Mould, cracks and discolouration? How to make your leather bags look great again
Across Singapore, cleaning specialists have been busy restoring luxury leather bags brought out of long-term storage. Here’s what you can do to keep them in pristine condition.
With travel curtailed and dining-in restrictions yo-yoing for the past 20 months, little wonder that luxury leather bags are exhibiting signs of distress, having not seen the light of day for a longer time than usual.
Bag cleaning and restoration specialists like Bags Butler, Bag Artisan, Colorwash and Honest Crafters are reporting an uptick in customers bringing in their leather treasures for treatment as they finally take them out of dank cupboards and discover mould, cracks and discolouration.
Sandra Lee, marketing manager of Bag Artisan, an over-20-year-old specialist in handbag cleaning, repair and colour restoration services, shared that customers have been sending handbags from luxury labels such as Chanel, Gucci and Prada for servicing.
She said: “We have seen an increase in enquiries for bag servicing in the last six months as some ladies have started to bring out their precious bags out of storage in anticipation of going back to work or even the opportunity to travel again, or to attend some weddings or events. Some bags have become mouldy while some leather bags have dried and started cracking.”
“We have seen an increase in enquiries for bag servicing in the last six months as some ladies have started to bring out their precious bags out of storage.” – Sandra Lee
Mould develops quickly on a bag’s surface when it is stashed away in dark, humid spaces with low ventilation for long periods of time. Singapore’s perennial warm weather as well as improper storage and poor aftercare also contribute to its damage, says Eirene Ong, executive manager of leather restoration specialist Honest Crafters.
She explained: “Mould is an unavoidable natural occurrence for the humid weather here. When a mould spore lands on leather, it roots into the porous surface and begins to feed off the leather, causing discolouration and mould stains. It can even damage the structural integrity of the leather.”
“Mould is an unavoidable natural occurrence for the humid weather here. When a mould spore lands on leather, it roots into the porous surface and begins to feed off the leather.” – Eirene Ong
Lee added that persistent changes in temperature causes leather to expand and contract, resulting in it drying up and cracking. “If this persists, the leather becomes irreparable and would require intense restoration services,” she said.
Style Theory, which has rental and resale services for luxury apparel and accessories, launched its restoration service late last year. The team has restored over 1,000 designer bags to date, says its co-founder and chief operating officer Raena Lim.
She shared: “The most common request from our clients is touching up the discoloured areas of the handbags. This is most often seen on the bottom corners, handles, and flaps of bags, which are high-contact areas and prone to friction and damage. Often, the leather has been scratched, or the top layers of the leather, which hold the colour, have been rubbed off, resulting in discolouration.”
Several common mistakes contribute to the damage on leather bags. Colorwash co-founder and managing director Gemma Gil says that customers tend to store items without proper cleaning just because they don’t see visible problems. “But there is sweat and dirt, which are invisible but causes mould to grow faster than usual. Always do proper cleaning and moisturise your items before storage,” she advised.
Plastic bags, cardboard paper boxes and the usual shopping bags are not suitable for long-term storage, neither are non-woven dust bags. “Non-woven dust bags can deteriorate or crumble overtime, putting your leather bags and shoes at risk of discolouration, disfigurement and structural breakdown. Some may even develop a dusty, powdery film on their surfaces overtime,” cautioned Ong. She also advised against over-filling bags with heavy items or using DIY remedies such as lemon juice, vinegar, toothpaste and baking soda to clean the bags.
“Always do proper cleaning and moisturise your items before storage.” – Gemma Gil
Ditch the detergent and baby wipes too, especially if it’s alcohol-based, says Lee. “Detergent can be bad for your bags as well as using abrasive sponges and other harsh materials that can damage the leather. We've also seen customers who attempted to remove stains from their fabric bags and ended up even worsening the condition by pushing the stain deeper into the fabric, making it almost impossible to remove.”
Lim recommends storing bags away from direct sunlight to prevent discolouration and unsightly “tan lines” over time. Send a new bag for water-repellent treatment before use to apply a protective layer against stains or accidental spills, and stuff the bag with acid-free tissue to retain its shape and absorb moisture. Don’t pack it tightly with other bags as colour transfer can occur. It can also cause dents on the handbag’s exterior due to straps and buckles being pressed into the leather.
She added: “Storing designer bags in their original box seems like a great idea but it is actually a big no-no! The boxes reduce ventilation, encouraging mould growth. If the handbag is not being used regularly, then the owner is unlikely to realise the extent of the mould growth until it’s too late.”
“Storing designer bags in their original box seems like a great idea but it is actually a big no-no! The boxes reduce ventilation, encouraging mould growth.” – Raena Lim