Cleaning and conditioning thrifted leather handbags

In the early days of the pandemic, I found a knockoff Prada(?) faux leather bag at Goodwill for $4. After a few solid years of use (and many compliments, I might add), a handle ripped off, and I was forced to search for a new neutral-colored leather bag. Cute as it may be, my giant yellow Marc Tetro dachshund bag, my default bag as of late, isn’t the most practical option for every situation!

Where to find secondhand leather purses for sale

Buying leather purses secondhand is easier than you think, but it can be a while before you find a cute design that you actually love. (And, not to mention, leather purses from the thrift store can be very worn down.) I’d been keeping an eye out for black leather purses but kept my options open since you never really know with thrifting. Over the last few weeks, I’d been eyeing a $10 red Liz Claiborne crossbody purse from one of my local thrift stores. I bit the bullet two weeks later and bought it just last week (with a 20% off discount). While it looked a bit worn, I loved the color and ribbon detailing. Plus, the size is perfect for my everyday carry.

My latest thrifting endeavor wasn’t as productive this past week, but I did come across a garage sale in the neighborhood while driving back home from my downtown thrift stores. I found this cognac Italian leather crossbody purse with multiple compartments, cute metal hardware details, and a buttery soft feel. It’s from a brand called D&D Firenze, and from my understanding, they use genuine bovine leather, hand-buffing the material and applying vegetable tannins to give their bags color. And since the leather purses usually retail around 200 euros, $10 was a steal! I’m pretty sure it’s real, since it has a tough yet pliable texture and that musty leather smell. 

Leather wipes

How to clean secondhand leather purses

After adding these beauties to my collection, my next challenge was to clean them. So how do you go about cleaning an old purse? I took to TikTok and YouTube to browse tips on leather handbag care and, to my surprise, saw people submerging their designer purses into soapy water and air drying them. I’ll admit, I wasn’t entirely confident with this approach. Can you wash a leather handbag? The Internet seems to say yes, but I’m incredibly dubious about whether you can dunk every type of leather into water without facing repercussions.

How I cleaned the inside and outside of my thrifted leather purses

I settled for a more measured approach when it came to cleaning my bags. I dumped/vacuumed out any debris from the purses and cleaned the interior and exterior of each leather bag with a soapy rag (just using regular Palmolive and water, mind you). I then gently dried each bag with a tissue. For my peace of mind, I also (very, very carefully) used an alcohol disinfectant wipe to clean the cloth interiors. 

After this initial cleaning, I grabbed some Weiman leather cleaning wipes and carefully wiped down the exterior of each purse. 

I might attempt an even deeper cleaning with saddle soap and a disinfectant mist down the line, but I’m pretty satisfied with the results for now! 

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