I kind of love my white leather handbag. Like use it all year round, throw all the things in it, wear it with all the outfits, love it.
I’ve had it for ages — as a matter of fact my mom bought it for me as a gift when we lived in NYC and that’s coming up on closer to a decade ago than not — but it has been looking a bit worse for wear for longer than I’d like to admit.
However the only experience I’d had with cleaning and restoring white leather up until now was in grade school and to say it scarred me would be an understatement.
The situation involved a beat-up pair of Keds and an awful white paint-like substance applied through a sponge (or was it a roller ball?) which was attached to the opening of the bottle containing the aforementioned awful substance.
It without a doubt neither cleaned nor restored my leather Keds and there’s a very distinct possibility that the whole thing ended with me in tears because it was the worst.thing.ever.wahhhh.
Yes it was the 80’s and yes I was an overly dramatic pre-teen, obviously, but the experience never quite left me.
But I digress, and ultimately when my beautiful white leather handbag reached a point closer to bag lady than proper lady, something needed to be done.
I found white polish at a local shoe repair/key cutting shop (why do they always go hand in hand? never mind, but they do don’t they) and was instructed to make sure I cleaned the bag with methylated spirits before applying it.
Supplies collected and bag contents emptied out I crossed my fingers and got to it.
The results were better than I could have hoped and I was once again the proud owner of a proper white bag.
Of course I proceed to
abuse use it relentlessly for the next few months so it’s due for another clean — but at least this time I know there’s hope!
One day I’ll get over the Keds… maybe.
How to Clean & Restore a White Leather Bag
- clear Methylated Spirits, also called Denatured Alcohol
- White Shoe Polish or white renovating polish
- clean rags, white or neutral coloured
- latex or rubber gloves
- white leather bag that has seen better days (obviously)
- Dampen a rag with methylated spirits, gently dab over any dirty areas to remove oils and grime.
- I wanted to freshen up the entire bag so I first concentrated on spot cleaning then wiped over the whole surface with the dampened rag.
- Make sure to dampen new bits of rag as you go, and don’t rub too hard or you’ll strip the material back to raw leather.
- Let bag dry for 30 mins or so.
- Provided you haven’t saturated the leather it shouldn’t take too long as the alcohol evaporates pretty quickly.
- Use a clean rag to apply a thin layer of white polish and allow to dry.
- Make sure to apply polish to any areas cleaned with the methylated spirits.
- Buff with a clean cloth or a new shoe brush (see below re shoe brush note).
- Repeat thin layers of polish as necessary, allowing it to dry before buffing off each time.
- Put all the things back into the bag, sport with proper lady swagger.
- Methylated spirits or Denatured Alcohol is very high-proof alcohol that has about 10% methanol added to make it undrinkable and therefore sold without tax. You can find it in hardware stores and sometimes in grocery or convenience stores for a few dollars for a large bottle. It’s also brilliant at removing sticky labels from things.
- Do not use a leather cleaner/conditioner to clean your bag during this process, it can actually seal the leather which means it won’t absorb the white polish.
- You can do the final buff with a clean/new shoe brush but do not use one that has been exposed to any other polish — you don’t want to end up with black or brown streaks on your clean white bag.
- If there are spots that are worn down to raw leather they may not completely come back to new (you can see one on my bag) but with a gentle touch and a few layers they will look remarkably better.