Handbag Care

Stains, Symptoms & Restorations

A luxury handbag is a significant investment for most women and often handled with an extra level of care. But what should you do when your favourite designer bag succumbs to an accident? This post looks at some of the more common stains and leather symptoms we see with bags. For each stain or symptom we’ve outlined our recommended prevention strategy and restorative treatment based on our experiences over the past 60 years.


Designer Bag Dilemmas


Maintaining and protecting your favourite designer handbag over the course of the day can often be difficult. The daily grind of client meetings, job interviews, travel and social events not only takes its toll on you but unsurprisingly also poses hazards to your luxurious leather goods.

Unforeseen events such as weather conditions and even the occasional accident never seem to go amiss when immersed in your already busy schedule.

When it comes to their expensive accessories some women are daunted at the thought of applying any cleaning or colour restoring products to their favourite accessories. Others seek solace in a quick Google or Youtube search for “how to remove X from Y” in the hope of finding any DIY-style fixes to salvage their items… [please avoid this]

The good news is that with the right expertise your handbag can be cleaned and restored. Treatment usually depends on the type and age of leather, the nature of the substance and the severity of the stain.


We always recommend consulting a leather professional prior to attempting any potentially destructive DIY to give your designer bag the best chance of being rejuvenated. You should never attempt to clean a designer bag or apply any off the shelve products without knowledge of leather restoration and colour matching.


In most cases we actually find that DIY treatment actually worsens the state of the item leading to more expensive leather restoration and redyeing procedures (see products stains below)

As leather restoration specialists we have compiled an extensive list and table of common issues; prevention and restoration strategies to better inform you.

Faded Colour


The colour tone of the leather appears less uniform with some areas appearing lighter or darker than others. Occurs when UV rays from sunlight cause the bonds in the dye molecules in the leather to break down, the exposed areas of the item fade as result.

Prevention – Colour fade is inevitable with ongoing exposure to sunlight but there is some hope of slowing down the process. Keep your handbag out of the sun or limit the time exposed to sunlight. When storing your items use a dust bag to prevent over-exposure to sunlight.

Treatment – The tone, saturation and gloss of the leather can only rejuvenated with colour restoration or redyeing procedure.


Colour Transfer


The migration of colour from one item to another. Occurs when your handbag comes into direct contact with or rubs against another item causing some of the colour to be transferred. A classic example of colour migration is when blue denim jeans are worn together with a light-coloured leather accessory. .

Prevention – Apply high quality waterproofing agents to minimise the risk of colour transfer. Take care when placing your items on furniture and avoid wearing garments prone to colour migration such as denims. When storing your items avoid placing them in direct contact with items of different colours.

Treatment – Leather cleaning can be used to remove light stains. For moderate to heavy stains that have absorbed into the leather, a colour restoration or redyeing procedure is required.

Dry Leather


Designer leather handbags deprived of moisture, nutrients and oils becomes dry, brittle and may even begin to discolour. .

Prevention – Regularly apply high quality conditioners and nourishing oils to prevent your leather items drying out (always consult a specialist before attempting to use any products on your items). Avoid excessive exposure to sunlight and do not leave your items in dry or humid storage areas. .

Treatment – Professional nourishment can be used to restore the leathers suppleness and smooth appearance. A colour restoration or redyeing procedure is required for severely dried leather bags.

Water Stains


Your designer bag and liquid water are not friends. In our experience water stains on designer handbags are often self-inflicted by customers trying to remove another mark or clean their items with water – Avoid! Leathers are highly absorbent and direct contact with liquid water will leave a noticeable water-mark.

Prevention – Apply high quality waterproofing agents to minimise the risk of liquids being absorbed into the leather. Be wary of spills, particularly if you carry liquid containers inside your bag. Rain poses another hazard so avoid leaving your items outdoors or carrying your bag in the rain.

Treatment – Leather cleaning combined with extractive techniques can be used remove some water stains. When stains are deeply absorbed into the leather or the water contains other contaminants (e.g. rainwater) colour restoration or redyeing procedure is required.


The highly absorbent nature of leather fibres means that contact liquid will often lead to staining. Most water stains on bags are self-inflicted by women trying to clean their designer goods. The good new is that most water stains are salvageable


Oil Stains


Oil stains usually occur from contact with oil-based products, foods or skin (greasy hands). When oil seeps into your designer bag it typically darkens the affected area, leaving a noticeable blemish.

Prevention – Apply high quality waterproofing agents to minimise the risk of oils being absorbed into the leather. Be wary of sweaty hands that may feel the need to get acquainted with your bag. Regularly clean your own hands to prevent any oils transferring. Make sure any lotions and other oil-based creams have their lids secured when placed inside your bag.

Treatment – Leather cleaning combined with extractive techniques can be used to remove some oil stains. When stains are deeply absorbed into the leather, a colour restoration or redyeing procedure is usually required

Product Stains


Purchasing off the shelve leather repair kits and care products are often the first go-to option for women in search of a solution for a stain on their designer bag. These products are typically purchased online or from a shoe repairer (also see shoe polish stains below). Unfortunately such products are not suitable for designer leathers and can strip the finish / colour or in severe cases deteriorate the leather.

Prevention – Avoid applying any products to your designer bag without consulting a leather professional beforehand. The reality is that most stains cannot be treated with off-the self products. The restorative techniques used by a leather professional usually involve industrial sourced cleaning agents and leather dyes to clean or restore colour.

Treatment – Product stains in most cases will strip the finish of the leather and require refinishing / dyeing procedure to fully restore colour.

Attempted cleaning of a Marc Jacobs Pen Stain, the bag required professional colour restoration

Soil stains


The accumulation of dirt on the surface of the leather typically transferred by hand contact. When dirt becomes engrained on the surface of a handbag, it becomes a grime mark that may permanently discolour the leather.

Prevention – Dirt is picked up easily and it is difficult to prevent items from soiling especially when used frequently. Apply high quality waterproofing agents to minimise the severity of soil stains. Clean your hands before touching your handbag as they tend to accumulate dirt, in particular handles are highly susceptible to oil and dirt accumulation .

Treatment – Leather cleaning can be used to remove light soil stains. For moderate to heavy stains, a colour restoration procedure might be required.

Alcohol Stains


A night on the town is great for your social life but can be rough on your handbag, a hangover may be the least of your worries. When alcohol makes contact with your designer it is quickly absorbed, leaving a watermark and stain.

Prevention – Apply a high quality waterproofing agent to minimise the risk of alcohol being absorbed into the leather. Take care in bars or parties where there are large groups of people drinking as this increases the likelihood of a spill occurring. Even consider leaving your designer bag at home before heading our

Treatment – Leather cleaning combined with extractive techniques can be used to remove some alcohol stains. When stains are deeply absorbed into the leather, the colour may need to be restored.


Bag looking worse for wear after a big night? Don’t worry accidents happen. Take your first steps to rejuvenating your bag and head to our leather restoration page for a full list of our treatments and pricing.


Make up Stains


Your make-up may look great on you, but not necessarily on your handbag. These types of stains are primarily oil-based and arise from contact between cosmetic products

Prevention – Apply high quality waterproofing agents to minimise the risk of oils being absorbed into the leather. Keep your handbag away from your face as make-up is commonly transferred directly from skin contact. When placing cosmetic products in bags use separate plastic containers to prevent any accidents.

Treatment – Leather cleaning combined with extractive techniques can be used to remove most make-up stains. When stains are deeply absorbed into the leather, a colour restoration procedure might be required.

Ink Stains


Ink is a dye that when absorbed into leather leaves a permanent mark. Ink stains commonly appear as dots or dashes on the leather..

Prevention – Waterproofing is ineffective as the dye permeates the protective barrier. You can only minimise the risk of ink stains by keeping pens, highlighers, textas away from your items. If you need to store a pen in your bag lining ensure it has a working lid and is not prone to leakage.

Treatment – Most ink stains cannot be removed with leather cleaning and require a colour restoration procedure. Linings affected by ink stains typically need to be completely replaced and recrafted.

Before & After – This cream-coloured Furla had succumbed to bad denim stains on the lateral side.



When leather or material feels clammy or moist on the surface. This can make your handbag unpleasant to touch. Stickiness arises in humid or warmer climates when the chemical substances (leather conditioners, dyes) on the surface of the leather break down.

Prevention – Apple high quality waterproofing agents to minimise the risk of substances secreting from the leather. Store items in cool areas away from humid conditions and sunlight exposure. Be mindful of the products you apply to your items, lower-grade nourishing creams have been known to cause stickiness.

Treatment – Leather cleaning and professionally applied waterproofing can be used to counteract the effects of stickiness. If the leather is deteriorated, the colour may need to be restored.

Scuff Marks


Getting regular use out of your favourite handbag also increases the risk of damaged. Scuff marks arise as a result of friction when handbag scrapes against or come into contact with rough surfaces.

Prevention – Most scuff marks arise from accidents and careless mistakes. Take care while walking on pavement and avoid placing or dragging items over rough surfaces.

Treatment – Leather cleaning can be used to remove scuff marks on darker leathers. For lighter leathers, the colour may need to be restored. Repairs are also sometimes necessary depending on the depth of the scuff marks.



A consequence of the natural breakdown of organic substances by bacteria. When it comes to your handbag, odour indicates the presence of bacteria. When bacteria finds an ideal environment to grow such as a forgotten piece of fruit or food left in your bag it begins to emit an unpleasant odour. The problem arises when the smell stays around and becomes engrained within the material or leather.

Prevention – Moist environments are essential to the growth of bacteria. Minimise the contact between your skin and handbag, particularly if you have a tendency to perspire or live in a warm region. Never carry food or liquid in your handbag without a secure container.

Treatment – For smelly handbags professional cleaning is required to kill off any bacteria. This also involves deep cleansing and disinfecting that ensures the bacteria is completely removed from leather or material.

Metal Oxidation


A natural process where oxygen reacts with metal that results in corrosion occurring. This is what causes metal trimmings on handbags to discolour. People often describe oxidised metal, as looking “aged”, “rusted” or “worn”..

Prevention – Metal oxidation is inevitable with ongoing exposure to the environment but there is some hope of slowing down the process. Try minimise the affects by not exposing the metal trimmings on your handbag to water or humid conditions. Both contribute to the oxidation of metal.

Treatment – There are a couple of options for restoration of oxidised metal on handbags. Severely corroded metal trimmings can be replaced with similar or identical pieces sourced from suppliers. Alternatively metal can be re-anodised, which involves resurfacing the metal and restoring it with gold or silver.


Metal corrosion in most cases requires replacement designer hardware. Head to our handbag repair page for a description of our hardware services and pricing.


Shoe polish stain


The right polish is great for cleaning and shining your shoes; unfortunately this concept does not apply to your handbag. A polish stain can occur either directly by accident or colour transfer. Contact with polish can leave a coloured stain that leaves a permanent blemish on your designer bag.

Prevention – Regularly applying high quality waterproof spray as it creates a protective barrier that reduces the risk of polish absorbing into the leather. Avoid using shoe polishes on leather items other than shoes. The reason being that shoe polish is not permanent and is susceptible to colour transfer when contact is made between two items.

Treatment – In most cases shoe polish stains on handbags are difficult to remove with only professional cleaning methods. Deep cleansing and complete recolouring is often needed to extract the polish and restore the handbags appearance.

Perfume Stains


Perfumes contain a variety of chemicals that contribute to their aroma. These substances also make perfumes very effective at staining handbags. A perfume stain appears as a noticeable liquid mark and may cause your item to emit n aromatic scent. These stains most commonly occur as a consequence of spills or leaks.

Prevention – Using a high quality waterproof spray greatly reduces the risk of liquids from being absorbed into your handbag. Make sure perfume containers have their tops secured when placed inside your bag.

Treatment – A perfume stain can be removed using a variety of specialised methods. A deep cleansing and professional cleaning process is used to extract the oil from the surface and remove the scent of the perfume. The effected area then undergoes a partial or full colour renovation to restore the items appearance.


Enquire about our Handbag Services

With over 60 years as an established destination for restorative handbag services in Melbourne. Get in touch with one of our friendly team members today.