Cleaning a leather briefcase
December 27, 2014 12:30 PM   Subscribe

I got some purple ink on my Saddleback briefcase. I tried a leather cleaner, but it did nothing. So my question is, what should I try next? (The answer "don't worry about it, stains give bags character" is actually helpful, since it'll help me come to terms with inking up my graduation present.)

I read the other questions about leather care, and they give good general advice for taking care of leather, but I guess I'm wondering if anybody knows any ink-specific leather magic. Thanks!
posted by middlethird to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (13 answers total)
Alcohol generally gets ink out, but I don't know what it will do to leather (or if it will pull the stain out of a material like leather). However, I am told that alcohol of various sorts is occasionally spilled on things such as handbags, in certain situations, and so it might be worth testing on an inconspicuous area.
posted by Madamina at 12:43 PM on December 27, 2014

Years ago my mom stained a new, very expensive purse when she failed to cap a pen. Mom got the purse dyed black at a shoe repair place and bought a new one in the original color. When my dad saw the black one and asked if it was new, she told him he'd bought it for her (which was true in fact but not spirit).

Side benefit: these purses were only available with contrasting trim, so any woman who knew that and saw mom's all-black, custom dyed one wanted to know where she'd found it.
posted by fedward at 12:43 PM on December 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Rubbing alcohol, hairspray, nonacetone nail polish remover or cuticle remover

For ink and pen stains on leather furniture, auto upholstery or handbags, dab on rubbing alcohol or any of the other substances listed. Let it soak in for a few minutes, then wipe it off with a clean cloth. Rinse with water and gentle soap, then dry. For stubborn ink stains, repeat until the ink has dissolved.
posted by just asking at 12:44 PM on December 27, 2014

The problem is that there are many many formulations of ink and many types of leather.

You might try putting some spots/scribbles of identical ink on little slips of paper, allow them to dry, and then put the paper in a handful of different household solvents. One slip of paper in rubbing alcohol, one slip of paper in water, one slip in carpet cleaner, one slip in acetone, etc, etc.

See which solvent takes the ink out of the paper, then in a hidden spot on the bag try a drop of the solvent on the leather, to make sure it doesn't bleach or stain the leather.

Once you've identified a proper solvent that removes the ink & doesn't stain the bag get an old rag damp with the solvent (wear gloves!) and sponge at the stain!
posted by gregr at 12:45 PM on December 27, 2014

Alcohol generally gets ink out, but I don't know what it will do to leather (or if it will pull the stain out of a material like leather).
posted by Madamina

I don't know if alcohol will remove the ink, but I do know that it won't harm leather. The standard treatment for leather that's gotten mildewy is to wipe it down with rubbing alcohol.
posted by workerant at 12:48 PM on December 27, 2014

I have used rubbing alcohol to try to get ink out of leather. It works-ish. It makes it smeary, definitely not good as new, but it's a different (preferred?) blur than a stark swipe of ink.

Personally I would do that the best I could, sigh, and then accept it. Great bags show the wear and tear of love and use.
posted by phunniemee at 12:56 PM on December 27, 2014

Have you contacted Saddleback? I have a few of their products and have talked to them before, and if this happened to me that would be my first move. Send them an email and tell them what happened, and what you've tried, and ask what they recommend.
posted by madmethods at 1:02 PM on December 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

It's not clear but it looks like the saddleback bag is not chrome tanned. Chrome tanning is a messy industrial process and it's how most garment leather is made; it makes the leather waterproof and tends to confine stains to the surface, where they can be removed if you find the right solvent.

Chrome tanned leather is almost always some color like black or red or whatever. I don't think I have ever seen a natural color chrome tanned leather item.

If it's naturally tanned (vegetable, brain, or chemical equivalent) the leather remains porous, and you can forget ever getting ink out of it. This kind of leather can be softened and worked and dyed, which is what you just did if you baptised it in ink.

If you put a few drops of water on the bag, what happens? If they just sit there on the surface and evaporate, it's probably chrome tanned and might be cleanable. But if they slowly adsorb into the leather, you might as well get used to your bag having character.
posted by localroger at 2:04 PM on December 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

OMG, I'm so sorry. I used to do restoration of vintage clothing and accessories, and ink stains on leather can be AWFUL. You need to take this immediately to a dry cleaner who specializes in leather. Unfinished leather (like what that bag appears to be made of, as localroger says) stains quickly, and home remedies may end up making the stain worse, or possibly setting it permanently.

If you can't do that, or they can't help, I suggest trying to clean it with saddle soap. That should lift it a tiny bit, and then you can start conditioning it with neetsfoot oil, which will gradually darken the leather and hopefully make the stain less noticeable. Good luck!
posted by ananci at 4:18 PM on December 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Regarding accepting a mar as a contributor to character, might it help to know that it's the only the first several scuffs, stains and mystery blemishes that stand out. Once they reach critical mass: boom! Character. So the solution is to use your bag harder, not to baby it while vowing to never let something like this happen again. Bags evolve from gorgeous and perfect to nearly new but slightly flawed to beloved old friend. The only way through is through.
posted by carmicha at 4:49 PM on December 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

Email Saddleback. Based on my experience, they will likely provide a detailed, personalized response within a day or two.
posted by deadweightloss at 6:35 PM on December 27, 2014

Worst case scenario, you can always paint over the stain with opaque acrylic or enamel. Put an ad on Craigslist for someone who is an expert with painted finishes (leather will probably be in their repertoire) as they will probably have the best paints/techniques for getting it to blend in.
posted by sexyrobot at 10:49 PM on December 27, 2014

Thanks for the answers!

When rain hits my bag, the bag absorbs the rain, turning darker brown.

And is it weird that I thought of asking metafilter for advice before asking Saddleback? Emailing them was a good call, which is what I did.
posted by middlethird at 11:46 AM on December 28, 2014

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