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Cleaning & Caring for Your Vintage Coach Purse

Updated on May 28, 2010

The Intro...ta da! my newest addiction is vintage Coach purses.

I have acquired several over the last few months, and have done a lot of looking around about how to clean and care for them. There seems to be enough opinions about how or how not to take care of the treasures...some are very logical, some are no-brainers, and a few were written by someone with an IQ of a jellyfish.

To you now I offer my own findings, my own opinions and a few tips, tricks and suggestions.

I got this one for $8 bid + $6 Shipping Coach #7785


Baby wash and water in a small spray bottle.

This is most likely one of the easiest, cheapest and gentlest way to give your vintage leather Coach purse a good 'bath'. Leather was once a living breathing thing. Wax, Petroleum-based cleaners and synthetics clog the pores the leather needs to breath. Leather that can't breath will be much more likely to dry out, crack and fade.

The baby wash I have has a pump dispenser on it, and I use one full pump mixed with 12 oz tepid water. Shake to mix and you are ready to roll. The baby wash will help to rid dirt and odor as well as surface oil from the previous owner's hands.

Using a soft microfiber cloth, spray one corner of the cloth 1 or 2 times with the cleaning solution. The cloth should be barely damp. (Never spray liquids directly onto the leather.) Give a good rub down to one section of the purse at a time. Give special attention to seams, piping and handle straps, as these tend to be the areas that collect the most dirt. Check the cloth for amount of dirt that gets wiped off as you clean. If the cloth is really getting dirty, go over that section again. Dampen a clean area of the cloth before moving onto the next section of the purse.

Allow to dry at least an hour before conditioning.

If there are still some odors associated with the purse after it is cleaned, attend to them before moving on to the conditioning/waterproofing step.

Condition and add water resistance with mink oil or neetsfoot oil - follow the directions on the container.

Getting Smells Out

More high tech solutions....baking soda and newspaper (not the coupons or sale ads).

Find yourself a plastic container with a tight fitting lid that will accommodate your purse and a box of baking soda - a garbage bag and twist tie will work in a pinch, and the A & H brand of baking soda is available in a fridge pack that works very well.

Loosely stuff the purse with some newspaper, then place it and an open box of baking soda into your plastic container. Close tightly and allow to remain for 24-48 hours. The newspaper will not only help to absorb odors, but will keep the purse propped open. Newspaper will also absorb extra moisture, which could be the cause of any musty or moldy smells.

If the musty or moldy smell remains, or if it was very strong smelling to start with, you may need to take it to get professionally cleaned.

Storing When Not In Use

Aside from a good cleaning when you first acquire the purse, its also a good idea to give it some TLC before putting it into storage.

If you weren't lucky enough to get a dust bag, don't panic. If you will be storing your purse for a season or two, simply use an old pillowcase. Plastic, polyester, satin or other synthetic materials will not allow the leather to breath, so find something that is mostly cotton.

Don't store your purses in closed plastic containers. If you must have a lid, use a cardboard box - preferably one that is not treated with a waxy coating . If the box has the punched out handles, that's good. It will allow for some air flow. Stuff with newspaper to help keep its shape, and be mindful of straps - unbuckle the shoulder strap and keep loose ended parts flat so they don't curl.

Basements, attics, and outside rental storage units are a no no. So is the closet next to kitty's litter box.

Tips, Tricks & Possible Other Useful Information

  • Curled strap - after cleaning with the baby wash & water solution, lay flat. Many times that is all that is needed. Otherwise try adding some a microfiber towel both under and on top the strap and use something about the weight of a phone book. let sit for the better part of a day, uncover and allow to remain flat until totally dry
  • Small scratches - shoe polish will be OK, but remember that shoe polish is not a permanent substance. It will rub off on your clothing if given a chance. Use the shoe polish sparingly, and a bit of the mink oil after the polish is dry will help avoid this...but give the entire purse a light coat of the mink oil, not just the scratch. Treat just the scratch with the shoe polish. Use a toothpick to gently apply a tiny amount over the scratch.
  • Scuffs and scrapes. - First, take into consideration the true necessity to treat the flaw or just leave it. If you have to look at the scrape from just the right angle in full sunlight while the purse is 6 inches away, chances are, you will be the only person who ever sees it. Cleaning and conditioning may be enough to remove some minor flaws. If they are in places that are not all that noticeable...leave them. It's a vintage isn't going to be perfect. Larger ones would do best being attended to by a pro.
  • Before starting work on your purse - Wash your hands and trim your nails. You could very well put more scratches and scuffs on the purse with your own claws, and natural oils and dirt from your hands will defeat the purpose of cleaning it.
  • Be aware of the air.- Smoking, heavy perfumes, the aroma of garlicky dinners will all infuse themselves into the leather over time.
  • Always allow the purse to dry between treatments. Wait at least an hour after cleaning to condition, and then let dry overnight before using or storing.
  • If you only have one or two vintage purses to care for, and you don't have an infant residing in the house, get a trial sized baby wash. For the amount you need per use, this will last a year or two.

Don't Throw It Away Just Yet!

So, you have cleaned and conditioned as best you can, and your purse is still not making the grade. Before tossing it to the junk pile, consider a few alternative uses.

  • Is there some other use for the purse? Smaller zip top purses make wonderful cosmetic bags, catch-all pouches, travel accessories and computer bag organizers. The classic Coach bags can be a bit weighty, (those are the ones with no fabric linings in them). I currently use one as a cosmetic/pencil pouch in my purse. I also have two in my computer bag. One for the usually unruly charger cord and another for the mini mouse, jump sticks and other small items. If you have one of those mini laptops, the larger classic Coach purses are wonderful and stylish computer tote.
  • Donate the purse to a local resale shop. Someone else may be able to put it to good use, and both of you will be supporting a charitable cause.
  • Hand it over to your favorite four-year old girl. Even if it isn't perfect, it could be just the thing she was looking for to add to her dress-up collection.


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    • profile image

      Donna Bush 5 days ago

      My Coach bag is the champagne shimmery leather. I read Woolite might help with the soled area on the one side from rubbing on clothing?

    • mysisters profile image

      mysisters 6 years ago

      Great Hub about how to clean your vintage coach purse. I have actually tried the Baby wash and warm water technique and it works very well. I figure if you are going to spend the amount of money on a Coach, might as well do all you can to take the best care of it!

    • profile image

      Gael Ross 7 years ago

      I took a vintage Coach bag to a leather repair place for a minor repair of some stitcing. Affter waitng for two weeks for a return, it arrived with the repair, but it appears that is was " treated " with some type of glaze like substance. It has removed the Patina look and natural supple feel of the leather. I don't think I will be able to use this bag as it has lost its casual look, and "shines" like a dressy evening bag. I do not know what was done. Do you think there is any hope of getting the natural look back? I am very upset about this. I can attach a picture if if would be helpful. I bought this bag back in the "60's, and it is irreplaceable!

      Thank you.