How to Clean Vintage Leather Luggage

Need to know how to clean vintage leather luggage? After stumbling upon a gorgeous suitcase in a thrift shop or being given one from grandma's attic, you may be left wondering how to clean this piece of vintage leather luggage. They really don’t make them like they used to. The hardware alone is often worth purchasing. Vintage leather luggage can be used in a variety of functions aside from simply carrying stuff from one destination to the next. In fact, true treasure chests may be more useful as decorative storage in your home. Stack a few nice pieces of vintage leather luggage to use as a side table, or use a large old steamer trunk as a coffee table or storage in your bedroom. Once you learn how to clean vintage leather luggage, the possibilities with these lovely pieces are endless.

To clean vintage leather luggage, you will need:

  • Baby wipes or a wash cloth
  • A hand vacuum
  • A leather-cleaning product (like saddle soap)
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Bleach
  1. Assess the vintage luggage. Does it need a simple wipe down, a deep clean or a thorough makeover? Is it made out of leather, canvas or plastic? Do you intend to restore it to its former glory, or alter its appearance to suit your modern tastes? Luckily, there are several things you can do regardless of the state your vintage leather luggage is in.
  2. Check out the lining. If the lining is worth saving then you have a good piece of vintage leather luggage on your hands. Vacuum it out and use a baby wipe or wash cloth and warm water to rub it down. If there are rips and stains, it is best to just rip out the lining entirely and start fresh on the inside. Tear out the liner and then vacuum all the nooks and crannies.
  3. Choose your cleaner. Vintage leather luggage can be gently wiped down with a damp cloth to remove any surface dust, followed by a leather cleaner; saddle soap is a good choice. Vintage luggage that is made of other materials can be scrubbed with a warm washcloth and gentle detergent. Suede should be brushed clean. White and light colored bags can benefit from a small amount of bleach. Bleach does a great job at whisking away funky smells, too.
  4. Mold spores should be brushed off outside. Apply rubbing alcohol to the area it came from and let air dry for a day or so.
  5. If all else fails, try steam cleaning your vintage luggage. Hold stains up to a boiling pot of water for a moment. Then try rubbing out any stains again. This method obviously works best on small items better than, say, a steamer trunk.
  6. Coat the zipper with paraffin wax for ease of use. But if the zipper is not working, try using pliers to bend the offending teeth back in place, or have the zipper replaced at the dry cleaner.
  7. Attack odors with a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and bleach. Let dry in the fresh air for a couple days. Or you can pop a car air freshener inside or douse it in perfume!
  8. Replace the liner by cutting a piece of fabric to fit; use a newspaper template to be precise. After your piece of vintage luggage is as clean as it is going to get, redo the inside. The fabric can be a funky leopard print, a bright red splash of silk, or a simple cotton. Either way the fabric can be hot glued or stapled in place. Fold over the edge of the fabric and slowly attach to the edges of the interior.
  9. Revamp vintage luggage if cleaning doesn’t cut it. If the bag is beyond hope of restoration, but you like the structure, you can give vintage luggage a total makeover with paint, stain or nail polish. Sandpaper the surface before using spray paint for an even application. Try chalkboard paint on a large steamer trunk and use florescent spray paint on small bags, or apply a crackle, stone or suede finish.
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