How to Clean a Leather Bag

bags cleaning leather leather maintenance

Girl with a leather backpack

You just got your new leather bag, told your friends about it, and you’re so excited to start using it. Leather bags are very popular, but as leather is a natural material, and depending on the type of leather used in your bag, keeping your leather bag in a good shape takes some maintenance. Especially if you have already invested in a good leather bag, maintaining and cleaning it properly will prevent stains and damages from water and greasy materials, maintain its elasticity and looks, and even help you deal with stains if they occur.

In this article, we’ve gathered some basic tips on how to take care of and clean your leather bag. These tips can also be applied to most other leather products such as leather shoes, leather sofas, and leather coats.

Know your enemy

As leather used to be a living material, it is easily affected by its environment. Harsh weather conditions such as snow and rain, but also heat and dryness, may damage leather products if not appropriately protected against them. Damages may impact the leather’s aesthetics, for instance, its tone, but also its structure, causing it to crack or lose its elasticity. Most common damages to leather products and leather bags specifically result from water, oily materials and long exposure to the sun.

Start with prevention

Taking measures to prevent damages beforehand is a proven way to save time, money and the headache of cleaning and fixing them once they’ve occurred. To protect your leather bag from water, you should use designated leather waterproofing material. Applying a thin layer of beeswax or every once in a while should do the job for most leather bags with a smooth finish, excluding suede. This is especially important during rainy periods, but also as regular maintenance when you feel the old protection layer has run off. Most common way of applying beeswax (or any other wax-based material) is by using a shoe brush, make sure to choose a soft one.

Meltonian Water & Stain Protector

Before you purchase and apply any products, do some research to make sure that they wouldn’t affect the color of the leather, especially if it’s light toned. If you’re not sure, test your product on a small hidden part of the bag and see how it works. After you apply the treatment to your leather bag, let it dry for a while before you use it again.

Now let’s say you forgot to apply a repellent and your leather bag got soaked in the rain. By no means should you try to dry it using a direct heat source such as a hairdryer or leaving it right next to the radiator. This could lead to significant damage to the leather, including drying out and cracks. The best way to dry a wet leather bag would be to leave it next to an indirect heat source, let’s say in a room with the heating on, but far enough from the bag.

Obenauf's Leather Oil

But your bag needs protection not only from water and grease but also from the sun. As leather is a natural material, long exposure to direct sunlight can damage the leather, including drying out and changes in color (like old faded leather car seats). Here there’s no need to buy any products, just make sure that you don’t leave your bag for too long under direct sun.

Bring your leather bag back to life

Some oil/wax-based waterproofing products also provide conditioning to the leather, to maintain its looks, elasticity, and softness. Some of these products are rub-on, whereas other come with a brush or in the form of a spray-on, so anyone can choose according to his bag, personal preferences, and experience. Always use a conditioner that is specifically made to apply to leather. Using products which are not specifically made for leather care, such as hand cream to moisturize your bag, might actually leave stains and not provide the results you were wishing for.

Chemical Guys Leather Cleaner and Conditioner

Rules of Thumb for Cleaning Leather

As the world is big and full of terrors (for your leather bag), over time your bag might get some stains. Grease, mud, ink, food, you know how it goes… There are tons of DIY articles out there on the internet that would suggest all sorts of homemade tips and tricks. Unfortunately, many of them contradict one another - some suggest using wet wipes, others stress it’s a big no-no etc.

As a leather bag can be quite an investment, and we would hate to give you tips we’re not sure of, again we shall stick to the professional leather cleaners. However, here are a few rules of thumb to remember:

  • The sooner you treat the stain the better are the chances to get rid of it
  • Do your research – not all leather cleaners are the right ones for your bag
  • Always test your product on a hidden spot first
  • Water is bad, mmkay? If you do use water to clean your bag, use as little as possible and dry it immediately

Just as there are lots of materials to protect your bag from water and moisturize it, so there’s an endless selection of leather cleaners that remove stains of basically anything. If you do happen to have a stubborn stain that didn’t come off with the professional products, see if you can find a shoe polish which matches the color of your bag and use it to conceal the stain.

Before you apply any leather cleaner, make sure to clean your bag with a soft brush or a cloth to remove sand, mud, dust etc. Be sure to first test it somewhere hidden before to make sure that it works.

Chamberlain's Leather Milk - Leather Restoration Kit. Leather Cleaner, Conditioner, and Water Protector

Chamberlain's Leather Milk - Leather Restoration Kit


Leather bags, as well as other leather products, take some work to keep them in a good shape and protect them from different weather (and human) conditions. Prevention is the easiest, safest way to keep your leather bag looking new and fresh, and timely maintenance is also important. Also, make sure to use professional products for prevention, conditioning, and cleaning of your bag and to lower the risk of unwanted damages. Keeping these basics would ensure that you enjoy your leather bag for many more years.

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