7 ways to clean your designer purse so you can use it for years
Don't try an online hack on your Hermès, please!
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The great women's rights activist Susan B. Anthony once said, “Every woman should have a purse of her own.”
While in Anthony’s case, the “purse” she was referring to meant independence and ownership, actual handbags have been age-old symbols of a woman’s strength as she carries her own possessions on-hand. For Anthony, it was an alligator doctor bag, for England’s Queen Elizabeth II it is her iconic Launer handbag. For the everyday gal, it could be a signature Coach canvas or a Dooney & Bourke pebble-grain hobo, a small Chloé Marcie crossbody, or a Louis Vuitton Neverfull.
Along with owning top-quality handbags comes the responsibility of taking care of them.
Charlotte Staerck, co-founder and retail director of the Handbag Clinic, says, “Designer handbags are a big investment for many people, and some of the higher end brands such as Chanel, Hermès, and Louis Vuitton actually appreciate in value.”
“The pandemic has made a lot of people reconsider their values, with many questioning how they can enjoy fashion in a more responsible way,” she continues. “Customers now actively want to reduce their waste by restoring or re-inventing an item so they can continue to enjoy it. The world has moved on from fast fashion. By restoring an item, you give it a second life.”
When you’ve got an item that has a rising value, it pays to know how to treat it. We asked Staerck for advice.
1. Keep the bag’s interior clean
Staerck advises an ounce of prevention from day one.
“The interior of your bag needs protecting just as much as the outside,” she says. “Throwing makeup brushes, a smashed powder, lipstick that loses its lid, or an open pen into your bag causes the bag to become heavily stained on the interior.” These stains are tough to remove because of their high oil content, so invest in a makeup bag that doubles as a pen case.
2. Don’t put it on the floor
Avoid placing your purse on restaurant or salon floors, which puts it in prime position for beverage spillages, scuffed corners, dirt stains, and dye splashes.
Instead employ a handbag hook that folds out to fit on tables and bar areas.
3. Help it keep its shape
When a purse droops against its original shape it can cause creases in the leather. To maintain the shape of your beloved, consider stuffing it with acid-free tissue paper or a purse pillow to keep it structured while being stored. This way, it will keep its leather fold free and maintain a formidable shape that prolongs its beauty.
4. Clean it regularly, for maintenance
“Keeping a bag looking great is about regular maintenance rather than a quick fix,” says Staerck, noting everyday bags require a little upkeep TLC every two to three months, while weekenders could use it every nine.
After a few minutes apply the protection cream, showing extra care with the handles, corners, and frequently touched areas. Once dry, buff off the excess.
“This process takes no more than 15 minutes and could save you a fortune on future restoration,” she says.
She warns that you may want to repeat the protection process a couple of times to really look after those easily stained light-colored leathers.
If pressed for time, focus on the wiping down main areas such as handles with a cleaning wipe.
5. Don’t try an online cleaning hack on an expensive bag
You covet buttery soft bags, but it's their lightly treated leather that creates their touchability. Translation: The leather is very absorbent. Whether it’s rainwater or your dining companion’s Diet Coke, sometimes your bag has an “oops” moment and needs rescue. But tread carefully.
Staerck calls some online cleaning hacks “downright bizarre and potentially damaging.”
One such hack is the popular usage of alcohol to lift out ink, a stain that even professionals have trouble with. "If it's a pool of ink on the fabric lining and you try to clean this, it's very likely to spread especially if you use alcohol, which thins the ink.”
Instead, Staerck recommends a light cleaning at home—if you know what you’re doing and if you have the right tools.
“We see so many customers bring in bags that probably only initially needed a small fix, but because they have used the wrong products or pressure when cleaning, they require significantly more work,” she says.
6. Blot a stain
If your bag does incur a stain, blot the stained area as soon as possible with a clean, dry cloth or tissue. You want to absorb as much of the liquid as possible.
“Once you have removed excess liquid, blot the stain with a damp cloth or tissue using warm water only,” says Staerck. “Start at the outside of the stain and work inwards. This will stop the stain from spreading outwards.”
7. Sometimes, you just need to see a pro
If you have a major mishap, you don’t necessarily need to trash your treasure for a new purse.
Consider taking it to a professional (even your local cobbler or dry cleaner may be able to help). Just about everything can be restored, from broken zippers to scuffed corners to stubborn stains.
“There are so many reasons it pays to clean and restore your handbag—especially now we’re all much more aware of the impact discarding unwanted items to landfill has on the environment,” says Staerck.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.