How do I keep a canvas and leather bag in top-notch condition?
January 5, 2012 7:34 PM   Subscribe

I'm terrible at taking care of my things. How do I keep this beautiful leather and canvas backpack in top-notch condition for the next couple of decades?

Following are some very basic how-to-take-care-of-a-canvas-and-leather-bag questions. I'm looking for anecdotes, experiences, and brand recommendations for leather care products. A DO's and DONT's list might be helpful.

1. How do I keep this bag in top-notch condition when I'm using it on a daily basis? Should I take the contents out every night to preserve its shape? Should I be hanging up the bag somewhere?
2. Any recommendations for taking care of the leather?
3. Should I carry something to cover it in case of a surprise rainstorm?
4. How do I keep the canvas from wearing out?
5. The bottom is made of mostly canvas, with two leather straps as an accent (I don't think they do anything for the bag's durability). How do I keep the bottom from wearing out? Should I avoid carrying heavy things in it?

Thanks in advance!
posted by melancholyplay to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Well, you could do worse than to daub a bit of Dubbin on the leather bits from time to time, to keep them "nourished" and waterproof.

The metal bits will also get rusty after a while. I can't tell what they are exactly, but in any event a smudge of Brasso now and then should keep them gleamy.

Umm, I dunno what you can do for canvas. I had a dirty sack some time back and people suggested nikwaxing, which I never did and which I still don't know what is.

I still have the same bag incidentally. It has kept its shape perfectly well with daily use. I wouldn't stress too much about removing everything from it at the end of the day, or about hanging it up or anything crazy like that.
posted by tumid dahlia at 8:51 PM on January 5, 2012

Best answer: I own a very, very nice piece of luggage made of bridle leather. It came with some leather feed and brief instructions stating to rub the feed onto the leather and brush off the excess. My advice is as follows:

- contact the manufacturer for their specific care instructions and see if they use or recommend any particular leather care products
- follow their instructions.

A more specific route:
- contact these people and see if you can order some of the leather feed by Swain Adeney. Ask for the sticky beeswax compound and a cloth
- apply compound to cloth sparingly, and rub into leather. Really rub the stuff in. Let sit in room-temperature environment and wipe off excess with same cloth the next day
- do this several times over a week or two, then whenever you feel like it or once every couple of months
- do NOT use heat of any sort to soak the feed into the leather: no radiators, hair dryers, etc.
- do NOT use heat of any sort to dry bag if wet
- this particular feed will be absorbed into the leather and render it water-resistant
- your bag's leather may have been undergone different treatment: again, ask the manufacturer.

To answer your questions, first realize that it's a bag. It's a very nice bag. But it's a bag. The leather will get scratched up, torn, stained, spotted and otherwise made to appear very different than when new. Do not view these as imperfections. View them as character. It's a bag. Bags are meant to hold stuff. Don't baby it, don't obsess over it.

I know this is difficult to accept. I've been there. You'll learn to love its imperfections and damage, not because it's a fancy bag with a high price tag, but because you're using it as a bag. You will obsess over every small mark that it ever takes. Get over it. Or get another bag. All right, moving on:

1. Feed the leather. If it gets wet, wipe the water off. If it gets drenched, let it sit out in room temperature and stuff newspaper inside to dry, then feed. The shape will never be perfectly preserved. It's a bag. It'll take the shape of however you're using it.
2. See above for feeding the leather.
3. Yeah, an umbrella. But mostly to keep yourself dry. It's a bag. It's gonna get wet.
4. Same as leather, only without feeding. Let it dry out. It's canvas. It's a bag. It's gonna get messed up.
5. Don't avoid anything. It's a bag. Sometimes you've gotta haul heavy shit. You might find yourself being dragged by a rope from a horse with your bag on and it might get a hole or two. In which case you can say: hey, man, it's a bag. I got that hole from when I was being dragged by a horse!

One more thing: the company linked above also carries a spray by Swaine Adeney used for their umbrellas to help with water resistance. It can be used on canvas. You could try spraying it on the canvas portions, avoiding the leather.

I don't mean to be condescending by repetitively saying that it's a bag. It's a nice bag! USE IT. And expect damage.

Personally, I wouldn't use anything other than Swaine Adeney's leather feed for bridle leather gear. The yellow, sticky, beeswax-y one. Rub that shit in real good.
posted by herrdoktor at 8:51 PM on January 5, 2012 [6 favorites]

For starters, put some kind of bag liner in all the pockets.
I can instantly see something spilling in that bag, and it being awful to clean, as you won't want to get the leather wet. Actually, I'm now wondering why I don't just do that by default.

Use leather cleaner on it, there are several that will also clean canvas, and use a leather conditioner on it. This will keep the leather supple and shiny. I can't recommend products tho, as I'm not in the US.

Avoid getting it wet if possible, and make sure it dries thoroughly if it does. Don't leave it in the bottom of a wardrobe, as leather can mildew easily. If it's had leather conditioner recently, it'll hold up to wet weather better. If it were boots, I'd suggest using a waterproofing product, but I'm no leather expert.
I'd focus on regular maintenance rather than coddling it though, but mostly because I'd have the rather cruel opinion that if it can't handle less-than-dainty treatment, it doesn't deserve to live.

I can't tell how 'lightweight' that canvas is, but if they really were building them like military bags, rather than just being 'inspired by', then those things will last decades, easily. If it's just 'pretend', or at the first signs of wear, I'd get it patched/relined with proper canvas.
posted by Elysum at 8:57 PM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm not an expert but I'll throw my thoughts and experiences in here, anything someone knowledgeable says contrary to what I say should be given precedent.

1. I'd keep it off the floor, dirt in the canvas will (eventually) act like knife blades and cut fibers on the microscopic level... while unavoidable it should be guarded against where possible. I'd consider brushing it off with a moderately stiff brush at least weekly.
2. I'm no expert but I'm a fan of mink oil and saddle soap, though recently on theartofmanliness blog I've heard that saddlesoap should probably be avoided on finer leathers. Go there for experienced facts.
3. A surprise rainstorm won't be the end of the world and you're defeating the purpose if you carry a safe around to throw the pack into whenever it gets cloudy.
4. See 1 above. I'd also spray it with some sort of sealant/protectant spray right away while it's new and clean. It may darken it a bit but that's much preferable to the alternative.
5. I can't see the bottom but I'm betting the leather straps might serve as a sacrificial protectant for the bottom, like feet might serve on a briefcase. Not sure.

I would avoid overloading it or leaving things in it for extended periods of time... overnight should be fine...
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:58 PM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

If I wasn't clear, in #4 I was only referring to the canvas, the leather is a separate beast and should be shielded from said spray.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:00 PM on January 5, 2012

I'm thinking scotch guard on the canvas part, since you won't be able to get the bag wet to clean it when it gets dirty. Scotch guard should make it wipe-off cleanable. But I could be wrong, I've never scotch-guarded a fancy canvas bag. (Nice bag btw.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:21 PM on January 5, 2012

I'd buy two, and keep one as a back-up. I don't know how many times my favorite [whatever] has broken or been lost, and when I go to replace it, it is discontinued.
posted by bmosher at 6:29 AM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Excellent answers here, but try not to obsess over keeping the bag pristine; it should age and will be all the handsomer for it.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 7:10 AM on January 6, 2012

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