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Expert Ways to Keep Your Handbags Scratch and Stain Free

Make your investment pieces last.

Senior Home and Style Editor
Handbags
Photography by: Lucy Schaeffer
1. Big Bag: J.Crew, All-day tote, Item F5237, $178, jcrew.com 2. Small Bag: GAP, Crossbody saddle bag, #520699, $39.95, gap.com

Few things sting more than splurging on a designer handbag only to scratch it in its first wear out of the box. Don’t panic. We asked Chris Moore, owner of Artbag, one of the country’s top handbag repair shops, to tell us how to keep our investment pieces, and everyday satchels, totes, and crossbodies, looking good for years to come.

 

SHOULD YOU PRETREAT YOUR BAG?

As tempting as it is to slather your prized possession with a protector, don’t. Most leather bags are pre-treated in the tanning process, says Moore. “Adding a protector will only make it difficult to clean later on.” If the leather is untreated, a neutral shoe polish will work. One classic preventive measure Moore endorses is keeping your leather bag out of the rain.

 

DEALING WITH SCRATCHES

The bad news: Certain leathers — especially beautiful, smooth, light-colored ones — are very susceptible to scratching. The good news: “It’s easy to remedy the issue,” says Moore. His trick is straight out of the kitchen cupboard: good old white vinegar.  Use a piece of cheesecloth or an old T-shirt to apply the vinegar to the scratch. Then use a separate clean cloth to buff. “The entire process should take no more than five minutes,” he says. “The acidity in vinegar makes the scratch swell and settle back into a similar pattern.” While this won’t completely erase the mark, it will be less noticeable. Finish with a neutral shoe polish to restore the luster. “Always use neutral because that’s colorless,” says Moore. Two brands he recommends: Meltonian and Moneysworth & Best.

 

[LEARN THESE: Tips for the Proper Care of Your Handbag]

 

TACKLING STAINS: MAKEUP AND INK

One way to prevent stains is to store your makeup and pesky pens in a pouch inside your bag. If a pen does explode or create some doodles, either ignore it, because eventually the bag will become dirtier with use and the ink mark won’t bug you as much, or take it to a professional. “If you try to use online remedies, you’ll either cause a bigger stain, because the ink will bleed, or you’ll cause a fluid mark, which is worse than the ink mark,” says Moore. To keep suede bags looking their best, brush them once or twice a month with a suede brush. “If the dirt is allowed to rest on the surface, it works its way into the leather and then becomes very hard to clean,” he says.

 

FOOD AND DRINK

For non-oil-based stains, gently wipe the area in circular motions with a damp cloth napkin, cheesecloth or old T-shirt. “Don’t work too long in the same spot,” warns Moore, “Or you’ll take pigment out of the material.” Use a second cloth to dry. “For best results wipe the stain for 15-20 seconds, and then dry it for about 30-45 seconds, allowing the spot to air dry,” he says.  If the stain is oil-base, leave it to the professionals. 

 

[READ THIS: Handbag Cleaning 101]

 

CLEANING THE INTERIOR

You’ll inevitably find crumbs, a half-open piece of gum or 400 pennies sitting at the bottom of your bag. “You can actually pull most linings out of a bag,” says Moore. Once you do that, go over the lining with a suede brush to remove dust and anything else living down there. “If the lining is leather, brush it out and use a damp cloth.”

 

HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU CLEAN OUT YOUR BAG?

Moore recommends cleaning out your purse at least every other month. “You realize, ‘I don’t need to carry this. I don’t need to carry that,’ and it makes your bag lighter in weight, which will make your bag last longer,” he says. A bigger bonus of regular cleanouts: A lighter bag means less stress on your shoulder.

 

THE BEST WAY TO STORE A BAG

Closet space can be a big challenge, but if you can make room, it’s best to store your handbags upright on a shelf. Stuff it with tissue paper or an old T-shirt to maintain its shape (be careful not to over-stuff, though). Place the bag in a dust cover or cotton pillowcase and sit it on the shelf. Separate bags with dividers or pieces of cardboard. “If the hardware on one bag rests against another, it can cause indentation,” warns Moore. Cover chains and embellishments in tissue paper, and store straps and chains inside the bag to prevent scuffs.