DIY: How to clean a leather handbag

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Keep your leather looking new by cleaning it right
When it comes to leather, one thing is universal and that is that over time it fades and loses its luster. Regardless of whether you spend thousands on a handbag at a top retailer or $10 at the local mega super store, the leather will eventually need to be cleaned and revitalized. Of course, the quality of leather that was used in the construction of the handbag plays a great deal into the longevity of the leather before reconditioning is needed (personally I believe that a leather artisan is the best place to get a handbag). When the time comes to re-condition your leather handbag, ensure that you do it properly. Here are a few steps to ensure that your leather stays vibrant and has that new product smell.

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Step One: Clean out the wallet
It may sound a bit redundant, but I have known several people who have tried to use cleaner and conditioner on a bag full of junk. First, remove the contents. You have to keep in mind that whatever you have in the bag will have an impact on the shape of the leather as well as on how the bag rests. Besides that, it is just common sense that the contents within can get damaged or ruined from the cleaning solutions.
Step Two: Pick a cleaner and conditioner that matches your leather
Not all cleaners and conditioners are the same. There are some which are intended for black leather, some for alligator skin, some for cow hide, sheep skin, etc. This is vital to ensuring that you do not over saturate or add too much acidity and chemicals to the leather. For example, the chemicals in a leather conditioner for cow hide will be greater than sheep skin due to the thickness of the skin. Applying a cow hide leather cleaner to sheep’s skin could cause the leather to rip and tear or for the leather to become “burned”. If you have any questions or concerns about which leather cleaner to use ask your local leather artisan.
Step Three: Clean the leather like you would your hair
By this I mean start with the cleaner. Using a soft cloth which has no abrasive fibers apply a small amount of the cleaner to the cloth. Do not apply the solution directly to the leather. Apply the cleaner in soft circles until you have covered the surface of the handbag. At this point the leather will probably have a dull and matt aesthetic to it. Do not worry, this is normal. Most cleaners require you to buff or clean off the cleaner.
Let the cleaner sit for a little while to work into the leather. Typically, I wait 30 minutes or so to allow for the cleaner to get down into the pores of the skin. After an ample amount of time has passed, use a separate cloth to buff off the cleaner. It should have a slight shine now.
Step Four: Apply Conditioner
When you have finished cleaning the leather, do not jump straight to the conditioner. Look at the leather handbag and ensure that all areas have been cleaned. If you notice any imperfections on the leather, apply another coat of cleaner. Once you are satisfied with the overall look and want to get that new leather shine, then add the conditioner.
Depending on the brand that you choose, the conditioner may require you to apply it with a soft cloth, or you may be able to spray it on and work it into the leather. Just keep in mind to apply the conditioner evenly. The conditioner of leathers typically does not require that you remove it once it is applied (no need to buff). Again, it depends on the leather, the cleaner and conditioner, and the age of the bag.
Step Five: Let it dry
When you take a shower, you dry off before you put clothes on. Why? Because you do not want to get your clothes wet. In the same way, you should give the bag an ample amount of time to dry before you add anything back into it. This will prevent any of the leather polish, cleaner, or conditioner from coming off on the contents. Again, if you feel uncomfortable in cleaning your leather handbag or if you have questions on how to properly apply leather cleaner and conditioners to your handbag, go and see your local leather artisan. Most artisans offer leather cleaning services should you not have the materials or the patience to clean your bag properly.

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