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How to Clean and Condition Your Purse

Woman washing purse with sponge
Africa Studio/Shutterstock

You know that purse—your go-to, favorite, everyday option that holds just the right amount of stuff. And then one day, you pick it up and realize it’s covered in stains and cracks from the years of use.

Did you know you can prevent damage and make your best bags last longer? In this guide to cleaning and conditioning your purse, we’ll show you how.

Leather Purses

Leather is a favorite material for a good reason. It’s durable and tends to wear nicely over time. However, you can extend its lifespan even further with these simple steps.

General Cleaning

It’s up to you how often you clean your leather purse, but we’d recommend a light cleaning every few months to get rid of dirt and grime. You can also wipe off dust and debris with a dry cloth (we recommend microfiber) once a week or so. Consider storing your purse in a dust bag (some high-end brands come with one) to keep it clean when it’s not in use.

If your leather purse is a light color, you’ll likely need to clean it more often. And, of course, if there’s a spill on the inside or outside, you’ll need to give it a deep clean.

Many guides suggest cleaning leather with gentle soap and a soft cloth. However, when working with real leather, a genuine leather cleaner gets better results. Regular soap tends to dry out the material.  

Keep in mind that leather cleaners can darken or otherwise change the appearance of your bag. Always test a new product on a hidden area first, and wait to see how it looks before using it on the entire bag. If you’re happy with the results in the hidden area, use a gentle touch to clean your leather purse all over. Scrubbing hard can damage the leather.

A soft cloth works best on smooth or lightly grained leathers. But if your bag has an embossed pattern or a deep grain, you should also invest in a soft leather cleaning brush to reach into the grooves.

Stain Removal

closeup of gloved hands applying conditioner to brown leather purse
Arijit Mondal/Shutterstock

If your leather bag has a serious stain, such as from grease or ink, invest in a product made for that purpose. You can buy leather degreasers, leather stain removers, and more. The faster you treat stains, the better. Professional cleaning is also an excellent way to handle this situation.  

Again, spot test in a hidden area before treating the whole stain. If the products don’t work, you can try a mixture of water and mild liquid detergent. Apply the mix to the stain with a damp cloth, rinse with a second damp cloth, and then dry with a third cloth. Repeat as needed.

You may come across advice about home remedies to remove stains from leather, involving rubbing alcohol, lemon, and other household items. Only try these as a last-ditch effort, since those home remedies can often damage leather.

Conditioning

To help your bag stay clean and repel stains, you’ll want to condition and treat it appropriately.

After cleaning a leather purse, always apply a leather conditioner. This helps the material stay soft, so it won’t dry out and crack. You’ll use a soft cloth to apply the conditioner gently all over the surface.

In addition to a conditioning product, you should also use a leather protector. These products coat and seal the leather to protect it from water damage, fading, and more. However, you should still keep your bag away from water and direct sunlight as much as possible.

As soon as you get a new leather purse, apply a layer of leather protector—this will save you from the work of fixing damage later on. You should also reapply the leather protector at least once per year since it won’t last forever.

Vegan Leather Purses

purses on shelf
Creative Lab/Shutterstock

Today’s vegan leathers often look indistinguishable from the real thing. They can also get by with less maintenance than genuine leather. Still, your vegan leather purse will have a longer lifespan if you follow these steps.

General Cleaning

To clean your vegan leather purse, skip the leather cleaning products. Just use warm water, a soft cloth, and mild soap. Dilute the soap with water and dampen the cloth in this mixture before gently applying it to your bag. Take care that the cloth is damp but not soaking wet.

Again, keep in mind that anything you apply to your purse can darken it or otherwise change how it looks. Even with vegan leather, you’ll want to spot-test everything first.

After applying the soap, use a second cloth dampened with just water to rinse off the bag, and a different soft cloth to dry it.

If the inside of your bag gets dirty, you can wipe it down with the same method. If there’s a fabric lining, turn it inside out and use a lint roller or your vacuum’s fabric brush to remove debris.

Stain Removal

Soap should usually work to remove mild stains from your faux leather purse. Since faux leather isn’t porous like real leather, stains tend to sit on the surface, where they’re easier to remove.

For more serious stains, try distilled white vinegar. Put it directly on the stain, let it sit for a few minutes, then blot the stain away with a clean cloth. You might need to repeat this step a few times to get results.

For water stains on vegan leather, you can also use rubbing alcohol. Just apply a bit of rubbing alcohol to the stain (try using a spray bottle), then use a cloth to remove the stain gently.

Keep in mind that vegan leathers are all slightly different, and what works for one vegan leather bag might damage a different one. Spot test every time!

Conditioning

Can you also condition vegan leather?

Yes— you can even find conditioning and protecting products made explicitly for faux leather. You’ll apply them just like you would apply a conditioner and protector for real leather.

This step isn’t quite as important as it is for genuine leather, but it can still help extend the life of your bag and make cleaning easier.

Suede Purses

Closeup shot of woman wearing little suede purse
Viktoriya Pavlyuk/Shutterstock

Finally, suede bags also take a special kind of care. Never treat a suede purse the same way you’d handle leather and vegan leather—instead, follow these steps.

General Cleaning

It’s usually best to get suede professionally cleaned since this material is very easy to damage. However, you can also buy a soft suede brush and use it dry to get rid of debris or damp for a slightly deeper clean. If you use a damp brush, be sure to let the suede dry completely before storing it.

Suede attracts debris fast, so you should always store your suede purses in a dust bag or something similar to protect them.

Stain Removal

For more serious cleaning jobs, you can buy a suede cleaner to attack stains. These cleaners typically spray on. Then, you’ll use a cloth or suede brush to drive them into the material. Finally, a dry suede brush can restore the unique suede finish.

Sometimes, merely using a suede brush can go a long way toward removing stains. Always brush your suede before applying other products.

Conditioning

Suede doesn’t need conditioning products the same way leather does. The soft material isn’t prone to cracking. However, applying a waterproofing product is vital for protecting your suede from water stains.

Buy a suede waterproofing spray and apply it before you use your purse for the first time, and after cleaning it each time.  

Bonus: Repairing a Damaged Purse

Have an old stain that won’t budge, a broken strap, or a dysfunctional zipper?

You don’t need to Marie Kondo that bag just yet. Instead, take it in for professional care. Look for a local dry cleaner that works with leather, or even a shoe repair shop. They can clean it, remove stains, and make other small repairs to give an old purse new life.

While professional cleaning and repairs cost more than doing it yourself, they’ll also prevent the accidental damage that can happen during a DIY job. Some materials, like suede, are especially easy to damage if you haven’t worked with them before.


Follow these tips to keep your purses clean and protected, but don’t hesitate to contact a professional to tackle the bigger tasks.

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a Seattle-based writer and editor with a Master's in Writing Studies from Saint Joseph's University. Her work has appeared in publications like Racked, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and Rum Punch Press. She was awarded a 2017 Writing Between the Vines residency.  Read Full Bio »

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