gift from someone, there are sentiments attached to it. As you use it, it grows on you and takes on your own character making it priceless.
Whether you chanced upon a Prime deal on Amazon for a leather camera bag or paid your entire month’s salary to own a Louis Vuitton handbag, a real leather bag is a piece of luxury you want to hold on to and care for, for long. So, how do you know if your leather bag is in need of care, how to care for leather bags, what are leather handbag care instructions (do's and dont's) and what leather care products should you use? Read on for a complete DIY leather care guide...
So, what is real leather?
Real leather or genuine leather (as it is more commonly but technically incorrectly known) is animal hide that can come from a variety of animals ranging from goat and cow to ostrich and crocodile.
The most popular type of leather in the market, though, is cow leather. And, that is for two main reasons. First, it is readily available in bulk as a byproduct of the food industry, making it affordable. Second, it has a large appeal due to its soft texture which makes it easy to work with.
Why do leather bags need special care?
Regardless of the type of leather used for making your handbag, purse or wallet, it will require some DIY leather care, at least occasionally. But, why do leather bags need special care?
It’s simple. Natural leather, like any living thing, needs to breathe, be cleaned and moisturized or it will wrinkle, dry out and crack when exposed to the elements or even when it is packed away in a closet.
What is leather bag care?
There are three main actions that constitute leather care for handbags and leather care for wallets viz., maintenance, waterproofing and storage. Let’s get into the details.
- Maintenance - Regular maintenance of your leather bag involves periodically cleaning and conditioning the leather in order to clean it and restore its lost oils, thereby bringing back its shine and suppleness. This also prevents the topmost layer of the hide from drying out and peeling off.
- Waterproofing - Leather is permeable and is sensitive to dampness. It has some water resistance but too much water causes the leather to become wet. And, when the wet leather dries up, it becomes stiff and hard and is no longer supple. Waterproofing your leather bag will protect it from accidental damages due to rain and spillage.
- Storage - Leather is skin and skin needs to breathe. So, the most important principle of leather bag storage is to allow it to breathe which means storing it in a way that promotes air flow or ventilation. This is to prevent suffocating the leather, so it doesn’t shrivel and dry out.
How often should I clean and condition my leather bag?
The purpose of leather handbag cleaning and conditioning is to turn a dull looking bag into a cheerful one.
It is recommended that you condition the leather surface of your handbag, purse or wallet every six months using either a home-made leather conditioner or a commercial leather conditioner from market. This not only stimulates the natural oils of the leather to keep it soft and supple but also adds a layer of protection to the surface of the leather.
When should I waterproof my leather purse or leather wallet?
Theoretically, genuine leather bags are meant to be used in dry conditions. Practically, that is not always possible. There will undoubtedly be occasions when you are caught in the rain with your leather bag in tow and you forgot the umbrella at home. Or, there will be times when you accidentally spilled water on your leather purse.
So, if you live in a humid environment or the rainy season is round the corner, it is a good idea to waterproof your leather handbag. This adds a layer of protection to the leather by making it non-porous though you should keep in mind that it is impossible to completely waterproof the leather surface.
Step-by-step instructions and tips for conditioning leather bags
- Clean the surface of the bag with a leather care cloth or a dry lint-free cloth
- Using a gentle leather cleaner (also known as leather shampoo) and cloth, clean off surface dirt, sweat, body oils and light stains (scroll down to find out how to make DIY homemade leather cleaner)
- Starting from a corner, rub a small amount of leather conditioner on the bag in circular motions using either a rag or your fingers until the conditioner is completely absorbed into the leather
- Leave the bag near a well ventilated place for 24-48 hours to dry naturally
- Wipe off any residues with a clean cloth before using the bag
Note: Always do a patch test before using a new leather care product on a new type of leather. Try out a small amount of the product on an inconspicuous area of the leather bag or on the leather swatch that came along with it, to make sure there is no undesired darkening or discoloration of the leather.
Step-by-step guide for waterproofing leather bags
- Clean the surface of the bag with a gentle leather cleaner
- Rub or spray a coat of leather protectant waterproofing product (market bought or DIY)
- Allow the bag to dry naturally in a well-ventilated area for 24-48 hours
- Wipe off any residues with a clean cloth before using the bag
Note: Always do a spot test before using a new leather care product on a new type of leather. Try out a small amount of the product on an inconspicuous area of the leather bag or on the leather swatch that came along with it, to make sure there is no undesired darkening or discoloration of the leather.
How to store leather bags?
- If you are going to store your leather bag for a long period of time, it’s best to first clean, condition and waterproof it using the above-mentioned steps
- Place your leather bag or leather wallet inside a loose and porous non-woven or cotton dust bag to ensure there is air circulation
- Place some desiccant silica gel packets either inside the dust bag or the leather bag for protection from moisture and mildew
- Keep the bag in a ventilated area
- Air the bag from time to time
How not to store leather purses?
- Never store or wrap your leather bag in plastic (polyurethane) without holes so the leather is able to breathe
- Never store your leather wallet or bag in humid surroundings or it will cause mildew or fungus to form on it
- Never keep your leather handbag packed away for an extended period of time without airing
What are some of the best leather care products I should use?
Equipped with the knowledge of how to clean leather handbags, how to condition and care for them, it is now time to look at care products.
There are a variety of purpose-made care products out there for leather bags and wallets. Here is a common glossary of terms as they pertain to leather care products that you may have come across: leather shampoo, leather conditioner, leather moisturizer, leather care with beeswax, leather honey, leather care oil, leather care mink oil, leather care linseed oil, leather care olive oil, leather care cream for handbags, leather care balm, leather care gel and leather care with UV protection among others.
There are leather care kits (leather handbag care kit) readily available in the store from several leather care brands that have a set of commonly needed leather care essentials. Leather care supply of products is also available for buying individually based on need. Or, if you are feeling creative, you can even make some DIY leather products at home, especially leather cleaner (using a mild soap) and conditioner (using olive oil).
When should I go to a leather care specialist?
Remember that the at-home leather care guide outlined above is for basic maintenance and care of your leather item. If your bag is in need of leather care and repair beyond the basic DIY leather care instructions and tips listed above, you should take it to a leather care specialist. You should also go to a leather specialist for leather care and color of your bag for a professional job. Handbag restoration involving worn and cracked leathers, loss of shape, stubborn stain removal and repair of broken handbag also call for professional repair services.
Leather Care Cleaner
Leather care and cleaning can be likened to cleansing using a soap or shampoo and is meant to clean the surface of the leather of dirt, grime and light stains.
Examples of leather cleaners
Commercial leather cleaners go by the name of leather shampoo and 3-in-1 leather cleaner.
How to make DIY home-based leather cleaner?
Make a mild solution of warm water and dish soap. To clean the leather, dip a soft cloth into it, wring it out and wipe the exterior leather surfaces of the purse. Use a second clean for stains and scuff. Wipe off the soap with a damp cloth. Dry with a towel. Let the bag sit in a dry and well-ventilated corner for 24-48 hours after treatment before using it. Remember to do a spot test first to ensure the cleaner doesn’t have damaging effects on the leather.
Leather Care Conditioner
Leather conditioner is a moisturizing agent that helps to restore lost oils of the leather and adds a protective layer to its surface.
Examples of leather conditioners
Commercial leather conditioners go by leather honey, deep leather conditioner, leather cleaner and conditioner, and mink oil, among others. They can take the form of a cream, oil, thick viscous mix of honey and oil, or spray. Always do a spot test before using any leather conditioner on the whole product.
How to make DIY leather conditioner at home?
Homemade leather conditioners are really simple and there’s not much to it. You can basically use non-fragrant coconut oil, olive oil, flaxseed oil or linseed oil in their natural state for the purpose. Just remember to do a spot test before being too experimentative as different leathers may respond differently to the same treatment.
Leather Waterproofing Products
Leather waterproofing cream or spray coats the surface of the leather with a protectant or water resistant material to keep moisture from permeating the leather.
Examples of leather waterproofing products
They come in cream form or spray form. Some examples are beeswax cream. Do keep in mind that beeswax tends to darken the leather so do a patch test first. Leather waterproof sprays are less known to darken the leather.
How to make DIY leather waterproofing beeswax cream?
Using a double boiler, mix 1 cup of extra virgin olive oil with 2 oz of beeswax until melted. Remove from heat and continue stirring the mixture until it cools completely and sets. Use the mixture as needed after a spot test.
Faux leather care instructions
The leather handbag care tips above are for real leather purses and bags. Faux leather handbags and purses do not require as much care owing to the fact that they are made from polyurethane which is a non-porous material and doesn’t need to breathe.
However, it's still a good idea to give it an occasional cleaning using a mild leather soap solution to remove dirt and grease and then conditioning it with a small amount of leather moisturizer to restore its sheen.
Leather goods are meant to withstand the test of time. When taken care of, they can last and be passed from generation to generation. Thankfully, caring for leather goods is not complicated and in most cases you can look to your kitchen for help.
Caring for leather handbags, messenger bags, duffels, travel bags, briefcases, purses and wallets is a rewarding exercise which prolongs the life of your family heirloom. The above DIY leather care instructions will keep your Hermes, YSL, LV, Prada, Coach, Chanel and Dior bags smiling back at you year after year!