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How To Clean Water Stain From Leather Bag

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Whether we are talking about a leather purse, backpack, briefcase, satchel, or any other type of container made from leather, we know that water stains can be their worst enemy. The best thing to do about a water stain on a leather bag is to make sure it does not happen, but we’re not always that lucky.

Since bags made from leather can be quite expensive, it would be great if we could maintain them ourselves. While leather repair may be an option for higher end and more delicate leather items, we can give you advice on how to clean water stains from leather bags.

How To Clean Water Stain From Leather Bag

It seems odd that something as innocuous as water could cause a stain on a natural material like leather. In its original state leather is watertight, but not after being processed, dried, and treated. Different layers are removed, and the pores inherent in the material allow moisture to soak into it.

There are a few different ways that a clean water stain can happen on leather bags.

Water stain from leather bag in need of cleaning
  • The surface already has dirt embedded in it, and water “cleans” the area it touches. This pushes the existing dirt to the edges of the water area, leaving a specific mark, like a ring.
  • Certain chemical compositions of the water, like calcium or other hard mineral deposits, collect and affect the surface.
  • Water can also cause a chemical reaction called hydrolysis where it reacts with the chemicals used in leather processing. This is the worst-case scenario, where the actual chemical composition creates the leather stain, but is uncommon other than in vintage leather restoration.

Naked vs. Finished Leather Bag Stains

Finished leather is a material that normally dominates purses and bags. It is easier to take care of, and can be dyed or even have patterns added to it, much more easily than “naked” or unfinished leather. Depending on how it is finished, it may even protect from water stains.

Unfinished leather does not sound like the best material for leather bags, but this “naked” material looks fantastic and gives a luxurious look to a purse or backpack. The basic material is normally very loose, so it either comes as an unstructured bag or needs additional support from stronger backing layers.

Naked leather, having very few (or zero) protection against stains, should be professionally cleaned if a water stain occurs.

Cleaning Water Stains From a Leather Bag

The number one thing to know about a water stain on leather is that the more water (or other liquid you use) has the possibility of not only making the stain worse, but also covering more area. What we want to do is even out the stain left from water with the surrounding area.

Deal With a Water Spill Immediately

The best piece of advice we can give you is to take care of any water spill on your leather bag immediately. As soon as you notice that something has spilled on your purse, grab the nearest absorbent towel and dab or blot (DO NOT RUB) the water away. 

Leather bags

In any spillage situation, do not try to immediately scrub the stain, you will only push it further into the surface you are trying to clean! A lint free white cloth is always recommended, but anything clean that does not contain dye (that may leach out) should be good for this type of issue.

Retain the Leather Bag Shape

When leather gets saturated, the shape can be affected. Cold will cause wet leather to contract, and heat, pressure, or weight will cause we leather to stretch. Be sure that you maintain the shape of the leather bag by either bolstering the inside with newspaper, or just taking care to not hang it, causing stretch marks. Keep it away from extreme temperatures while drying.

Allow the Leather to Dry Before Cleaning Water Stains

Although it sounds counter-intuitive, you should let your bag finish drying after blotting as much moisture as you can by hand. This will prevent you from pushing more dirt into the leather, as well as defining a specific cleaning area.

With a clean, soft rag or cloth, wipe the area with the water stain that you need to clean. This is to make sure that you get rid of any dust or other debris that may have ended up on the surface after the initial blotting. It would be very easy to rub this back into the leather.

Use a Leather Cleaner

Our favorite product to clean leather products is Saddle Soap, an inexpensive cleaner and conditioner that helps prolong the lifespan of leather and other animal-based materials. You could use any leather cleaner for this that uses a minimal amount of liquid to aid in cleaning, but avoid super watery cleaners.

Another suggestion is to use a moisturizing hand soap like you might use in the bathroom, but if you do, use a very small amount.

Take a damp cloth, very wrung out so it is not dripping at all, and dab a bit of cleaner to it. Gently rub that in a circular motion from the inside of the stain to the outside of it, and try not to extend too far. Be sure to gently wipe off any residue, but do not scrub it into the leather.

Woman carrying a leather tote bag

Allow the Leather to Dry After Cleaning Water Stains

As you may have gathered, it is important to let leather dry in between different treatments. The time after a rub with saddle soap or other cleaner is no exception, and let it dry for about a day. Even though there should not have been much moisture added in the last step, the small amount of water that will have soaked into the leather should be allowed to both spread and dry before anything else is done.

Remove Excess Residue

You may have attempted to remove excess residue from the leather cleaner after the initial cleaning, but sometimes it is easy to miss when in liquid form. Use a soft cloth and buff/polish the area you used the cleaner with.

Repeat if Necessary

If you are trying to remove a particularly stubborn water stain, it may take a few attempts to make it happen. If after the first time you try the above suggestions and you see no change at all, do not attempt to repeat the process. If you see a significant change but not enough to satisfy you, start the process over again.

Use Leather Conditioner

While Saddle Soap has a conditioning effect, a commercial leather conditioner will generally give you the best results in the short term. Follow the manufacturer’s directions after the cleaning process to make sure that any possible drying from water damage will not continue.

Tips for Water Stains on Leather Bags

  • Treat the situation immediately by blotting with whatever absorbent material is available.
  • Do not try to use heat, including sunlight, to try to make it dry out faster.
  • Don’t put water bottles in your bag or purse. They can leak very easily.
  • Water tends to dry out leather’s natural oils. Be sure to use conditioner on a regular basis, as long as it is recommended by the manufacturer.

Conclusion

We love the overall durability and luxury of a leather bag, but cleaning water stains from them can be an issue. The best way to deal with these stains is to make sure that the leather does not get completely saturated. You may be able to remove water stains on your purse or bag both other methods and cleaners like Saddle Soap, just be sure to let it dry completely between cleaning phases.

Allen Michael is the Founder and Editor of Home Viable, a website that he started to provide readers with tips on home efficiency and automation. He draws on his engineering background combined with his family-of-four experiences for his articles.