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Conquer handbag chaos: cleaning and organising your purse and bags

Handbag full to overflowing or looking a bit worse for wear? You’re in the right place...


By Cleanipedia Team

personal objects following of a bag

Ah the humble handbag – used to carry everything from your travel pass and phone to your water bottle and snacks. It’s no wonder it's in need of some TLC. Here's how to clean and tidy your handbag and keep it that way (for a little while, at least).

If you’ve landed on this page after Googling how to clean handbags, we’re guessing yours is looking a bit dishevelled. Maybe you spilled a drink over your designer clutch or the cat decided your favourite bucket bag looked like the perfect place for a nap (or worse). Or perhaps your bag just needs freshening up after one too many nights out (it happens to us all). Whatever your reason for dropping by, we’re here to help.

How to clean leather bags and purses

Leather is hardwearing and just gets better and better with age, as long as you look after it. It doesn’t like getting soaking wet, so don’t go dunking your bag in a bowl of water. Instead, use a specialist cream leather cleaner or a mild soapy solution in a spray bottle (you’ll be spraying a cloth rather than the bag itself, to avoid watermarks). Get the cloth damp, but not too wet, and rub the leather gently in the direction of the grain. Once you’ve cleaned the whole of the bag, finish by working a small amount of leather protection cream or wax into the material. This will help to stop the leather cracking and protect it from the rain.  Cleaning a leather purse or wallet? The method is just the same. 

For more tips on cleaning leather, head this way.

How concerned are you about disinfecting while cleaning?

How to clean handbags at home if they’re not leather

If your handbag or purse is made from velvet or silk, or it’s embroidered, it’s best to leave cleaning it to the professionals. If it’s made from good old cotton, you can probably clean it yourself at home. Check to see if it has a care label inside. Most fabric bags and purses will cope with a gentle sponge clean with warm soapy water. Use a mild laundry detergent such as Persil Non-Bio and dilute it heavily with water. Leave your bag to air dry so you don’t run the risk of it shrinking in the tumble dryer.

Need to clean a suede handbag? Find out how to use cornflour to lift stains.

How to clean the inside of your handbag

Use a vacuum cleaner nozzle to hoover up any crumbs and dust. Depending on the lining material, you might want to try cleaning it using one of the methods above, or by wiping it with a baby wipe.

How to conquer handbag chaos

Cleaning handbags is one thing - organising them is another. Handbags are a little like that kitchen drawer that you throw things in when they don’t belong anywhere else. Except rather than Sellotape and piping nozzles, they hold hair bobbles, gift cards, receipts, makeup, crisp wrappers, aspirin and out-of-date sweets. If you’re a parent, there’s a good chance you’ll also find random kids’ tat, like the spare socks you packed for that trip to a softplay centre three months ago.

First off, take everything out and put it on the table. Yes, everything, from your keys to those five-year-old supermarket coupons. Then sort everything into piles. In most cases, you’ll need the following piles:

  • Daily essentials that belong in your handbag

  • Items you need sometimes, but not every day

  • Rubbish to go in the bin or to recycle

  • Bits that need to be rehomed elsewhere

  • Receipts, letters and other paperwork that needs sorting out

What classes as ‘daily essentials’ is really down to you. Parents (and fans of uncomfortable but oh so beautiful shoes) might need a packet of plasters, while the rest of us likely don’t.  Most people will want their purse, keys and phone.

Handbags usually have pockets, so decide where you’re going to keep your daily essentials. You might want your reusable water bottle in the main compartment, your purse in a zipped inside pocket, and tissues and mints in an outside pocket. 

If your handbag doesn’t have inside pockets, you could invest in a handbag organiser. These sit inside your bag and have several compartments to make finding things easier. They also help to protect your handbag liner.

When it comes to the ‘nice to haves, but not everyday’ pile, consider keeping everything together in a box under your bed or in the hallway, so you can grab them easily when you need to. If you use your handbag for work and leisure, you can swap things around as needed.

How to combat too many cards

Purses and wallets can get pretty full of cards. You probably have a few bank and credit cards, several loyalty cards and various membership cards. To make it easier to find what you need, keep your purse for the cards you use at least once a week. Move everything else to a separate cardholder to pop in your handbag.  

Make tidying a habit

Now your handbag and purse are neat, the only way to keep them that way is to make tidying them a daily or weekly habit. Not the most exciting task we admit, but it works. And in the long run, it’ll save you the time of cleaning banana mush and melted chocolate off your bag and the irritation of not being able to find your travel pass/receipt/50p off coupon.

Originally published