A couple of weeks ago, my friend Katie contacted me and asked if I’d considered sharing some tips on how to keep your handbags looking their best. I thought, hey, that’s a fantastic idea – my handbags are pretty much my prized possessions, so I have lots to say about keeping them in the best shape possible. I’ve invested in them and because of that, I’ve always been careful to treat them with care and be cautious when using them. (For example, once the temperature drops below -5 degrees Celcius, my Louis Vuitton bags do not come out of the house. Cold weather is very bad for coated canvas.) A high quality handbag will last you a lifetime if you care for it properly, and in the end, it will probably save you some money – you could probably spend the equivalent of a good Louis Vuitton or Celine handbag on cheaper versions that wear out quickly. Care for a good bag and it will love you for a long time!
So I was feeling all inspired and pretty proud of myself for taking such good care of my bags – until I pulled out my much-loved Burberry bucket bag to use last week only to discover glaring, HORRIBLE streaks of blue on it! I felt sick. Me, a gal who is so careful that I wouldn’t even take my Louis Vuitton Speedy 30 out in the rain for the first five years I owned it because I was afraid of water stains on the leather handles, had somehow got blue dye on the perfect white, tan and red fabric. I was beyond upset. But I had to get to work and I literally spent the whole day worrying about it. After doing a bit of research, I decided to go home and try the one thing that sounded like it might work…..a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. Did it work? You’ll have to wait and see. 😊
In any case, despite the obvious fail I’ve just described, I do have some tips and tricks to care for your handbags, whether they were an investment piece or something more affordable. Taking care of them is important, no matter where they came from, what they are made of, or what they cost.
DISCLAIMER – While I love sharing my tips and tricks, please note that I am not responsible for any damage or other issues resulting from the tips outlined below. In the case of any cleaning products, etc. or any other interventions that you may use, I always recommend a spot test in an inconspicuous place on the handbag before working with a larger area. For high end bags, I recommend contacting the manufacturer prior to undertaking any kind of treatment/cleaning. The professionals always know best. If you are worried about doing anything yourself, there are several handbag cleaning and restoration companies online that may be able to help. Always do your research for bigger issues beyond minor cleaning and storage.
Storage is a big part of caring for your handbags, especially if you’re like me and you enjoy rotating them on a daily basis. To help your bags keep their shape, keep them stuffed with paper when not in use. But not just any paper – to ensure that you take care of the interior of the bag as much as possible, try to find acid-free papers. Failing that, I’ve sometimes used a clean towel or sheet (for my larger tires) that is rolled up to fit the bag. While acid free paper is best, the main idea to just ensure something is inside the bag to prevent it from losing its shape while it’s sitting on a shelf or in your closet.
Speaking of which, when those bags are sitting waiting for you to take them out, try to keep them in the dust bags that accompanied them. Any mid-range (Kate Spade, Michael Kors, Tory Burch, Rebecca Minkoff) to high-end (Louis Vuitton, Celine, Burberry) handbag will include a dust bag for storage, and there’s a reason for that – accumulating dust is not good for your bags because it will eventually turn into grime. If you chose to display your handbags (after all, they really can be a piece of art), I recommend wiping them down with a soft cloth every couple of days to prevent dust from accumulating. For hard to reach areas, you can use a clean powder brush to dust the area (but definitely make sure it is clean). Keeping your bags free from dust will go a long way towards preventing them from looking dirty too fast and ensuring they look as new as possible.
Cleaning (and Keeping Your Bags That Way)
Before attempting to clean any handbag, consult with the manufacturer for their recommendations. These days, most bags include a care card that lets you know the most important do’s and dont’s. Some brands also have their own cleaners that can be used for deeper cleaning – if so, I do recommend using them. That said, there are a few simple things you can do to clean and care for your bags.
For certain types of leather bags (patent, pebbled, vachetta) a simple wipe down with a damp cloth will suffice to clean most dirt or grime from your bag. For harder to clean spots, you can use a mild soap (like Neutrogena or Dove) to lift the dirt – again, always do a spot test with a cotton swab to ensure it is ok for your bag. Colour also plays a role. Certain light coloured leathers (such as the kind used for the handles and trim of many Louis Vuitton bags) may be stained by water, so always check with the store you purchased it from or do a spot test before trying this. For grease stains, do not add water – simply wipe the stain away with a dry cloth (you may have to wipe for a bit, but eventually, the stain should disappear).
Once you’ve cleaned the handbag, be sure to dry it and buff it with a soft, clean towel to restore the lustre of the leather.
Two major tips when it comes to leather handbags – they hate the bright sunlight and they hate moisture. Try to avoid both. Do not keep your handbag in a hot or cold car. Extreme temperatures wreak havoc on leather and coated canvas bags – in extreme cold, the canvas could even crack. And there’s not much you can do to fix that.
For any more complicated stains or problems, I do recommend checking with the manufacturer. You paid a lot of money for that bag, so make sure it gets the best care possible.
Canvas or Fabric Bags
If your bag is coated canvas, you can generally follow the guidelines for leather bags that I outlined above. Coated canvas easily wipes down and cleans up pretty well. For fabric bags, you can also use a mild liquid soap as described above, but be sure not to scrub vigorously. Scrubbing too hard will damage the fabric and potentially make a lightly soiled handbag look even worse. Mix the liquid soap with water (I use lukewarm water – hot water will set stains) and dip a soft, clean cloth into the solution. Gently blot the soiled area until is begins to look cleaner. You can take more time on heavily soiled areas, but again, make sure you don’t scrub. Blot the bag dry with a clean towel.
Again, for larger stains or particularly dirty areas, I recommend checking with the manufacturer to find out what cleaning suggestions they have directly related to your brand and bag.
So, after the basic cleaning and storage ideas I’ve described, I have a few key Do’s and Dont’s:
- Do not use baby wipes on a leather handbag. They can damage the finish of the leather (which makes me question why I used them on my baby).
- Do not use a hairdryer to dry your handbag after cleaning or being caught in a rainstorm – the hot, dry air is extremely damaging.
- Do actually use your bags – even if they cost as much as your rent, don’t be afraid to take them out and enjoy them.
- Do ask lots of questions about how to care for your bag at the time of purchase. They have the most relevant knowledge for the bag you are buying.
- Do seek out professional help for serious staining or damage. Your bag may not be completely ruined, even if you got ink on it or if you broke the zipper pull (which on a high quality bag, would be hard to do). There are professionals who can help with these types of restoration. You paid a lot of money for that bag, it’s worth spending a bit more to ensure you can get a lifetime of wear out of it.
DO NOT WEAR A LIGHT COLOURED BAG (leather OR fabric) WITH DARK INDIGO DENIM OR OTHER DYES THAT CAN BLEED. Seriously, I know better, and yet apparently, I don’t. I wracked my brain trying to figure out how the blue dye streaked on my Burberry bag got there before finally going through my Instagram and finding the incriminating picture. The bag had rubbed against my super dark Current/Elliot jeans all day about a month ago. Indigo dye is particularly bad for bleeding, but some black dyes can as well. After reading a recommendation that a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser would get the dye out, I tentatively tried it (again, I have to reiterate the disclaimer above and remind you that I did a spot test first) and slowly, the dye disappeared. I was shocked, and elated, and extremely relieved. I literally would have had a breakdown if the dye hadn’t come out, largely because I really do try to care for my bags and am usually so careful. You can bet that next time, I definitely will be.
Few accessories are as important and thrilling as a good handbag. They are a chic way to enhance your outfit and they are necessary for storing the endless crap we carry around. I love my handbags and always will – a great bag on sale is my Achilles heel – but so long as I care for them (and keep any of them except the black ones away from my darkest jeans) those bags will love me back for a long time. And yours will love you back, too.
Enjoy the pretty things in life,