How To Wash A Leather Purse – Yes, I Said WASH!

How To Wash Your Leather Purse

A few months ago I found this yellow leather handbag by Cynthia Rowley at T.J. Maxx and simply HAD TO HAVE IT. It was a little pricier than I normally pay for a purse, but not as astronomical as if I had been paying RETAIL. I just couldn’t resist the soft yellow color and the overall shape and design of the bag. It quickly became my very FAVORITE purse!

Unfortunately, after several business trips (including 2 to New York City) it was looking pretty abused. As much as I LOVE the color of this bag, it’s also incredibly impractical for keeping clean. Especially when I’m dragging it through airports, shuttle buses, taxi cabs, parking lots, restaurants, etc.

How To Wash Your Leather Purse

Before my most recent trip to Austin, Texas for BlogHer Food ’13 I sadly emptied my favorite purse and hung it up in the laundry room until I could figure out what to do with it. I just couldn’t take it with me. I felt terrible.

Ever since then, every time I walk by it hanging on a peg in the laundry room I hear it calling out to me, “Help me!” lol. But I had no idea what to do! Earlier attempts at spot cleaning were not successful and it needed a lot more than just SPOT cleaning now.

I probably should have taken it to a professional leather cleaner (not that I’ve ever heard of one of those before), but you know me, I want to do it myself. (Hmmmmmm…just realized that the acronym for “do it myself” is DIM…maybe we’re onto something here! lol)

So I devoted some time out of my crazy busy day yesterday to research how to clean a leather purse, because my yellow friend was depending on me! After many, many unsatisfactory answers, I came across a post by Serene at Elegant Bohemian about how she washed her leather Coach bag in the WASHING MACHINE!

At first I was certain I had read it wrong, but no, I hadn’t. She had taken a leather Coach bag that was in much the same shape as my beloved Cynthia Rowley bag (basically headed to the donation pile) and decided to give it a spin in the washer. Since her post only shows “After” pictures, I had to take her word for the results. But with a name like Serene, how could I go wrong! ;-) So off to the laundry room I went, to either give my purse a new lease on life or sign it’s death certificate.

How To Wash Your Leather Purse

Serene used Murphy’s Oil Soap to wash her bag, but I’ve never been much of a fan of MOS, so I decided to try some of my trusty Dr. Bronner’s liquid castile soap.


HUGE DISCLAIMER: This worked for me, but that certainly doesn’t guarantee it will work for everyone. As a matter of fact, I can hear professional cleaners all over the world GROANING after reading this post. It’s definitely a method to be reserved for items that are in that “what have I got to lose?” category.  Proceed at your own risk. :-)

Completely clean out your bag. Make sure you check all those little pockets!

Pour about 1/4 cup castile soap into the washing machine, drop in bag, set washer to GENTLE CYCLE (or hand wash cycle…something along those lines), and turn it on.

Now walk away go douse yourself in Zen essential oil blend to quell the anxiety you are now feeling! :-)  Breathe deeply too!

How To Wash Your Leather Purse

When the cycle is done, you can either toss the bag in the dryer on LOW heat with some big, fluffy towels for 5-10 minutes, then hang to dry….OR…you can take it outside (if it’s a nice, sunny day like it was at my house!) and let it dry in the sunshine.

When your bag is completely dry, protect it with some leather conditioner. (I haven’t done this step YET.)

How To Wash Your Leather Purse

How To Wash Your Leather Purse

As you can see, the washer actually WORKED! Much to my surprise there was a HUGE improvement! Not PERFECT, but vastly improved and definitely good enough to take out in public again! :-)

I might have gotten a little choked up as I hung it back up in the laundry room last night, restored to it’s former glory. I think I might have even heard it humming a happy little tune. ;-)

How To Wash Your Leather Purse

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  1. Redcandies says

    It looks great! Did this bag have a cloth or satin type material lining? Or was it just unlined leather?

  2. Maggi says

    It looks as though your handbag is rubbing on denim jeans. You will definitely need to protect it by coating it with a product like dubbin (used for saddles).
    Good job
    Maggi, South Africa

  3. AbeeGee says

    I wash some leather items in the machine, and so far all have come through just fine. I figure cows get wet outside in the rain and don’t seem the worse for wear!

    • Cat says

      Your point is true — yes, cows DO get wet and they survive. lol. Seriously, I searched high and low about 18 months ago for how to clean some Ugg suede boots (a beautiful golden-brown color) after I’d spilled olive on them accidentally while cooking for my mother.

      I came across one website which stated that washing suede or leather with a MILD soap would remove the stain. Do not be afraid because these are animal skins. They get wet while the animal is alive, right? Care should be taken with dyed skins, however, so test on a hidden area first (unless you don’t mind losing a bit of color). The trick is to be sure to wash the whole item, NOT just spot clean it, because you want one uniform color when finished.

      Drying the item for a bit in the dryer on low setting, with some type of cushioning such as old (colorfast) towels can be done, but ONLY to for a bit. I found air drying worked best for me, but NOT in the sun. The sun will fade your colors and could possibly “yellow” your lighter colors (such as white, off-white, etc.). Putting a small towel(s) inside the purse to retain its original shape helps a lot, too, while it is air drying.

      Alternatively, it is also possible to pull the lining inside out from the bag and wash it separately if you have hard-to-remove stains on the interior. Be sure not to get the cleaner you are using on the leather or suede, however. Using an old toothbrush or soft brush on ink stains, lipstick, etc. helps. I’ve had linings come out super clean and looking great. Air dry after the hand-washing, and be sure to rinse well before drying, patting excess moisture with an old, white towel (again, stay away from the main part of the purse if it’s leather or suede).

      Don’t be afraid to try this, especially on your favorite light-colored bags that are ruined by brushing against your blue jeans, or a vivid color ruined by ink stains. If you’re not using that purse because of its stains, you have nothing to lose, right?

      • Cat says

        Ooops, sorry…. I forgot to add that after washing a leather purse, etc., you MUST use a good conditioner on it to replace the oils that were washed out. I forget what I used on those boots, but after re-conditioning them I Scotchguarded them as well. They’re holding up beautifully. On my Coach purse I used a Coach conditioner then some other type of sealer I purchased online that had to be rubbed in then lightly blown dry with a hair dryer to seal it. I think a lemon-oil based furniture polish would work just fine, too, like I read on another site.

        Jillee, your purse looks mahhvelous!

      • Carol Dobrowolski says

        How do you get the ink stain out of a cream colored lining in a MK Hamilton tote. Thank you

  4. Terri S says

    mary hunt, in her ‘everyday cheapskate’ newsletter a few days ago, recommends using a mr. clean magic eraser sponge–dampen the sponge with water, then ‘go to work’ on your purse–she’s had excellent results, provided the problem is dirt, not wear.

    machine washing sounds much labor-intensive, though!

    • Carolynne says

      NEVER use Mr Clean erasers on leather!!! Please learn from my mistake.
      I took those magical little wonders to my 18 year old gorgeous leather sofas. At first they worked like magic, taking away all that deep grime on the seats. I was so happy with myself. However, I quickly learned that my magic eraser took off the top protective layer of my sofa. I’ve ruined them. 6 mo later they started cracking the seats are cracked beyond repair. (I did condition them after I cleaned them with the erasers.. But the damage was done). So sad.
      Thanks for the tip Jillee. Love your blog.

  5. Kathy says

    I wonder how it would work for oil? I have a teal colored leather bag that was my grandmothers. Like an idiot, I had a Lindor truffle in the bottom and in the spring heat it melted! I cried for a while, then emptied it out, blotted it and it has been sitting ever since. I did research a little but don’t want to take the chance of ruining it! HELP!!!

    • Sarah Mc says

      Something similar…erm, it might have actually been a Lindor…happened to my red leather jacket. Washed it with Suave shampoo ( Castille should be more effective but I had never heard of it back then) INSIDE OUT. There was some fading but it just washed right back onto itself. It tinted the wash water so I know it was there even if there was no sign of it.
      I might even add some EO and a dash of vinegar to the rinse water to make my stuff smell good.

    • Sharon says

      I have done this with cough drops. If it is just on the lining carefully lift it from the purse, and wash with a gentle soap. May have to wash more than once and with the cough drops there was a slight pink stain remaining, but who looks in the purse. Good luck

  6. Vicki says

    OH, Kathy, I feel so bad for you. I have some treasured things of my grama too and I would just die if they got ruined. I hope someone will come along that will have the answer for you.

  7. Skylar says

    Reading this, I thought, wow …. would I take a chance with a leather bag, but then again I had to rethink that …. I have a set of leather saddlebags on my motorcycle and, long story, short they were terribly mishaped and gaping wipe open due to the fact that I had tried to cram three times as much stuff into them as should have been possible, and then proceeded to get rained on for six hours straight. After living like this for three years (yes, it’s sad I know), an upholsterer suggested that I take the entire bag and soak it in a huge container of water for an hour or so and then put outsidse to dry. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing ….. leather in water – wasn’t that the beginning of my problem? Well guess what, it worked! I couldn’t believe it. After soaking the bag totally and completely in water and then puttinig it outside, I reshaped it just a bit and then waited, and waited and waited …… voila! I now have a set of leather bags that I’m proud to have on my bike again …. so, yes, you are certainly taking fate into your own hands by “washing leather” but I, personally, would certainly not hesitate to do it again …………. Hmmm, now let me see where that Coach bag is :-)

    • says

      Great story Skylar! I have to say, the minute I put the purse in the washer full of water I had a slight heart attack! lol.

      Let us know about the Coach bag! ;-)

  8. Barb says

    What a Fantastic outcome Jillee!
    I think it was a good move using the liquid soap because there’s no residue etc? – I know you can get leather coats that you wash in your washing-machine and they look fab when done! Skin is waterproof and porus but I suppose we worry about getting water stains on leather because it’s such a pain to clean – but submerging the whole thing should be ok (like when leather is cured?) but you have to condition it again to make it supple and then re-waterproof it.. We used to have something called ‘Scotchguard’ here in the UK but I don’t think they make it anymore although there are plenty of waterproofing shoe-sprays that you can use on handbags and coats that work just fine! Or Dubbin as mentioned before is great, which is a type of no-colour waterproof boot polish. (Skinheads and our army and police used to use it on their boots!) LOL (I think a spray would be better on light coloured leather though for more even coverage) xxx

  9. Ruthie says


    Don’t know if this would work for leather but what I use for fabric that has oil stains is good old cornstarch. Sprinkle liberally and let it do its thing. It absorbs the oil.
    Then I put the cloth item in the washing machine.

    I would try a couple of rounds with the CS.
    If purse is unlined do it on inside.
    Let us know if this works


  10. Valerie H says

    I haven’t tried actually throwing my bag into the washer although, I had a brandnew pair of cowboy boots, suede & polished leather. First time I ever wore them it rained for hours, we were on a trail ride so I couldn’t really run for cover.. They were soaked..well, we both were.. I left them in the sun to dry and they looked brand new again.. No, they were never dirty but I figure if the big no-no is water, why are we so scared that it will harm leather items.. I have since scrubbed with a sponge, boots, purses, wallets, and jackets and they all have had great results… I also used a fairly gentle liquid soap…
    Thanks for your posts, keep um coming…V