Bag It! A Guide to Handbag Care
We know how much time, energy and money you invested to acquire that perfect handbag. Margaret’s created the tooling, techniques and procedures needed to maintain and even restore its original appearance.
Through our Pulito Purse Service, Margaret’s Cleaners has been cleaning all types of purses and handbags for many years. The extent of our experience with a wide variety of designer bags places us at the top of the list of such specialists in North America. The following are just a few of the designer names we service routinely:
A host of different shapes and sizes exist, all with their own name and description. Pulito Purse Service is prepared to take on the cleaning and repair needs for any style of bag. The sketches below show of some of the most common purse shapes.
How About Other Items?
In addition to a large variety of styles and shapes of purses and handbags, there are also a variety of types of personal leather products, which you may have occasion to acquire and care for. These include:
Cautions & Considerations
Consider your use when making a purchase decision. If you plan casual use of a light-colored bag with dark clothing, such as dark denim or dyed leather jackets, you may encounter a problem with dye transferring from the clothes onto the purse. The opposite is also true….a dark purse can transfer its dye onto your lighter-colored clothing. This transfer or rubbing off of color is generally the result of improper dying, poor dye penetration, or incomplete fixation in the manufacturing process. It is called “crocking.” The biggest challenges we face in restoring such damaged items are denim dye transfer onto vinyl and PVC, and staining on patent leather handbags. We have developed a remedy to dramatically reduce the extent of crocking by suede bags. Please contact us should this be a problem you have experienced.
Please read our "In the News" item from InStyle Magazine for more information on Denim Dye Transfer.
Another consideration is that handbag straps, hardware and even just the normal edges of a handbag may actually damage more fragile garments, depending on how you carry your bag. Also, satin and some knits can easily be snagged by a bag.
What Affects Durability?
Some designs, styles and materials of handbags lend themselves to being more durable over time. They’re easier to clean and maintain. If you really enjoy your handbags, want to keep them nice, and use them at least through an entire season before purchasing again, consider some of these experiences we have had.
Construction & Cleaning
Many bags and accessories consist of a variety of materials. Some common examples are leather and canvas with a fabric interior, or polished leather edges with suede panels and a shiny satin interior. A mixture of materials can require multiple cleaning and refurbishment techniques, adding to the cost of servicing. In addition, contrasting stitching complicates a refinishing process.
You also have metal hardware to consider. Be careful when polishing metal. Metal polish may cause damage if it spreads into the other materials of the bag.
The clothing industry requires that content and care labels be included in garments. There is no such requirement placed on handbag manufacturers to inform consumers of the materials used in their products or to provide care instructions. Often all we have is an “educated guess” at what materials have been used and how they will respond to cleaning — a skill that comes with extensive experience.
What Is It Made Of?
Leathers come in a wide variety of types and textures. The most common are noted below.
There are many types of leather finishes and treatments used to create the huge variety of colors and appearances of leather handbags. The kind of finish greatly affects the ease of cleaning and maintenance of a handbag.
Leather goods have an additional variable — the technique used to apply color during the manufacturing process. Those with a harder, stiffer surface are generally “painted” leather. Nicer, richly-colored leather items that are extremely soft and supple are generally an example of “dyed” leather and require more labor intensive maintenance in comparison to painted leather bags.
Plastics, vinyl, PVC, and polyurethane are often used to imitate leather, patent leather, suede, and straw textures. Since manufacturers are not required to put content or care labels on their purses, it can be difficult to really know what it’s made of. Man-made materials are often more difficult to clean than real leathers. PVC is especially prone to permanent staining. Depending on the cost of the bag, it may or may not be worth the expense of professional cleaning.
Fabrics & Other Materials
Practically every fabric used to make a garment can also be found in a handbag or its lining. The cleaning techniques used on these materials are much the same as those used on the same materials when they occur in clothing. Other common materials are:
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What can I do if I don’t reside near you?
With Margaret’s CleanByMail® service, we can clean your bag no matter where you live! Handbags are one of our most popular CleanByMail items! Download our simple CleanByMail form off the website and mail your handbag to us. For an estimate before you send it, use the Purse Estimate Request form on our website. We’ll call or email you back promptly. Complimentary webcam consultation is also available.
Is there anything I should do to a suede purse before I use it?
The best thing you can do to a new suede handbag is to have a professional application of a stain and water repellant applied to it…the interior lining as well as the exterior.
What are the hardest stains to remove?
Ink, oil and make up are some of the worst. Crocking (dye transfer) on leathers is generally very removable...this is not so true for PVC and patent leather handbags.
Can you treat my purse so it won’t get stained again?
Depending on the purse, if a protective finish can be applied, we may be able to make it much easier to clean next time it gets stained. Keep in mind that there are some materials that cannot be treated with a stain protector. e.g.: patent leather, and many of the imitation leathers that are any type of plastic, vinyl or polyurethane. This treatment must be done professionally or the color of the bag may darken.
Do you clean the inside lining or do other repairs?
Yes, cleaning the lining is included in our general cleaning service. Some types of stains (ink is one) may not come out entirely, however most clients are very impressede with how much the lining can be cleaned up. We are also able to repair or replace zippers and other hardware such as worn rivets and metal strips.
Are all purses water resistant?
Water resistance is not naturally built into any purse unless the manufacturer specifically performs the process on their bags. The only way to be sure is to have it done yourself. Many materials are prone to water spots and discoloring if not treated. A good water and stain repellant will help that bag last longer too. Again however, not all types of materials found in handbags can be treated with a water repellant. Also, if not professionally applied, a water repellant may change the color of the bag.
Can you restore my handbag?
Depending on the materials, age and general condition of a bag, sometimes much can be done to restore a distressed handbag. We’d have to see it to be able to evaluate the possibilities and give you an estimate for restoration. This is a perfect time to take advantage of our complimentary webcam consultation service.
Can you dye my handbag a different color?
Often this can be done, but dying a bag can be problematic. If the thread is a synthetic fiber it may not take dye the same as the bag. Keep in mind that lining cannot be dyed to match. Also, often the texture of the bag will change in the process. When edges become worn, the original color may show through.
What caused my handbag to develop white spots and a musty odor while it was in storage for the Winter?
That sounds like mildew. Mildew is a fungus that loves to grow on leathers and textiles in the moist, warm, dark storage areas. First it grows on the top surface, staining and discoloring it. Eventually it can actually damage the item. Mildew is not easy to completely eliminate, depending on how long it’s been allowed to grow. Often ozone treatment is needed to eliminate the odor. For more information on mold and mildew see our newsletter on the website entitled “A Mold and Mildew Primer.”
How can I clean soil from my new suede handbag?
If the bag has only surface dirt and no grease you may want to try a few things yourself. Always test an inconspicuous area of the bag before working on a visible surface. Try a suede brush. The brushes with both nylon and brass bristles work well. Do not over brush because you can thin the suede. If that doesn’t work try a suede eraser. Again, don’t overdo it. If there is grease associated with the stain, don’t attempt to work on it at all. Your efforts will rub the grease in and make cleaning a more difficult challenge.
Is there anything I can do to remove ink from a suede bag?
Ink on ANY purse is a difficult stain to remove, even for an experienced cleaner. Dyes on suede and leather garments are not as color fast as one would desire. Often it is necessary to remove some dye along with the ink then replace the dye. This is an intensive process depending on the color of the suede. Be sure to ask your leather cleaning service how well they do with ink before entrusting them with the item. Again we recommend allowing Margaret’s to handle it.
Stain Protection, Care, Storage & Cleaning
The best preventive maintenance you can do when you first purchase your new handbag is to have it professionally “Scotchgarded” inside and out as a water and stain repellant. This will work on many types of handbag materials, with the exception of patent leather and PVC. When accidents occur later in its life, the chances of recovering from them will be greatly enhanced. We recommend that the protection be renewed every time you have your bag professionally cleaned. WARNING! If Scotchgard is improperly applied, it can change the appearance of a bag. Look for a professional to do it for you.
In general, if a stain happens, have your bag cleaned as soon as possible. As with clothing stains, the longer you wait, the harder anything will be to remove. Every material type will have a different response to normal everyday stains. Here are some suggestions for general everyday care of your handbags.
Additional Suggestions for Leather & Suede
Regular conditioning of the leather and renewal of its stain and soil protection is a must to keep the skins pliable and supple. Keep in mind that all leathers have irregularities, fillers and glue on them that may break down during cleaning and become more apparent. Because age sets stains, lets oils oxidize, and makes them extremely stubborn to remove, it’s especially important with leather handbags to have them cleaned before they get too soiled. Another feature, which could become apparent after cleaning, would be “mismatched” skins. If the front and back of your purse did not come off the same animal, differences may be more pronounced after cleaning.
Gently wipe it off often, as mentioned under “patent leather” at the bottom of page 6. Be careful not to scuff or scratch your patent leather items. Handle and wear with care. Damage in the glossy surface often cannot be remedied. Also, do not allow patent leather to come in contact with anything else during storage. Irrepairable dye transfer may result.
Maintenance of fabric handbags is the same as what you would do for clothing of similar materials. The mixtures of materials found in bags...linen exterior, leather trim, brass hardware, silk lining, etc. require a variety of cleaning technologies.
Keep your purse or handbag off the floor everywhere you go. Even sitting next to you on a restaurant seat is not recommended. Children’s shoes could easily have been there a few minutes ago. Also, never put your handbag on a surface such as a kitchen counter where raw meat and eggs are handled, a kitchen table or a desk at work where food is eaten.
An Inexpensive Solution
The purse hook is a small 4” x 1” hook, shorter than a pen. There are a variety of colors and it includes a small velvet carrying case, which fits easily in almost any bag. Use it in restaurants, theaters, at poolside, and in the office. Hangs easily on the edge of a table, desk, kitchen counter, arm of a chair, etc. It will hold as much as 35 pounds. Hang a purse, jacket, scarf, umbrella, or briefcase on it. The top part has a non-skid backing. Keeping your handbag off the floor will go a long way toward keeping it clean.
Have Your Handbags Cleaned More Often
In 2006, ABC news published an article entitled “Your Purse Could be Making You Sick.” The following is an excerpt from the article concerning bacteria found on purses.
Women rarely go anywhere without a purse, which means that if a woman enters a place full of germs, so does her bag. That could mean she ends up carrying around microbes all day long that could make her sick.
Microbiologist Chuck Gerba researches where organisms that make us sick lurk, and lately he says he has found that germs (including eColi and Hepatitis, fecal bacteria, cold viruses, etc.) gather on the outside of a woman’s purse, especially on the bottom.” (Link to entire ABC News article)
Additional Handling Suggestions
It is very important to have your handbag cleaned as soon as possible after it becomes soiled. When it’s just light or moderately soiled the chances of a good result are much better. Our Pulito cleaning procedures for handbags generally include the following steps:
References, Glossary & Testimonials
We have links to several interesting sites including several manufacturer’s websites, purse blogs, and general information, at www.margarets.com Purse Services page.
Brief Glossary of Purse Terms (see diagrams above)
How Can We Help You? Some of Our Favorite Testimonials
Allow some of Margaret’s satisfied customers to share their handbag cleaning challenges with you and how we were able to meet and/or exceed their expectations.
I almost donated my purse to charity. As a last resort for help to restore my bag, I went online. An ink stain on a white purse…who would’ve thought it could be saved? Certainly not me! You worked a miracle! My bag looks brand new! Thank you, thank you, thank you!” — Lorre D., Monroe, Washington
No one in Tucson would clean my bag and have confidence in the results. Thank you for the wonderful job you did on my handbag. I am giving your info to my local dry cleaner as they are very interested in being able to refer clients to you with similar problems as mine. — Elizabeth P., Tucson, Arizona
After my mother’s recent death, my sister and I divided up her collection of purses. I found Margaret’s on the internet and took a chance, believing I might be able to carry her bags if they could be restored. The lovely packaging was unexpected. I now know that if someday I decide to restore a friend’s bag as a surprise, that she would feel like she was receiving a new bag when the box arrives…the contents bagged and ribboned. — Nancy B., Lakewood, New York
I was initially very nervous about sending my $400+ purse to someone/someplace that I didn’t know, but the people I spoke with over the phone were so friendly and very professional—and my purse was back with me before I knew it. Now, I won’t send my purse anywhere else. Thanks for doing such a great job! — Michelle C., Lighthouse, Florida
Blue dye rubbed off on my Prada purse…My expectations were definitely exceeded. I plan to be a return customer and will recommend Margaret’s to anyone. Thank you! My purse looks like new again! — Lisa V., Canton, Michigan
…I’ve been looking everywhere in Hawaii to dry clean my Gucci purse…Excellent service! I’ll definitely refer friends and family. — Ashley M., Kapolei, Hawaii
Happy in Toronto! You really pulled off what I consider to be a miracle. This winter I delivered to you a [formerly] white Prada bag that was basically ruined by another dry cleaners last Fall. Several weeks later you returned to me a perfectly white Prada bag. It’s simply beautiful. Last fall, after the bag was ruined I put it away in my closet, horrified with what the local dry cleaners had done to it. After doing some research on the web I discovered you and thought you were my only hope. You spent a lot of time and effort in restoring this bag and I can’t thank you enough. I will definitely use you again in the future! (See photos of the bag above and the whole story under “Prada Disaster in Toronto” on our purse blog, pursecleaning.blogspot.com)
We Are Your Resource
As a Margaret’s client, you will discover that we will be available to answer your purse cleaning dilemmas and questions via email, by phone, or via our newest service, our webcam consultation.
Went on line — no one in Boston area does this kind of service…Was amazed — like brand new — afraid to use it now because of lime green color & I don’t want to get it soiled again. What would you suggest to keep it soft? — Kathie S., Boston, Massachusetts
(My) daughter is very happy with her purse…From Mr. Horst’s kind response to my daughter’s purse oil stain, to the CleanByMail Staff, everyone was so helpful! — Sandra C., Sarasota, Florida
Designers and Retailers Recommend Us to Their Clients
We currently work closely with designer boutiques and retail stores to assist them in cleaning and restoring handbags in stock and brought in by their customers. They in turn recommend our handbag services to their clients.
While at Neiman Marcus in San Diego, a wonderful sales girl recommended your store. Thank you for your exemplary workmanship. It’s a pleasure for me as a client! — Cindy E., La Jolla, California
Very professional. — Burberry, Fashion Valley, San Diego, California
I was so pleased. I took my purse into “Coach” to show them. My favorite sales person, Angela, put your ad on their bulletin board & internet! Thanks. — Carla G. (CleanByMail)
I was referred by Louis Vuitton in Horton Plaza…Great job! I will let others know of your service and will be back. Thank you. — Leslie R., La Jolla, California
I just received my newly cleaned white Palmer back from
Margaret’s! OGM! First of all, thank you! Second of all...
what a class act! I feel like I just received the best gift in
the world. What presentation! Great job finding them!”— forwarded by Melinda at Kale Handbags
Margaret's Handbag-Related Specialty Services
CleanbyMail Service Nationwide
True couture-level custom dry cleaning is as close as your front door. Join our family of clients from across the nation who enjoy door-to-door couture cleaning services. At Margaret’s, our fully-equipped shipping department has the materials, resources and skill to ensure that your order arrives looking perfect.
Articles such as designer handbags, couture wedding gowns, St. John knits, silk neckties, scarves, and leather & suede garments, are examples of packages that arrive daily. CleanByMail handles general cleaning, difficult stain removal, knit blocking, reweaving, re-knitting, refinishing, preservation and much more.
How CleanByMail® Works
No prior arrangements are needed to use our CleanByMail service. Simply print out a CleanByMail request form from the CleanByMail page of our website, and include the completed form with your item for processing.
Ship All Items to Our Corporate Office:
Email Link: email@example.com
Webcam Consultation Service
Margaret’s has launched the nation’s first garment care webcam consultation service. This complimentary service is an addendum to our already popular CleanByMail service. The webcam now makes it possible for you to show an item to a garment consultant, who will assess the problem, discuss a remedy and provide an estimate...all before you ship your item to us for service.
To take advantage of this service, all that is needed is a computer with a webcam. A link from Margaret’s home page initiates the contact with the webcam to begin your complimentary consultation.
Webcam Consultation Hours: