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Uh-oh! Did you accidentally spill your oat milk latte, or have a makeup mishap in your precious leather tote bag, leaving you to wonder frantically how do I clean my leather tote bag? You are not alone, owning a classic authentic leather bag can be functionally, stylish and smart, but knowing how to properly clean it will help retain its character and value.

Mishaps happen all the time, and knowing when and how to clean or even replace your leather tote is important for quality, long-term care. A dirty scuff, smudge of your favorite lipstick or a leaky pen will really put a dampener on your day. No need to worry about it because it’s easy to care for your leather tote bag when you have the right mindset.

If you are looking for the best way to approach every kind of stain, read on. Here are some things to consider when it comes to keeping your bag safe, clean and always in-style.

Protect Your Bag

A good rule of thumb is to protect your leather bag from the first moment you get it. It’s imperative to take the extra step to care for your bag before you even take it out for it’s first field trip.

For smooth leathers, the first thing you want to do is, “Get an appropriate leather cream,” says the co-founder of Portland Leather Goods, Curtis Matsko. “This is a smart idea because it creates an added layer of protection on top of the leather and will shield it from unwanted scratches.”

Start by softly applying the cream, it will plump and protect the leather and minimize any existing superficial marks. When looking for the best leather cleaning products always pick a recommendation from a reputable company. Portland Leather offers a great deal on Leather Milk Healing Balm. Curtis, the founder says, “Every day we get questions about which products we recommend to care for our leather products. We always suggest Leather Milk Healing Balm!”

Leather Milk Healing Balm is made to protect, soften, and moisturize your leather product to keep it looking great for years to come. Whether your leather has scratches, scars, light cracks in the hide, or is just really, really thirsty – Healing Balm will enrich your leather’s finish and make blemishes disappear with just one application. It is carefully formulated to preserve both glossy and matte finishes, plus an added bonus, this all-natural balm will enrich the color and vibrancy of your leather.

Leather bags should be protected all year round and regularly, to ensure a protective barrier continually coats the surface, repelling water, oils and other common substances that may come into contact with your bag.

Know Your Types of Leather

Not all leather handbags are the same, each type of leather such as suede and nubuck will require a different tact. According to Portland Leather Goods, leather finishes vary, so there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to cleaning your products. A leather with a smooth surface in a natural full grain (such as calfskin or lambskin) should be cleaned with an appropriate leather cleanser and then protected and conditioned with cream.

If you plan to clean our leather bag at home, be extra careful. Make sure your areas are clean and clear of debris. Start by testing the product on a small space of your leather, by testing on an inconspicuous area of the bag first, will help you see how the items interact with one another. Never use baby wipes to clean a bag as they contain lotions that can discolor leather.

When it comes to embossed leather, such as saffiano, a different tact is required. Saffiano leather is full-grained leather. You can use the same leather cleaner, but apply it in a different way to get the best results. Use a suitable leather-cleaning brush with the cleaner, as this sets in the solution while it is worked into the grooves of the leather, and not just the surface.

Not all Stains are Created Equal

Depending on the type of stain you get on your tote, you may want to be consulted with the experts. Removing ink stains from a leather bag is not a DIY job. Ink stains are similar to denim stains (where the leather rubs up against denim) they run deep and are stubborn. They are almost always hard to remove by hand. The reason ink is so hard to remove from leather, is because once the ink is absorbed it physically dyes the material, therefore a specialist who focuses on color work is required to remove it fully.

Your best chance of restoring your handbag to its former glory days is to let the pros take care of it. Depending on your budget, you could invest in a new bag as ink stains are some of the hardest to remove. The expert stain removals will use a special cleaner in a circular quick blotting motion to prevent the ink spreading further.

If you want to attempt to clean suede at home, brushing it evenly and gently with a damp, not wet, horsehair dauber may just give it that little bit of refresh it needs. But most often, you may want to consult with the experts, as they will get it done the right way. They will use water and an appropriate foam cleaner.

Did you drop your fries or leave your doughnut wrapped too long in your bag; Grease stains are one of the most common stains to remove from a leather tote. Don’t forget about the secret everyday terrorist: Hand cream! It is a key culprit in causing those darkened grease-based stains on a leather bag – which is why you almost always see discoloration on the handles. “The problem with grease-based stains is that they absorb quickly.” Curtis Matsko says, “But if you’ve taken steps to protect your bag ahead of time with a leather milk healing balm, the leather can be saved.” Start by using some cornstarch (as soon as the grease sets in, it happens fast), applying it onto the stain to soak up the grease residue.

An especially common stain and problem with pale-colored bags, is the infamous denim stains, that occur when leather rubs against a pair of jeans or a denim jacket. This happens because the dye used in denim products is the same as hair dye, it penetrates fast and deep. To avoid a leather disaster properly protect your bag. Avoid contact as much as possible, but if a denim stain occurs, no need to freak out, help is here. According to Curtis Masko, “The key to successfully cleaning denim stains at home is speed. The longer the mark is left on the leather, the better chance it has of becoming absorbed into the fibers. The fix, act fast.” As soon as the dye has marked your leather, use a cleaner. Curtis created a step-by-step process to help you stay in the clear and have n fear

  1. Take a warm damp cloth to gently remove any dust and surface stains from the seat. Do not rub the leather surface – the rubbing motion can actually make the stain harder to remove
  2. Apply leather cleaner to a clean cloth
  3. Start to wipe the stain away in circular motions until the stain is completely gone
  4. Wipe the surface clean with a new cloth dampened with water
  5. Cover the cleaned surface with leather protectant
  6. Reapply the leather protectant every two months to prevent future stains and to ensure that the car seats remain clean and protected

This article brought to you by Portland Leather Goods. We make award-winning handmade leather products in Portland, Oregon, from the finest full-grain hides, creating personalized products to showcase your personal style.