There are few moments as excruciating as when you accidentally stain your precious leather bag.

The high price tag of leather bags, be it a Chanel 2.55 or a Hermès Birkin, does not exempt it from a splash of pasta sauce or a smudge of lipstick. A gasp and a Google search later might leave you with more questions than answers: Should you use water to clean your bag? What type of cleaner should be used?

We get that situations like these are frustrating. That’s why we’re here to help you because it has happened to us too. Thankfully, while leather bags aren’t invincible, they’re a lot sturdier than you might think. The cliched adage “prevention is better than cure” will also not have your eyes rolling when your conditioned bag can laugh off a stubborn stain. Proper maintenance of a leather bag will do more wonders for its longevity than rushing off to a professional bag restorer.

Unless you already have a custom-built wardrobe with the optimum temperature and humidity to store (and display) your collection of arm candy, you might find this guide on caring for leather bags handy. Don’t hesitate to bookmark it for future reference.

Understanding the different types of leather

clean leather bags
Leather refers to all the types of tanned animal hides. (Photo credit: Clay Banks/Unsplash)

Knowing the type of leather used to craft your bag is one of the most important steps to care for it. There are your grades of leather including full-grain, top-grain, faux, and suede (which we have written an extensive care guide to previously here). Then there are your types of leather like calfskin, lambskin, and exotics like crocodile skin. Other brands have their own speciality leather like the Saffiano made uniquely by Prada. This guide will primarily focus on full grain genuine leather.

Treating your bag right

Just in case you forget, your leather bag was made from the skin of an animal. Its lack of life doesn’t mean you should neglect it. Regular care and maintenance should be performed on your leather bags from the moment you take it out of its box.

First step: Clean the bag

Put away the baby wipes and wet tissue – leather bags should not be cleaned with water. It could create additional stains if it dries and settles on the surface, leading to more problems. You need to invest in a quality leather cleaner.

clean leather bags
It’s okay to carry your leather bags near the ocean as long as you don’t get it wet. (Photo credit: Bottega Veneta)

Coach’s leather cleaner isn’t limited exclusively to just Coach bags and can work wonders. Another brand-neutral cleaner is the Cadillac Select Premium Leather Cleaner that’s designed to remove dirt, sweat, and salt stains. But before you hurriedly apply the solution to the stain, you should do a spot test on an inconspicuous area of the bag, just in case things go south.

You will also need a soft cleaning cloth along with the cleaner. Gently apply the cleaner onto the stain in a circular motion before wiping it off with another damp cloth. For Saffiano leather, a leather-cleaning brush is advised instead rather than a cloth to really get into the grooves of the grain pattern.

The next step is to condition your bag.

Like how you moisturise your skin every night, your leather bag needs to be moisturised and conditioned too. Without a good conditioner, the material might dry out over time and crack. The conditioner would also have repellant properties to mitigate any chances of stains on your bags. The Protect and Preserve from Guardsman is one of our recommendations that can also be used for your other leather products.

Ideally, you should clean and condition your bags twice a year, with your favourite pieces receiving more occasional maintenance than the others (once a month for your daily drivers is a good number).

Storing your bags

If you have custom-built transparent shelves for your bags, move along, you already know where and how to store your bags. For the rest of us without an envy-inducing wardrobe, our best option would be in the original dust bag near the middle shelves.

clean leather bags
We wonder if Kylie Jenner maintains her own vault of bags. (Photo credit: Kylie Jenner/Instagram)

Keeping our leather bags in a sheer dust bag when they’re not in use shelters them from most of the natural elements that can harm them. Sun is no friend to leather (unless you want a beautiful patina, but that’s another conversation). You would also want to fill them up with bubble wrap or parchment paper so they can maintain a regular shape. Tip: Do not use newspaper to shape your precious designer bags, as the ink might transfer over and you wouldn’t want that.

Living in the tropics also requires a bit more care than usual. We recommend storing your bags around the middle to lower parts of your closet, as the top is warmer which can dry out the leather quicker. You would also want to get some dehumidifiers or silica gel packets to prevent any moisture from accumulating on the bags.

If all else fails…

Shopaholics can rest assured knowing that if these solutions can’t fix their issues, there are professional bag cleaners and restorers dotted around the country. They are a last-resort option that’s should only be used in dire situations. We’d recommend Dr. Bags and Jeeves for their exceptional service and expertise with luxury goods.

Josiah Neo
Josiah Neo is a tech writer who contributes occasionally to the fashion, travel, and culture beats. When he’s not busy keeping up with the keynotes, he’s probably stuffing his face with the best Melbournian donuts (at Shortstop, BTW) or watching his favourite esports team, the Los Angeles Valiant, pummel their opponents into oblivion.