woman holding leather tote purse

How to Clean a Leather Purse (the Eco-Friendly Way)

Do you have a leather purse or bag that you love, but it's starting to look a little dirty? You're in the right place. Below, we'll guide you through the sustainable cleaning and maintenance process that has kept our leather handbags, clutches, and totes in pristine condition for years–without harming the planet. 

When your leather treasures start looking less than their best, it's time to show them some love with all-natural, safe cleaning methods that work wonders. This applies to all leather goods, especially vegetable tanned leather


STEP 1: Identify If Your Purse Is Dirty or Aging Gracefully

This is THE MOST important step. Before immediately reaching for your cleaning supplies, take a moment to assess the state of your leather item. Is it genuinely dirty, or is it developing a patina that enhances its character? 

Patina is the soft sheen that develops on the surface of the leather as it ages, a result of the leather absorbing the oils from your skin, exposure to sunlight, and the environmental elements it encounters. This is particularly true for vegetable-tanned leather, which evolves beautifully with use.

Understanding this difference between a dirty bag and one that is aging is key to providing the appropriate care.


Signs Your Purse Is Dirty:

  • Accumulation of dirt and grime on the surface
  • Stains that alter the leather's natural color

Signs of Graceful Aging:

  • A gentle darkening of the leather in areas frequently handled
  • Development of a soft sheen on the surface
  • Natural creases and wrinkles that tell a story of use


patina camel leather tote purse
Pictured: The Leather Day Tote in Camel beautifully matured with a distinguished patina


Embracing The Natural Patina In Camel vs. Black Leather 

Camel-colored leather, with its lighter shade, showcases the aging process more prominently. It’s best to let lighter-colored leather pieces age naturally to fully appreciate the patina. Most cleaners will dramatically darken and stain Camel-colored leather, so we don't recommend them.

Black leather, by contrast, may not exhibit patina as dramatically due to its darker tone. While it’s more forgiving with cleaning and protectant treatments, it’s still worthwhile to consider letting even your black leather items age gracefully.

Woman holding black leather purse from MADE FREE

Pictured: The Leather Day Tote in Black

By consciously choosing when and how to use cleaners, conditioners, and protectants, you honor the natural beauty and aging process of your leather goods. 

Recognizing the signs of natural aging in your leather purse is crucial to preserving its beauty and integrity, allowing it to age gracefully with each use. If you do find your purse is truly dirty, simply follow the steps below to clean and care for it in an eco-friendly manner.


STEP 2: Dust It Off 

A soft cloth or an old t-shirt is all you need to whisk away the dust. Gentle is the way to go!


STEP 3: Spot Clean 

See a mark? Dab it lightly with a damp cloth. Remember, water is not leather's friend, so use it sparingly. Too much water will harm your leather. 


STEP 4: Pick Your Eco-Friendly Cleanser 


Otter Wax saddle soap to clean leather

Image source: otterwax.com

Let's start with a top pick for eco-friendly cleaning: Otter Wax Saddle Soap. This little gem is a mix of beeswax, castile soap, and essential oils, perfect for gently cleaning your leather goods. 

For those who prefer a variety of cleaning options, the Brooklyn Saddle Soap by Armstrong's All Natural is another great choice. It's just as kind to the environment and your leather items, ensuring you've got options that align with your values.



Sometimes, the simplest solutions are right at hand. Mild facial bars or baby shampoo are surprisingly effective for cleaning leather, thanks to their moisturizing ingredients like mineral oil and glycerin. 

For options that are kind to your leather and the planet, you might want to try the ACURE Seriously Soothing Facial Cleansing Bar.  

Or, if you're a fan of multi-purpose products, Dr. Bronner's Pure Castile Soap can be a gentle, natural option that's great for just about anything, including most leather items.



Never use harsh chemicals like bleach on your leather items, as they can cause irreparable damage. Stick to gentle, natural products designed specifically for leather care.


STEP 5: Choose the Right Tool for the Job

Now, how to clean? Avoid harsh brushes or abrasive sponges. A soft Tampico cleaning brush or a warm, damp cloth can gently tackle the task without scratching your leather purse.

 Soft tampico brush for cleaning leather

Image source: otterwax.com


STEP 6: Let it dry naturally  

Air dry your leather purse away from direct sunlight to prevent fading and warping.


STEP 7: Protect + Condition

If you’re worried about those pesky stains or the rain messing with your leather goodies, there's a cozy middle ground you might wanna consider. 

You could go for something gentle like Walnut's Leather Care or Otter Wax Leather Salve to give your leather that little hug it needs to stay looking fine. 

Walnut leather care dressing for cleaning

Image source: walnutstudiolo.com


Now, if you're leaning more towards the "better safe than sorry" vibe, sprays like Cadillac waterproofing or Scotchgard have got your back. While they’re not exactly the greenest option,  they certainly do the trick.


STEP 8: Hydrate + Shine

For added moisture and shine, consider Otter Wax Leather Oil, enriched with vitamin E and sweet orange oils.

Apply with a soft-bristled buffing brush. While it doesn't offer water resistance, it prevents dryness and repairs minor damage. The oil is known to accelerate the natural patina process of vegetable-tanned leather. 


Final Thoughts 

Clean you bag if it necessary, but remember, those natural marks, that unique patina - they're badges of honor, telling stories of adventures and moments shared. Enjoy your leather goods! 


Shop our Leather Collection

women holding leather fanny pack and leather tote bag


At MADE FREE, we use eco-friendly, vegetable-tanned, biodegradable leather. Every item in our leather collection, from fanny packs to tote bags to laptop sleeves, is ethically handcrafted and designed to support freedom from human trafficking. 



Leave a comment

All blog comments are checked prior to publishing