How To Clean Your “New” Designer Bag (new to you, anyway) when you get it second-hand

Since I am not independently wealthy, but I do enjoy my designer bags, I don’t always shop the outlets or department stores during sale time, sometimes I get my fix when swapping online or going to alternative shops like my local thrift shop or Buffalo Exchange (my favorite buy/sell/trade store brand). If the bag is not in perfect condition, but I can handle the small touches of TLC, then I usually will buy it if it’s a reasonable price and doesn’t break my budget (if there is heavy damage or it needs repair, I move on). Part of the fun, after the thrill of the hunt, is restoring the bag’s beauty and glory. Then, of course, I can carry it and enjoy using it. (And, I also have the satisfaction that I’m helping contribute to my recycling way of life.)

For  the exterior of fabric material bags:

I usually use a dampened cloth (water only) to the canvas material when there is light dirt to the exterior. If there is a spot or two, I like to add some baking soda (get it to a pasty thickness). If it is particularly soiled, I use a can of Formula 409 carpet stain remover, that I purchased at Wal-mart for less than $3.00 (it foams up and you need to leave it on for at least three minutes). Wipe off using a cloth, but do not rub it, unless it is a deep stain, but do so carefully, so you do not make pills on the material (especially, if the material is jacuard). If need be, you might need to repeat the process. I got the idea from some online sources on but they recommended Tuff Stuff and Blue Coral ( had it for $8.00). Please note: if the bag is a light color, this may not be as effective, either. If the straps are leather, you may use leather conditioner on a shoe sponge (make sure that the sponge has enough liquid and that it is spread out evenly) to wipe them off. If there is hardware, use a dampened cloth (water only) to remove any residue. If the bottom of the bag is leather, you can also give a swipe of the leather conditioner to it.

For the exterior of leather material bags:

I like to use my Aerosoles shoe leather conditioner (any brand will do, but stay away from cheap brands if you want to keep your designer bags looking good) using an old shoe sponge (it’s reserved for the purpose of cleaning my bags). Try to get enough liquid on the sponge but spread it out over the sponge to get the best coverage (kind of like concealer on a sponge). Wipe each side. Wipe down the leather straps. The effects of the leather conditioner is pretty good. This is something you can do later down the line, with repeated use of the bag. It’s not like you have to do this every year, is what I am saying. If there is hardware, use a dampened cloth (water only) to remove any residue.

The interior of bags:

First, empty out the contents of every pocket, if you can unzip it, leave it open. Then turn it upside-down, preferably over a trash can (or a space on the carpet that you can run a vacuum over it), and shake it vigorously to remove any hair, lint, or any other odd bits and/or remnants. Or, if you don’t want to get any dust in your face, you can use large masking tape pieces or a lint roller to picky up everything. If the lining is silky material (Coach), I use the same dampened cloth to remove anything else. If there are pen marks, I usually cannot tackle those, sorry. If the lining is gingham (Dooney & Bourke, BTW, the official site has an in-depth cleaning guide for each of their bag lines), you can also use a dampened cloth to it, as well.

For stubborn smells:

Having dealt with heavy smoke (yuck!), heavy perfume (think old lady perfume, not pleasant), and heavy garlic, I can honestly say that the garlic smell is the most challenging to deal with. Out of those three smells, the heavy perfume smell was the easiest of the three to face (and you cannot even smell that perfume anymore as I used the bag, maybe my papers inside helped too). Generally, I like to do a mix of several methods.

(1) I use scrunched up paper like tissue paper for stuffing gift bags (you can use butcher paper or kraft paper too) overnight or even a couple days (some people swear by newspaper, but I don’t want to take the chance that the ink will transfer). I then recycle the tissue paper (into the recycling bin, of course).

(2) On a clear day, you can also air out the bag for as many hours as you like. Be careful not to keep the bag in direct sunlight, though (which could bring about fading and possibly cracking to the leather trim).

(3) You can also place it in the dryer and have it on the “air-dry” setting. For extra scent-adding, you can also place a couple dryer sheets along with it. I think that I tried at least two cycles of air-drying for the heavy smoke-smelling bag.

(4) You can also place a small baggie of baking soda inside (open) overnight or for a few days.

(5) You can also place dryer sheets inside overnight or for a few days.

(6) I also tried spraying Febreeze on the material (do not use this on leather) and also, later, used a couple sprays of my own perfume to combat the offending smell.

So, if need be, you can do all of these steps, then, repeat the process. One source said that if the smell was getting better, that meant progress. Like I said about the garlic smell, it seemed to get better, but as I continue to check on the bag and handle it, the heavy garlic smell transferred to my fingers, and I hate that (out of all the offensive food smells, this is at the top of my list). So I might have to let it go on a swapping site.

To keep your designer bags looking good, I suggest storing them in dust bags, so that they do not rub or scratch your other bags.

Hope these tips were helpful.


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