Saturday, September 4, 2010

Cleaning a leather handbag

Last April, I purchased a new leather purse.  I mentioned it here.  It was purchased off ebay, and it was in worse condition than I felt it was represented.  I decided that I should revitalize it.   It was a new project, and I was eager for a new project.  As I mentioned then, the cost of the repair materials was more than what I paid for the handbag.  I feel good about the whole thing, though, and still have no regrets.

(click to enlarge any of the photos)
The handbag photographs well.  Here it is, after I received it:

What is not clear in the photo, either the one above, or the original ebay photo, was that it was covered in a yellowish haze that could be seen in real life.  Here is a picture that shows the haze a little better:

As you can see from the photo above, the leather had small white scratches and little black marks, too.  Below are more photos of dirt and/or wear:

The color was also wearing off on the top of the trim:

There were also pen marks on the strap:


For cleaning, I used Leather Rejuvenator and Prestine Clean by Leatherique.  The Leatherique brand was well recommended on online automobile restoration forums.  I figured that if it worked on old BMWs, it would work for me, too.

Step 1:  Prep
The handbag had a fabric lining.  To protect it, I covered it with masking tape.

I then put the bag in a dishpan to prepare for step 2

Step 2: Leather Rejuvenator Application
In most leather cleaning kits, you use the cleanser first, and then the oil, to put the moisture back in the leather.  With Leatherique's system, you apply the oil first.  The oil is supposed to work itself into the leather, pushing all the impurities out, so that the leather cleaner will be more effective later.

I applied the Leather Rejuvenator using a sponge brush:

The leather went a little underneath the edge of the back pocket.  I put a large mason jar in the back pocket so prop it open, so I could apply the Rejuvenator.

Per the instructions, I covered the tub in plastic wrap to help prevent evaporation, and I let the oil sit overnight, to work itself into the leather.  (I left the jar in the back pocket to keep the pocket open.)

Step 3:  Clean with Prestine Clean

After letting the handbag sit overnight, I sprayed it with the Prestine Clean, and wiped it off with a paper towel.  It really helped to remove the yellowish haze:

Step 4:  Remove oil stains from lining
Since I did not put masking tape on the inside of the back pocket, the lining did get oil on it:

I removed it by dipping a Q-tip into a bottle of carpet cleaner (I had Carbona), then dabbing the wet Q-tip  on the stain until it got moist.  After that, I took a dry paper towel, and dabbed the stained area until it was dry.  If the stain was not completely come off, I repeated the application of Carbona and dabbing it dry.  

The oil stains came out perfectly.  

Steps 5 thru X:  Getting the tough spots
I don't have clear step by step documentation of the rest of the cleaning process, because it really was trial and error.  You know the white, faded spots, I photographed earlier?  I tried several methods of restoring the color.  First, I ordered Angelo leather paint.  That didn't work--it looked much to bright, and looked painted on.  I tried to tone it down with regular acrylic ink.  The color match was better, but it still looked like a painted spot.

Next, I tried colored shoe polish.  I had to order it online, of course, as blue shoe polish isn't something you get at the store.  I used Tarrago polish, which comes in 95 colors.  I also painted it on, using another sponge brush, then buffing with a microfiber.  That worked a little bit.

Finally, I purchased pigment stamp pad.  I used the eraser end of pencil to stamp the pad, and then stamp the leather.  I found that, the stamp pad ink, covered with a layer of shoe polish on top, worked the best.

Additionally, I had a terrible time with the ink stain on the strap.  Basically, I ruined the color on the purse strap with all the stuff I used to get the ink out--the Prestine Clean, rubbing alcohol, acetone and damage from scrubbing it using a toothbrush, and with a fingernail brush.

It took a while to figure out how to repair that.  I ended up using a very thin layer of leather/acrylic paint mix, + the ink pad + shoe polish.  At one point, I used a metal file to roughen up the leather to get everything to adhere.  The strap ended up looking pretty good:


I'm happy with the end results:

Here is the full spectrum of products used:

Achievement unlocked! Novice Leatherworker 1

Products Used, Notes, and Mistakes:

1)  Leatherique Rejuvenator and Prestine Clean:
Purchased at, but available in other automotive detailing outlets.

I can get a little fanatical when it comes to cleaning.  The people that shared this fanaticism about getting their leather *perfect* were the guys on the auto restoration blogs.  That's why I focused on auto leather, rather than say, shoe leather, or saddle leather, although there are cleaning products targeted for these markets, too.  I was happy with the Leatherique, and in fact, I'm bringing it out again to clean the purse before I store the purse for the fall.  For other leather cleaner options, however, I encourage you look at, or, if you are set on using only purse cleaning products, sells cleaners and conditioners.

One thing I learned from my research is that saddle soaps should not be used--they were fine for the 1800's, but the technology for both tanning the leather and for cleaning leather has much improved since then.

Something I learned from experience: do NOT use a toothbrush to scrub either the oil or the cleaner into the leather.  It will darken the leather.  (After my application of the oil and the cleaner, the ink mark on the shoulder strap remained, even though it was lighter.  I tried scrubbing the mark to try to remove it.  I should not have done so.)

2) Angelus leather paints:
Purchased from and available elsewhere

The paint is favored by those painting their leather sneakers, so I thought I'd give it a try on my handbag.  Like I said earlier, it didn't work for me because I was trying to blend the faded spots on my purse, but this left a paint spot.  One thing to note, the "Neutral" color is actually colorless and it makes the color thinner.  I had purchased it thinking that it would make the color lighter, as in, it would make the blue a more pastel blue.  This was NOT the case.  Mixing the neutral with the blue resulted in the same color intensity, it was just a thinner paint.  If you want to make your colors lighter (more pastel), buy the white paint.

3)  Folk Art acrylic paint: 
Purchased from my local Michael's 

It adhered surprisingly well to the leather.  I was even able to mix it with the Angelus leather paints, even though I'm not sure that it is recommended.  Using a mix of the Folk Art acrylic with the Angeuls paints in light blue and the neutral to thin it all out, I was able to make a color that matched my handbag very well.  Even though I was able to get the color match, it still looked like a painted spot when applied. 

4)  Color Box pigmented ink:
Purchased from my local Michael's 

Since paint was not working out for me, I tried ink.  It worked so much better.  I was able to blend it into the leather.  This is what I ended up using to cover the white spots.  

Something to note is that this is PIGMENTED ink.  Pigmented ink sits on top of the surface.  The alternative is dye ink.  Dye based inks sink into the surface. I was really interested in dye ink, but Michael's didn't have dye ink in the color that I needed, and I didn't want to go online to buy it.

Now that it's been some months since the leather buying frenzy, I think I might buy some dye ink.  After a season of use, some of the white spots that I covered using the Color Box ink have started becoming visible again.  

5) Tarrago shoe cream:
Purchased from and available elsewhere

The shoe cream got good reviews on the Purseblog forums.  It is a shoe cream, so it does need to buffed into the leather very well, or the color WILL rub off on your clothes.  

6) Rubbing alcohol:
Purchased at Wal-Mart

I used this in an attempt to remove the ink mark from the shoulder strap.  It worked a little bit, but it also took the color out of the strap.  I would not recommend it.

7)  100% Acetone:
Purchased at Wal-Mart

I purchased my bottle in the health and beauty department, near the nail polish removers.  You can also purchase a can of it in the hardware department, next to the cans of paint thinner.

This is serious stuff.  I used this to get the ink mark out of the leather strap.  It removed the ink, stripped the leather dye, stripped the oil out of the leather (the leather became stiff and dry).  I would NOT recommend it for removing ink marks, due to how damaging it can be.


womens purse said...

Thanks for sharing this info. I've always wanted to bring back the brand new look of my handbag. But washing can't do it alone. Good thing I visited your site. Thanks!

Teashell said...

@womens purse: I'm so glad you found the information useful. Thanks for visiting!

Anonymous said...

I'll testify to the beautiful workmanship that restored the purse! It looks brand new, and the color is gorgeous.

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