How To Remove Stains from Leather at Home

SO. I bought a $250 Madewell bag… USED for about $30 … with a big ol’ spot on it…

It’s a mysterious stain and so I really kind of took a chance buying this bag, hoping I could remove it. It is real, vegetable tanned leather.

Now, the bag can be worn so that the stain is facing the inside and you won’t see it. But me being me I just really want it gone.

So here I am documenting what did and didn’t work in attempting to get this stain out at home. I hope this helps someone out there with a great thrift find- but it’s got a few stains on the leather.

*DISCLAIMER* I am not a leather expert and do not claim that this will work on all types of leather. In fact, polished leather is different and the dye could be affected differently, so be careful. If you’re going to try something like this, try it on an old thrift store bag before you ruin your brand new Coach bag.


  • 2 different brands of saddle soap- I did not particularly have a preference. I kind of alternated with them.
  • Neutral Wax Polish
  • Old rags

Saddle soap cleans and protects leather.

I started with the bottom of the bag because I wanted to make sure that the saddle soap was not going to have a bad reaction with the leather.

**I did read that on non-vegetable tanned leathers, saddle soap can be too harsh so make sure you know what type of leather you are working with.**

How I started:

  • Dampen a small part of your rag and gather a good bit of saddle soap onto it.
  • In a circular motion lather the saddle soap onto the leather.
  • Wipe the excess off of the bag with a clean, damp, side of the rag.

I repeated this process for a little over an hour.

A few times, I waited a couple of minutes for the spot to dry up a little bit before adding more saddle soap. During this hour I also used saddle soap on the rest of the bag to clean it and protect it.

Not too bad, right? A little bit of color difference across the back of the bag but better than it was…

So after this, I took a teeny bit of wax with a clean, damp section of the rag and worked it in to the leather. The result was AMAZING! The spot was virtually gone and so I thought…. OH! Just a tad more wax and this baby is history!

I was wrong… I made it worse because I’m not a professional like I said before- haha!

SO. Needless to say, I was super mad at myself and decided to start my saddle soap process over again. After about another 30 minutes, I went to bed and let the spot dry entirely.

The next day I repeated my saddle soap process about 3 separate times, for about 5-10 minutes each.

Essentially the left side of the stain is gone…

And so… the saddle soap process continues…

Now the next thing I did- I did not read anywhere- I just thought I was brilliant and would try to rub white vinegar on the stain to fade it…

Well it faded the stain alright- along with the rest of the bag (it took a good bit of the dye off).

I rubbed some of the wax polish back on here and it pretty much put the color back.

After these multiple failed attempts I gave up for a few weeks. I just put the gross side on the inside when I used it.

But then I got brave again and read this awesome Pinterest Article

Knowing that Vintage Coach bags are vegetable tanned leather as well- I decided to try and wash this bag…

So, two Friday nights ago, I filled my wash tub with luke-warm water and a teaspoon of regular Dawn dish soap. I soaked the entire bag for 20 minutes.

Some of the dye did come out but there was fair warning in the article so I didn’t worry about it.

I rinsed the bag in cold water in the kitchen sink and cleaned out my wash tub. Then refilled it with cold clean water.

I let it sit in the cold water for 10 minutes.

Then took it out and dried off all the water I could with a large towel.

I rung out the inside and stuffed a towel in there to try and speed up in the inside drying process. I flipped the bag around a few times a day while it was drying.

I let this air dry for almost a full 5 days.

I used my mom’s leather moisturizer to soften the leather because it got pretty stiff once it had dried completely.

The result:

I am curious to know how this would have turned out had I just washed the bag from the very beginning. But I am thrilled with the results! In most lights you can’t even see that there was a spot on the leather and to people who never knew it was there, they would have no idea I’m sure.

Have YOU ever tried to wash a leather bag? There are tons of good bags that can be brought back to new life at Goodwill- I challenge you to pick one up next time you’re there!

XOXO – Modest Blondie