How to take care of your purse

When I earned my first paycheck at age 15, I spent it on a purse. Not a very expensive purse (no designer logo!), but a well-made, pretty handbag that made me feel grown up, competent (now I had someplace to put my lip gloss and next paycheck), and put together. That purse got a lot of TLC from me, and in turn it ushered me clear through high school. 

I still feel good about having nice purses. And about taking good care of them. While there are lots of tips for doing that, they’re all super easy to implement! 

a beige handbag wits beside a notebook, black pen, and sprig of baby's-breath

Storing your purses

  • Stand your bags up, don’t hang them in your closet. Hanging a purse stresses and stretches the handle and can eventually make it come loose and/or distort it and the bag.
  • Don’t pile your purses on top of each other in your closet. Give each some space.
  • Zip your bags closed when storing. This will help them keep shape. 
  • Overlap handles (unless they’re short) so that they don’t pull down and out on the sides of your bags. Remove long, clipped-on handles, roll them up, and store them inside the bags.
  • Store purses out of sunlight, which can fade most materials.
  • Tuck a baking soda sachet inside your bag to remove any odors, if that’s a problem. You can easily make a sachet for each of your bags by filling small muslin bags with baking soda. (They’re great to tuck in shoes while in storage, too.) Choose a muslin — or cotton — fabric with a tight weave, so the baking soda doesn’t easily sift through. I sometimes tuck lavender or rose sachet bags in my purses, just to make them smell nice!
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  • Avoid moisture. Keep the humidity in your closet low (this will be good for your shoes and clothing, too), if you can. And don’t store out-of-season bags in a damp basement. If necessary, run a de-humidifier. 
  • Stuff your bags. Purses tend to cave it when they’re empty. When storing a handbag, put something in it to maintain its shape. Depending on the size of the purse, a hand towel, regular towel, or even a rolled-up sweater – for a larger bag – will do the trick. You can also use leftover tissue paper (from gifts). Wad it up and stuff it in there! Don’t use newspaper or anything that might leave ink stains in your bag, though. 
  • Bag your bags. Store purses and totes in bags to protect them from dust and light. Clean old pillowcases work well. You can also buy storage bags for accessories, or you can very easily make your own. Use fabric, not plastic or vinyl, which can trap moisture inside and stick to your purse and damage it. (Besides, a fabric cover will look and feel better, keep the light out, and mean one less plastic item in your home!) Patent leather bags, especially, need to be kept from touching other bags or items in your closet, because the colors on patent leather can bleed. If you don’t use a bag often, take it out of its storage bag every month or so and air it out for a day, then put it back. 
a person clutching a folded brown, pink, and black purse hanging over their shoulder

Using your handbags

  • Line it. If your bag is big enough to hold one (most are — they come in different sizes!), I highly recommend a handbag liner. Our oldest daughter showed me hers, and I immediately ordered one. Now I can’t imagine how I ever used a purse without a liner! Without a handbag liner, everything gets muddled in the bag, shopping-bag style (even if it all starts out neatly arranged!). The liner provides spaces for everything (wallet in this pouch, comb and lip gloss in that). It makes it easy to transfer items from one purse to another (if it’s similarly sized). And it keeps the bottom of your purse clean, too! Really, if you don’t use a liner, give one a try! 
  • Use small, zip pouches — whether or not you have a liner — to hold lotions, makeup, hand sanitizer, and other things that may leak and stain your bag.
  • Be careful with pens. If you must carry a pen in your bag (I must!), make it one with a tight cap rather than a click pen. (Don’t ask me how pens get clicked inside a purse, but I can vouch for the fact that they do! I can also tell you from experience that ink stains are very hard to remove!)
  • Keep it dry. If your bag gets wet, dry it right away with a towel, then let it continue to air dry. Don’t use a hair dryer on it, which can damage the finish. 
  • Don’t set your bag on the floor when you’re out and about. (Floors are often dirty and sticky.)
  • Be careful not to bang the corners on things when carrying your bag. I have had bags that were in perfectly good shape except that the corners were worn!
  • Handle with care. Don’t pick up your purse just after you’ve put lotion on your hands — or if your hands are dirty. 
  • Don’t overload your bag (guilty!). Too much weight can stress your bag and cause it to become weak and misshapen.
  • Don’t hang your bag up when using it either. As in storage, a bag that’s hanging from its handles will get stressed and weakened and misshapen. Set it on your desk rather than hang it over your chair arm, for example.
  • Keep your bags in good repair. If the stitching is coming undone on your cloth tote bag, sew it up promptly, or take it to a seamstress (or a friend who can sew) for repair. If it’s a leather or vegan leather bag, take it to the leather repair shop (or shoemaker) to stitch it back up.
colorfully printed tote bags hanging beside each other

Cleaning and conditioning

  • Wipe dust off your bag regularly and remove stains asap. For everyday cleaning, just wipe off your bag with a dry cloth or alcohol-free wipes. These natural cleaning wipes are made specifically for handbags. They’re for wiping off dirt and stains, and they contain essential oils to condition the material (leather or man-made). Better yet, go zero waste and make your own natural cleaning wipes.
  • Clean out the inside of your purse regularly (at least weekly). Take the contents out of your bag and turn it upside down to brush out all of the crumbs and other debris. Use a lint roller (or a rolled piece of tape) to remove remaining debris.
  • Depending on the material, your bag may benefit from protective products, like waxes. (Some of these are made of beeswax.) A protective layer will keep water and other liquids from staining the leather or fabric. (Have you seen these raincoats for purses? I can’t imagine using one, though if I invested a lot of money in a purse I might reconsider!)

Tote bags and fabric bags

Wipe and spot clean your tote bags and fabric bags regularly. To deep clean fabric tote bags, read the care label. If there isn’t one, consider the fabric and structure of the bag. If your bag doesn’t have any leather trim or structural support, you can hand wash it or wash it in the gentle cycle of your washing machine. Many nylon and cotton bags can be machine washed, for example. 

Don’t put your fabric totes in the dryer, though, unless you’re absolutely sure the fabric isn’t heat sensitive. Instead, hang from the bottom to dry (so as not to stress the handles). Or lay flat on a drying rack or dry towel. That said, I throw my plain canvas grocery totes in the washer and dryer every week, to get them sparkling clean. Again, it all depends on your fabric. 

Leather purses

Wipe your leather purse regularly (after each use, ideally) with a dry, soft cloth. 

Clean your bag well routinely (say once a month) and whenever it gets stained or dirty. Options for cleansers:

  • Soapy water (with a mild dishwashing soap and warm water)
  • A mixture of equal parts vinegar and water
  • A mixture of equal parts vegetable oil and vinegar
  • Equal parts lemon juice and cream of tartar for stain removal
a person with long dark hair in a white dress holds a black purse behind their back with both hangs

Don’t get the purse soaking wet; use just enough water to wipe off any dirt. Wash with the grain of the leather. And don’t scrub. If there’s a stain you can’t remove — like water or ink stains — take it to a professional. Follow washing with a clean rinsing cloth, then dry well.

Condition your leather, to keep it from drying and cracking. You can make your own leather cleaner and conditioner, you can purchase a natural leather conditioner, or you can use natural oils, such as coconut or olive oil. Another option is a combination of white vinegar and linseed oil (1/2 ratio). Don’t apply too much — just a very light coating, using a soft, white, clean cloth. Leave the oil on for an hour or so (or even overnight). Follow by buffing with another clean white cloth. 

Some people recommend using essential oils for hydrating leather. I find them a bit strong to use directly and full strength, but I might add a drop or two to the vegetable oil I’m using, for scent. 

Vegan leather handbags

To clean vegan leather handbags, use warm, soapy water, a soft, non-abrasive washcloth, and a gentle touch. Rinse with a clean, damp cloth, and dry with a towel. If you have a stain, try using a mixture of water and a little vinegar to lift it. (Try in an inconspicuous place first.)

Suede

To clean suede, brush with a suede brush, a soft toothbrush, or a clean, dry cloth to remove any dirt and raise the nap. 

Don’t put water or oil or anything liquid on suede! If you get water on suede, blot it and then let air dry.

Don’t use harsh products on suede (anything containing alcohol or ammonia, for example).

Patent leather

Patent leather is easy to clean. Simply wash with soapy water made from a mild, liquid dish soap. Make sure your cloth is soft and clean. Don’t soak the bag, and don’t scrub too hard or you might damage the finish on the bag! Dry it well.

To remove water marks on patent leather, try rubbing in a little rubbing alcohol. (Try this in an inconspicuous spot first, because it may dull the finish!)

a straw handbag being held in front of a person's body

Straw

Use the brush attachment on your vacuum cleaner to get the dust and dirt out of all those crevices in your straw bag. Follow up with a cloth or old toothbrush dipped in soapy water. 

Follow the grain of the straw when cleaning, and don’t get the straw too wet. 

Let your bag air dry thoroughly before using or storing.  If it has a removable lining, hand wash and dry thoroughly before replacing. Otherwise, spot clean stains and let it dry completely before using or storing.

Hardware

Clean any hardware on your purse with a metal polish or brass cleaner. First tuck a washcloth or clean towel under the hardware, to protect your purse from discoloration. Use a clean cloth to buff. 

Stain Removal

These tips will work on most materials — but check in an inconspicuous spot first!

  • Small marks: Use a white eraser to remove.
  • Food stains: Sprinkle cornstarch or crushed white chalk on the stain and let it sit overnight. Wipe away in the morning with a clean cloth.
  • Oil stains: Sprinkle with cornstarch. Gently rub in, then brush off with a clean cloth. Don’t leave it sit, or the stain will set in.
  • Ink: Dot with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol. Dot until removed, then wipe with a clean cloth. (Note: I have not had great luck removing ink stains from purses. And it’s expensive to have the dry cleaners do it. So keep those pens capped!)

By taking good care of your purses while you’re out with them, cleaning them well, and storing them properly — all of which takes little time at all! — you can keep your purses looking much like they did the day they first struck your fancy!

Do you have any purse care tips to share? How about a picture of your favorite purse?

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