Handy tips for cleaning all kinds of handbags

Through the eons, pouches for fire-striking flint and trading shells evolved into handbags for car keys and ATM cards. These days, a bag is an essential accessory item for many women and a few men. So how do you keep your handbag from looking like that original cave dweller's pouch?

Handy tips for cleaning all kinds of handbags

1. In general

  • First empty the bag of its contents — which in itself may be a big job.
  • Then brush away loose dirt — inside and outside the bag — with a soft, white cloth, or vacuum it using an upholstery attachment.
  • Next up (with the exception of suede) is to wet a soft cloth in a cleaning solution appropriate for your bag's material. (See below.)
  • Wring the cloth nearly dry and rub the bag inside and out, taking care to avoid dampening it any more than it takes to clean it.
  • Beyond the visible dirt, you'll wipe away skin oils, hand lotion, make-up and perspiration.
  • On the exterior, a bag's handle, clasp and straps are areas where a lot of grime collects.
  • And when cleaning, don't forget the inside — wipe the liner, especially the bottom, and interior hardware, such as zippers.

2. To clean a leather bag

  • It's best to use a cream leather cleaner and conditioner or saddle soap, all of which are available from shoe repair shops.
  • Follow the label instructions.
  • Always follow saddle soap with a solvent-free leather conditioner to avoid drying out the leather.
  • Then buff with a soft cloth.

3. To clean a fabric bag

  • Use 5 ml (1 tsp) of a gentle fabric wash in 125 ml (1/2 cup) of lukewarm water for all-over cleaning of strong, sturdy fabrics. Use it full strength for spots.
  • For more delicate fabrics, use barely damp baby wipes.
  • To help keep your fabric bag protected, spray it with a fabric protector after it's been cleaned.

4. To clean patent leather

  • Use a cream cleaner and conditioner if it's real patent leather. Be gentle — patent leather scratches easily.
  • If it is imitation patent leather, use mild dishwashing liquid or a car interior vinyl and plastic cleaner available from automotive stores.

5. To clean plastic, polyurethane or vinyl

  • Try a specialty plastic cleaner (sold at marine supply and automotive stores, as well as by suppliers of restoration products) if the handbag is made of a hard plastic.
  • Wipe softer synthetics with a solution of dishwashing liquid or a gentle fabric wash and water.
  • Alternatives are baby wipes or a car interior vinyl and plastic cleaner.
  • To restore the shine to shiny plastics, squirt them with silicone wax spray after cleaning, then buff.
  • There are also specialty products available from shoe stores that clean and silicone polish in the one operation.

6. To clean a straw bag

  • Wipe with a cloth dipped in 1 part liquid hand soap to 3 parts water.
  • Rinse with a cloth wrung out in clean water. Do not get a straw bag too wet or it may shrink.

7. To clean a suede bag

  • Brush the nap with a natural-bristle shoe brush, which will remove surface dirt.
  • If it needs a bit more cleaning, visit your shoe store to investigate products made especially for suede and nubuck.
  • Otherwise, have it professionally dry cleaned.
  • Once it is clean, remember that prevention is better than cure — give it a light spray with water and stain protector, but use protectant sprays sparingly on suede, since some attract dirt.
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