Leather bags can develop odors or come with an inexplicable bad smell that ruins your experience of owning a plush leather handbag. These odors may be caused by improper manufacturing, tanning oils, smelly contents of the bag, food or beverage spills, or mold and mildew on the bag’s exterior.
We’ve conducted various experiments and have created a guide on how to remove odor and bad smells from your leather bag. The best way to remove odor from a leather bag is by using either an odor absorber, sprinkling baking soda, or using a leather deodorizer or desiccant.
This guide will help you eliminate all kinds of dubious odors from your new or old leather bags with easy-to-follow steps. We’ve also included a section where you’ll find additional advice and best practices that you should consider.
What Causes Bad Odors & Smells in Leather Bags?
Before you start with the odor-removing process, you should acquaint yourself with the main causes of bad smells in leather bags. Let’s take a closer look.
- Improper Manufacturing – Improper manufacturing processes or cheap materials can cause your new leather bag to smell off. Chemicals or other substances are often used as cheap alternatives compared to tanning oils by some unethical manufacturers to soften leather bags.
- Leather Decomposition – Decaying leather or poor-quality leather can make your bag smell like manure, resulting from manufacturers skimping out on the treatment step of the production. The treatment step eliminates any microorganisms present on the leather, but if this step is not completed, it may result in the early decomposition of your leather product, emitting unpleasant smells.
- Tanning Oils – Fish oils are suitable for tanning leather but only if they are filtered. Unfiltered tanning oils break down in the heat and produce an unbearable foul odor from your leather bag.
- Previous Ownership – Leather is a porous material. Therefore, it may carry the scent of the previous owner or handling person. Plush leather bags are often passed down or given away after use; therefore, it is not uncommon for second-hand leather bags to smell like cigarette smoke or clingy sweet perfume.
- Contents of Bag – Certain items in your leather bag may also transfer to the leather exterior. This is because leather is porous and can absorb certain smells and odors.
- Mold & Mildew – Mold and mildew can form on your leather bag due to improper storage in damp or warm environments. If you can smell a musty odor from your bag it may very well be fungal growth. Check out our guide where we share how to remove mold from leather bags.
- Spills & Stains – If you have spilled a beverage or food inside the leather bag or outside it, there may be a possibility that the associated smell may be absorbed by the leather.
As you can see, there are various reasons why a leather bag may develop unpleasant smells. When noticing that your leather bag smells off, it’s vital that you start assessing it first and then selecting any of the methods below to properly remove it.
Assess Where the Smells Are Coming From
Before eliminating odors from your leather bag, you should determine where the smell is coming from in the first place.
If the smell is coming from the leather surface or exterior of the bag, it may be caused by mildew, improper manufacturing, unfiltered oil tanning, or decomposing leather.
If the smell is coming from the internal lining of the bag, it may be caused by the contents of the bag or previous spills or stains. Try to narrow down the source of the smell and then select an appropriate method below.
One important tip when it comes to investigating the source of the smell is to remove all the contents of your leather bag and carefully inspect all components from various angles. This could mean turning the interior lining inside out and even temporarily removing the straps.
Method 1: Clean Your Leather Bag
One of the most effective ways to remove bad smells from leather bags is to thoroughly clean them using an appropriate leather cleaner. This will help remove any bad odors and also ensure that the leather is nourished. For this, you’ll need to clean the exterior leather and the internal lining.
Cleaning the Exterior Leather
You can clean the exterior of your leather bag using a dedicated leather cleaner. Use a soft cloth to wipe the outside of the bag with a quality leather cleaning solution and leave it in a shaded area to air dry.
When applying the leather cleaning solution, ensure that you evenly coat it and that you also remove any excess product with any dry cloth. This allows the leather to fully absorb the nourishing ingredients.
When it comes to selecting a product for this, we recommend using the Leather Honey Leather Cleaner since it works amazingly on all leather surfaces and exceptionally well on leather bags. It also does a great job of revitalizing and nourishing leather.
Important Notice: Please don’t use regular leather cleaning solutions on suede or nubuck leather bags, since it can change their soft texture and give them a smoother and polished appearance.
Cleaning the Interior Lining
If the odor comes from the inside of your leather bag, you’ll need to empty its contents to begin cleaning the interior lining. Start by turning out the lining, if it’s detachable, and placing a towel before using a handbag fabric cleaner.
Use a damp sponge (with the fabric cleaning solution) to wipe the lining and repeat the process until it is completely clean. The towel will absorb excess moisture during the cleaning process.
If the lining is undetachable, use a wrung-out sponge to wipe the interior and place a folded towel inside to absorb the excess moisture.
For lined bags that come with both detachable and sewn lining, you should leave them open for some time to allow them to air-dry thoroughly before using them again.
We highly recommend cleaning both the exterior leather and interior lining of your leather bag, regardless of what other methods you may choose when it comes to removing odors. Proper maintenance of leather bags not only removes bad smells but can also increase their lifespan.
Method 2: Use an Odor Absorber
Another method of eradicating bad smells from inside your leather bag is to place a charcoal odor absorber inside it. You will not need to remove any bag contents (although we recommend this) for this method but just place it inside your bag.
This charcoal odor absorber will remove most odors in the bag by absorbing any moisture present inside and keeping it dry. This works particularly well for smells that are divided from stains or spills.
The great thing about odor absorbers is that you can even use them while regularly wearing your leather bag. While this doesn’t remove odor from the leather exterior, it does absorb smells from the interior lining.
Method 3: Use Baking Soda
Using baking soda is a highly effective method of removing odors from leather bag interiors. Regardless of whether the smell coming from your bag is rancid or musty, the amphoteric nature of baking soda will counteract the odorous compounds for a more neutral smell.
Fill up a sock with baking soda to knot it and place it in a large resealable plastic bag and your leather bag. Ensure the leather bag is open for proper odor removal and the plastic bag is air-tight.
Set aside the plastic bag for about 12 to 24 hours, as this allows the baking soda to absorb all foul odors. Check after about 12 hours to see if the odor still lingers and if it does, leave it in for another 12 hours.
When that step is done, discard the baking soda from the sock if the smell is gone. After this, ensure that you store your leather bag in a well-ventilated area.
Method 4: Use Desiccants
Similar to charcoal odor removers, you can also use desiccants such as Silica Gels for odor removal. Silica gels with the proper sealing can be placed inside bags to remove excess moisture or musty odors.
Desiccants, such as silica gels have the ability to remove bad smells from leather bags through physical absorption or chemical reaction. Simply place a silica gel packet into your leather bag without having to remove any contents from it to eliminate any persisting odor.
Method 5: Use a Leather Deodorizer
Apart from cleaning the leather exterior of your bag, you can additionally use a leather deodorizer. This not only removes unpleasant smells from leather but also gives it a fresh and clean smell.
While any type of leather deodorizer will work, we recommend the Leather Master Leather Cleaner and Deodorizer for its excellent dual functionality as a leather cleaner and deodorizer. It cleans dirt and superficial stains and leaves a refreshing natural scent.
Frequently Asked Questions
While our guide was designed to share the best methods to remove bad smells from leather bags, we also wanted to dedicate a section to answering some of the most frequently asked questions. You can find them below.
How Long Does It Take To Remove Smells From Leather Bags?
The methods that we have listed above are designed to take anywhere between 10 to 15 minutes to apply. However, take note that some of the processes also require additional time for absorption and drying.
This could take anywhere between 6 to 24 hours, depending on the type of odor and where it’s coming from. If you’re tight on time, it’s best to use a leather deodorizer or a desiccant, as you’ll be able to use them while carrying your leather bag.
Can I Use Multiple Methods Listed Above?
We recommend starting with cleaning the exterior leather and the interior lining of your leather bag. If the unpleasant smells persist after that, then it’s best to pick an additional method that makes the most sense.
What Should I Avoid When Removing Odor From My Leather Bag?
Always ensure that you use products that are not only compatible with leather, but also with the type of leather of your bag (use dedicated products for nubuck and suede).
Avoid products that contain harmful chemicals, as they may permanently damage or discolor your leather bag. Ensure to carefully read the product descriptions and list of ingredients, whenever available.
What Can I Do If I Can’t Remove The Smell?
Either give it more time or use a combination of the methods that we suggested above. If you still aren’t able to remove bad odors from your leather bag, we recommend sending it to the manufacturer (for branded leather bags) or to a cleaning company that deals with leather articles.
Co-Founder, Researcher & Writer At Leatherskill
I’m a leather enthusiast who spends most of his free time crafting, researching, and writing about the many facets of this versatile material. Thanks for reading!