How I Keep My Leather Bags in Tip-Top Shape


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Source: Maddie Galassi
Source: Maddie Galassi

Last fall, after endless hours of debate and some hefty saving, I invested in my first designer bag. It had been my favorite bag for years, and on the day I finally got it in the mail, I took it out for the very first time. Then, an unexpected thought struck me: I was a little nervous.

What if it rained? What if my jeans discolored it? Did everyone feel this way? After a quick Google search, I discovered that many owners of leather bags feel the same, and taking care of them and making sure they stay in tip-top shape for as long as possible takes a bit of work. I didn’t ever want to feel afraid to use my bags—I bought them to use and enjoy them, after all—so I figured out a system using products that prevent any unnecessary wear and tear from its elements (including those pesky blue jean stains).

Any leather bag (or even shoes) is an investment, and unexpected precipitation or spills don’t need to be a death sentence. Here’s how I keep my leather bags looking brand new:


1. When I’m not using them, I empty my belongings out

Sure, my leather tote that I take to work and to run errands hasn’t been emptied out since the day I bought it, but for my other, non-everyday bags, I make sure to empty them out when I’m not using them. That way, I avoid any ink stains from a pen gone wrong, lip gloss spills, or damage that might result from a pile of miscellaneous items living at the bottom. Bonus: It also prevents them from getting too cluttered, which is something I’m endlessly prone to.


2. I use cleaning and protective products

After my initial leather bag research, I quickly discovered that many designer bag owners swore by one brand of leather protector and cleaner (and as a bonus, it was shockingly affordable). With any aerosol protective spray, there are warnings of potential discoloration on certain types of leather. But on the countless online forums I read, owners of Chanel bags and even Birkins swore by this three-step system with no adverse effects, so I picked it up and have noticed a huge difference in how my bags have worn. 

Apple Brand
Leather Cleaner and Conditioner

The first step in this process is using the leather shampoo. As with any product, it's important to do a patch test on a small portion of your bag before you go to town with it (I tested it on all of mine on the inside flap). To use the shampoo, I apply a small amount onto a clean cloth and buff it in, evenly distributing the product across the entirety of the bag (even the strap). After I finish, I wait for it to dry for a full 24 hours before following up with the rain and stain repellent.

After the repellent, I go on and use the second half of this set: the conditioner. It comes out in a liquid that looks quite similar to a hair conditioner, and I use it after shampooing and treating to bring suppleness and moisture back to my bag's leather. I do it in the same format I use the shampoo, buffing it into the bag with a clean cloth. Afterward, I wait about 24 hours to let it completely dry before I use it. I also love using this on its own between treatments to keep my bags looking their absolute best and found that it can completely salvage an older leather bag.

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Apple Brand
Rain and Stain Water Repellent

After shampooing my bag and making sure it's free from any dirt and dust and after performing another patch test on the inside, I spray a single even coat across my bag. This bottle is a continuous spray mist, which makes it easy to coat and makes sure you didn't miss any spots. I let the first layer dry for a few hours, then I go over it one more time with a second coating. It'll make your bag look wet at first, but I've found that it dries quickly and undetectably.

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Earlier this spring, I bought the Coach Pillow Tabby (in white, no less) and realized right away that the leather was particularly soft and delicate. Treating it with these has made stains, both water and otherwise, a non-issue. Also considering how delicate my bag is, I feel like the products prevented it from wear that would’ve happened.

These products work by first cleaning your bag with the leather cleaner, then using the protective spray, and finally finishing with the conditioner. I’ve used both the cleaner and conditioner on their own when I felt like my bags needed it. They work great individually, but for a full wall of protection, I use all three in the recommended order and will keep up with it every few months on my nicer bags and shoes.


3. I store them in their dust bags

In a past life, I had a pile of dust bags rotting away at the bottom of my underwear drawer that I never touched. Now, if I know I’m not going to use my bag for a while, I store them how they’re meant to be stored: in the dust bag they came in.

Since I live in a small apartment, I keep my bags in a plastic storage bag under my bed, which provides an additional layer of protection. If your bag is less structured, it’s also a good idea to put something—like tissue paper—inside it so it doesn’t lose its shape while it’s being stored.