Restore the beauty of your vintage handbag with a gentle cleaning.

How to Clean and Polish Antique Purses

by Mimi Abney

Just like a sophisticated black sheath or an elegant strand of heirloom pearls, a well-made vintage handbag never goes out of style. A retro-beaded clutch purse or an exquisite 1950s leather handbag are the perfect accessories to dress up your favorite wardrobe basics. After scoring a vintage leather bag at a small boutique or consignment shop, you will need expert tips to clean, polish and extend the life of your retro purse.

Remove oil stains on your leather handbags with cornstarch. Set the leather bag on a flat surface with the stain facing up. Pour cornstarch over the stain. Place a desk lamp with a small, low-wattage light bulb over the cornstarch to add heat. The warm light aids in the absorption of the cornstarch into the bag. Let the cornstarch remain on the spot for 5 to 10 minutes to absorb the oil. Brush the powder off the bag with a clean white rag. Gently rub the stained area with a pea-size amount of mild leather cream and a white cotton cloth to complete the cleaning process.

Polish your vintage leather purses with a neutral cream polish. A wax polish adds shine, but is too heavy for use on a handbag. Buff the cream polish until the product melts into the leather. To add polish to patent leather, wipe these bags with a clean white cloth after each use.

Brush your antique suede purses with a nylon brush or a small-bristle suede brush. Gently rub the surface of the material with the brush to lift any dirt and grime from the nap. If there are scuff marks on your light-colored vintage bag, use a suede stone or suede eraser to remove the black marks.

Spot clean your fabric handbags with a white cotton cloth dipped in warm water. Remove dirt stains by blotting the stained area with a damp cloth. Let the fabric bag dry overnight. Stuff the bag with white tissue paper to help preserve its shape.

Clean your exotic alligator, crocodile or snake skins with a combination leather cleaner and conditioner. Apply a pea-size amount of the product to the vintage bag with a cotton cloth. Rub the product into the vintage purse using a circular motion. Polish with a neutral cream polish, as needed.

Items you will need

  • Cornstarch
  • Small desk lamp
  • Low-wattage light bulb
  • Leather cream
  • Neutral cream polish
  • White cotton rag or cloth
  • White tissue paper
  • Nylon brush
  • Suede brush
  • Suede stone
  • Suede eraser
  • Leather cleaner and conditioner
  • Leather protectant


  • Have your exotic, vintage handbags professionally cleaned once a year.
  • If your bag has embellishment, or is made with silk or metallic fabrics, store it in a box when not in use.
  • Keep your vintage leather bags pristine by moisturizing them with a non-staining moisturizer.
  • Spray your antique purse with a leather protectant. This clear spray keeps spots from setting in the leather material.


About the Author

Mimi Abney is a lifestyle writer specializing in online content for women. Her work has appeared in and "Keepsake Magazine," among other publications. With over 15 years of writing and editing experience for the web and print, Abney is also a contributor to online health, beauty and fashion publications. She holds a Bachelor of Science in biology from Spelman College.

Photo Credits

  • Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images