Jan03

How to Clean Handbags

Many of us have spent a small fortune on our handbags. And wherever we go, the bag goes with us. Believe it or not, there’s a problem  there: The same bag that joins you in places like subway cars, restroom stalls, and office cubicles often winds up on the kitchen counter or dining room table when you return home at the end of the day.

According to Dr.Charles Gerba, a professor of microbiology at the University of Arizona who has spent the last two decades researching where bacteria lurk in our daily lives, handbags can be a magnet for microbes. “In one study of 22 handbags we found fecal bacteria on 30 percent of the bottom outside,” said Gerba.

No more facts needed! It’s time to rethink how we handle our precious purses. Here’s a step-by-step for cleaning your handbags.

Tip #1: Start at the Bottom

First, clean the bottom of the bag. If it’s leather, use extreme caution: Do a spot-test in an inconspicuous place to check that the product you use won’t damage it, and to be extra-safe you could call the purse manufacturer to ask their recommendation for a cleaning product.

If it’s faux or patent leather you might be safe using a simple antibacterial wipe on the bottom of the handbag, the area that comes most into contact with yucky germs and bacteria, or try a kid’s hand sanitizing wipe, as they are less likely to contain harmful chemicals or alcohol.

For leather, there’s an  antibacterial product called “Lovin’ My Bag Antibacterial Leather Cleanser,” which some people swear by, but if you are looking for a DIY option, you could try an equal parts vinegar/water solution in a spray bottle and spray a small amount onto the bag. Use a clean, dry cloth to remove all moisture then follow up with a leather conditioner (otherwise the vinegar can dry leather out).

If treating the leather scares you, take it to your local cobbler or leather specialist and ask them to clean it for you, or at the very least give it spray with an antibacterial spray. Ideally you should give the bottom of your bag a wipe down every evening when you come home.

If your bag of choice is a canvas tote, throw it in the washing machine every few weeks if you think it can handle it, and let it air dry. The dryer would give it an additional blast of germ-killing heat, but could also cause the bag to shrink. The same applies to kids backpacks (you don’t want to know where they have been!). A cycle in the washing machine is a good idea once a week.

Tip #2 Clean the Inside

Other cleanliness offenders are the inside of your bag and your wallet. Think about it: You take your wallet out, place it on a table or a bar or a cash register, or some other counter where a hundred hands have touched, while you sign the check, then you put it back into your bag, introducing the inside of your bag and all of its contents to whatever germs were left lingering on the counter. And if you ever carry loose dollar notes in your bag, they are swarming with germs (coins are less likely to carry as many germs as they are made from antimicrobial copper).

Take everything out and vacuum the inside of the bag. If the bag allows, pull the lining out of the bag as much as possible and spot clean with a gentle soapy water solution using an antibacterial hand soap, then give it a spray with a disinfectant. Allow it to dry completely.

Tip #3: Use a Handbag Hook

Handbag hooks that can temporarily attach to any tabletop may seem a little hokey, a funny gimmick that came out several years back and then disappeared into the black hole of random inventions, but if you are at a restaurant or a bar that doesn’t have hooks under the bar or table this is your best option. Just keep one in your purse at all times. It’s also much safer than hanging your bag over the back of your chair where someone could easily snatch and make a run for the door before you even know it’s gone.

Tip #4: Use a Magic Wand

If all this talk of germs is starting to give you the creeps, but you don’t want to risk using cleaning products on your prize possession, splurge on a device that uses UV-C light and to eliminate most bacteria from numerous surfaces.

 Nicola Ruiz

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Nicola Ruiz

is a writer for Bed Bath & Beyond, and writes about fashion and style for various publications. She grew up in England and California but loves to call New York City home for one simple reason: shopping for all four seasons! That means she has learned to be a whiz when it comes to organizing her closet. When she’s not writing about style and decor (and organizing her stylish finds) you’ll find her hard at work on her novel or chasing after her busy four-year-old son and her four-pound Chihuahua Lola.

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Peggy January 3, 2014 at 8:46 am

I am always careful where my purse goes and regularly clean the outside – especially the bottom. I never even thought about the wallet – yikes!!!

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