If your leather bag or purse is at your side every day, you’ll likely find at least a small stain at some point. It’s important to know how to remove stains from leather, especially when you have a high-quality leather handbag or briefcase. If your leather bag is always at your side, you'll likely find at least a small stain at some point. The type of stain will determine the best cleaning method, so we’ve rounded up some tips for how to remove stains from leather by the most common culprits.
(Notes: Our tips are geared toward real leather, but they should still be effective on faux leather. Regardless, always remember to first test any method on a small, inconspicuous area of your bag or purse.)
If you spill water on your bag or purse and it’s left to dry without treatment, the outline of the spill will show up and mark the leather with a stain. Prevention is the best way to deal with a water stain on leather: dab the water from the leather as soon as possible, and ideally before it dries on its own. Do not use a hairdryer or put it in the sun to speed up drying.
After dabbing away any excess water (or if the water has already dried), gently wipe the surface with a soft, dry cloth to remove any dust.
Apply a leather conditioner. With a soft cloth, massage the conditioner into the leather using small circular motions, aiming for an even application over the entire surface of the leather.
Leave the leather bag or purse to dry for several hours or overnight. The conditioner will penetrate the leather through the pores left open from the evaporating water and will replenish the stripped oils.
Do not apply water to grease stains. Wipe the oil or grease off the surface of your leather bag or purse with a clean, dry cloth. A microfiber cloth works particularly well for this.
If a stain still remains on the leather surface, sprinkle a generous amount of cornstarch or baking soda onto the grease spot and pat it in. Let it sit overnight. This allows the corn starch or baking soda time to absorb the oil/grease.
In the morning, gently brush off the corn starch or baking soda using a soft-bristled brush.
As with all types of stains, address ink stains on your leather purse or bag as soon as possible.
Mix one part rubbing alcohol with one part lukewarm water. Dip a cotton swab into the rubbing alcohol/water mixture and rub it over the ink stain using a circular motion.
Allow the leather to dry naturally, and then apply leather conditioner as described above. The leather conditioner will counteract any drying caused by the rubbing alcohol.
Red wine is the most notorious source of permanent stains on leather handbags. The first step is to determine if your leather purse is constructed of finished or unfinished leather. Full grain leather is typically the only type of unfinished leather, but to confirm, you can sprinkle a few drops of water onto the surface. If the drops are absorbed by the leather, it is unfinished. In this case, you will need the service of a professional.
If you’re working with finished leather, wine stain removal is potentially a DIY job. Dark stains from things like red wine can be addressed with a homemade paste of one part cream of tartar to one part lemon juice.
Apply the paste to the stain and let it sit for ten minutes. Remove the paste with a damp cloth. If residue remains, add some mild soap or leather cleaner to the damp cloth and wipe down the area again.
Allow leather to dry naturally; then, apply leather conditioner.
Removing stains from leather can be tricky. As we mentioned above, always treat stains as soon as possible. And we cannot re-state it enough: always spot test. If your spot test doesn’t give you a safe result, or if you’re dealing with a large or particularly difficult stain, it will be worth your time and money to take your leather bag to a professional leather cleaner for stain removal as soon as possible.