Cleaning My Cloth/Leather Bag
January 12, 2014 6:45 PM   Subscribe

I have owned a cloth messenger bag with leather trim around the edges for a couple years. Over time, the cloth has gotten somewhat dingy (no issues with the leather). I am unlikely to find another bag like this, so I want to keep it clean, if I can. Laundromats won't touch it because of the leather and I can't machine wash it for the same reason. I have tried scrubbing it by hand with different things - vinegar, lemon juice, and bleach (all diluted in some amount of water) to no avail. Internet searches haven't turned up many other suggestions. Are there any recommendations for other things to try?
posted by C'est la D.C. to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (10 answers total)
Have you tried a dry cleaner rather than a laundromat? They clean leather and suede jackets, so I would think they could deal with both the fabric and the trim.
posted by Kriesa at 6:52 PM on January 12, 2014

Response by poster: Sorry, I meant dry cleaners, not laundromats. I talked to a few and they all said no to the cloth/leather combination.
posted by C'est la D.C. at 6:55 PM on January 12, 2014

Oxyclean is pretty good for things like this. I've seen people mix up a paste of Oxyclean, laundry detergent, and powdered Borax to get yellowed stains off of things, maybe if you applied something like that (I'm assuming it's a canvas-type fabric) with an old toothbrush, let it sit and then quickly rinsed it off?
posted by at 7:05 PM on January 12, 2014

You know, lots of people who have those Longchamp Le Pliage tote bags just toss them in the wash and say they come out fine. And soap (not detergent, but plain bar soap) is considered by many to a fine cleanser for leather. So if it were my bag, I would consider machine washing it with something like Ivory flakes or Dr. Bronner's castille soap. Then let it air dry, away from heat.
posted by HotToddy at 7:16 PM on January 12, 2014

I have used spray carpet cleaner like Resolve to clean fabric bags. It worked great on a lesportsac, a canvas makeup bag, and several other fabric bags. Spray it on, wait a few minutes, then scrub with a brush like nail brush. Then wipe with a damp cloth and let it dry. I think it works because it is designed to remove surface dirt. Use in an inconspicuous place, just to be sure it doesn't discolor your bag. It may take several attempts, but I have had success.
posted by Nosey Mrs. Rat at 7:17 PM on January 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

"Vinegar, lemon juice, and bleach."

Why haven't you tried soap? Oxyclean, as mentioned above, or Woolite (hit any stains with Shout spray first). Afterward, once it has dried completely, give the leather a good going over with mink oil or leather wax to re-seal it.
posted by amaire at 7:20 PM on January 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

What color is the fabric? Is it lined? How thickly is it lined and with what? How old is the bag?

If it is a contemporary bag that isn't lined, I would probably saturate the fabric with cold water (not worrying too much about whether the leather got wet but not seeking to wet it either) and then rub in detergent or dishwashing liquid (I use dishwashing liquid on a lot of stains) and let it set. I'd particularly do this if it is a light colored fabric. Then I'd rinse/scrub it, again not worrying if the leather got wet but not immersing it.

If it's lined with a synthetic or it's an older bag, that gets trickier - you don't know what washing may do to the lining or interlining.

Hey, have you tried a leather cleaner's? I don't know from experience, but surely they sometimes get mixed-material things to clean.
posted by Frowner at 6:47 AM on January 13, 2014

I disagree that you can't wash leather; I have done so many times. The danger here would be that the leather would bleed dye into the canvas. If you've had the bag wet, like in the rain, and the leather hasn't bled then I'd tell you to wash the sucker.
posted by workerant at 8:47 AM on January 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I actually killed a really nice bag by washing it - an old J Peterman mailbag that I'd gotten second hand. It was thick cow leather with a finished surface, not nubuck, but it just stiffened up incredibly after being washed - far beyond the ability of leather treatment to rehabilitate. I assume that this is because it was older leather that had been minimally treated to begin with and that motorcycle leather would be more resilient.

If the leather trim is just trim and there's not too much lining, you might as well go ahead and wash it (cold water, gentle cycle, drain-not-spin if your washer can do that) - you can virtually certainly rehabilitate small areas of leather that have been treated heavily by following workerant's suggestion.
posted by Frowner at 10:39 AM on January 13, 2014

Are there any actual leather cleaners in your area? They might be better able to deal with the leather-and-cloth combo.
posted by Lexica at 11:20 AM on January 13, 2014

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