How to remove stains from designer bags so you won’t have to throw them away
While nothing beats a professional cleaning, sometimes, a few common household items may be all you need to save that expensive purchase from being marred by makeup, ink, food or wine.
Stains are the bane of many a designer bag addict’s life – they are impossible to completely avoid unless the only reason you bought that pricey tote is to keep it in its dust bag at home.
Besides giving your bag the initial protection pre-first-use (trust us, paying for a professional coating service will save you a lot of heartache down the road), what else can you do to help it stand up to accidental abuse?
These cleaning tips – some culled from fellow bag addicts and others from bag-cleaning professionals – will help you deal with some of the most common stains at home. Our experts also share what not to do and when you absolutely should send your bag straightaway to them.
All stains need to be dealt with immediately.
Some golden rules to follow: All stains need to be dealt with immediately, and always test a stain-removal method on an inconspicuous spot of the bag to determine if it is good for the type of leather your bag is made from.
A lipstick cap coming loose spells one of the worst stain disasters that could occur within the interior of a bag. Here’s what to do: Carefully wipe off the marks with a dry cloth while trying not to spread the stain all around.
Do not attempt to remove the stain with a cream or oil makeup remover – those are sure to leave oily marks on the lining of your bag.
Once you’ve removed most of the stain, go in with a soft cloth dampened with water that is mixed with a tiny bit of laundry detergent. Cecilia Tan, director of The Bag & Shoe Aesthetics, advised against using wet wipes on leather bags because they typically contain alcohol that may damage the leather, especially if you wipe it across an extensive area of the bag.
Do not attempt to remove the stain with a cream or oil makeup remover – those are sure to leave oily marks on the lining of your bag. If it’s powder makeup that you’ve spilled in your bag, remember to tip out all the powder before going to work on the stains.
Most minor ink stains can be lightened with a teensy bit of alcohol, but never use it directly on your bag. Dilute a few drops of rubbing alcohol with a large spoonful of water, dip a cotton swab into the mixture and lightly rub it over the ink stain with a circular motion.
If this doesn’t work, it’s time to call in the professionals. According to Gemma Gil, director of bag and shoe cleaning company ColorWash, ink stains can be tough to remove, even for a professional cleaner – if all else fails, the pen marks can still be concealed with a colour touch-up.
DENIM TRANSFER MARKS
If you’ve ever made the mistake of using a light-coloured bag while wearing dark-indigo jeans, you’d be all too familiar with denim rub-off.
It’s impossible to lighten the stain once the dye penetrates the leather.
Rub leather cleaner, which can be bought at most supermarkets, shoe repair and DIY stores, into the stain with a soft cloth. It should take off most of the denim stain, depending on the kind of leather your bag is made of.
Acting quickly is the key, said Gil. It’s impossible to lighten the stain once the dye penetrates the leather. Once the latter has occurred, the only way to save your bag is to conceal the stain with a professional colour touch-up.
There’s also a little trick that has been making rounds on designer bag forums online: Apparently, a few rubs with a magic eraser (the white melamine foam sponges that can be found in the cleaning supplies aisle of the supermarket) – can effectively remove the dye stain.
Of course, it’s not something the professionals would recommend. We’d suggest it only as a “last resort” to clean your bag. Because the sponge can be abrasive, it’s not suitable for use on very fine leathers or suede. If you decide to try it, begin with a very light hand.
FOOD AND WINE SPILLS
The main problem with food on leather is that it usually leaves a grease stain. If this happens, wipe the oil off with a clean, dry cloth. Then blot the area with kitchen towels to remove most of the oil.
Wine stains – especially from red wine – are a whole other challenge and must be taken to a professional.
You’ve probably heard about using cornstarch or baby powder on grease stains. Gil said that while it’s true that these will absorb some of the oil, it also creates another problem because the fine powders might get caught in the leather grain or thread fibres.
Wine stains – especially from red wine – are a whole other challenge and must be taken to a professional. “We use organic chemicals and other in-house solutions that can potentially remove ultra-stubborn stains including wine, blood and even vomit to save the items instead of colouring them,” said Tan.
Water doesn’t technically leave a stain, but when it dries, it can leave obvious marks on leather, especially if your bag is light-coloured or made of suede.
If you should get rain or water on your bag, remember to act ASAP – remove most of the moisture with a highly absorbent cloth or kitchen towel.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much that can be done to remove water marks from leather, so it truly pays to have your bag professionally waterproofed or DIY with a store-bought leather waterproofing spray.
It may not completely prevent water marks on your bag, but it will largely reduce the potential for damage. If you should get rain or water on your bag, remember to act ASAP – remove most of the moisture with a highly absorbent cloth or kitchen towel. While doing so, remember not to wipe but instead blot with a dabbing motion.
Gil suggested speed-drying the wet area with a hairdryer on cool setting. Then, apply leather conditioner to the bag to restore and protect the leather.