Musty smells in leather goods are not uncommon, especially when the items are stored in a closet or near a laundry room or bathroom. Whether you choose a household remedy or a commercial leather odor remover, test an inconspicuous spot on your purse before applying it to the entire surface. Before storing your leather purse, check the area for signs of water infiltration and consider using a dehumidifying product to avoid further damage to your leather goods and clothing.
Musty Smells and Mold
Musty smells in leather and clothing are often caused by too much humidity in the storage space, whether it's a closet or the garage. Mildew and molds thrive in warm, dark, moist locations, such as a cabinet in the bathroom, the laundry room, a closet, or the garage. The humidity may be natural for the area or due to a water leak.
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To reduce the incidence of mold and mildew in your storage areas, first empty the space and look for signs of water damage. Have the pipe, wall, or roof repaired to prevent further water intrusion. If the mildew is due to high humidity, clean the walls, floor, and ceiling thoroughly with a bleach solution, white household vinegar, or TSP. When fully dry, paint with a mold- and mildew-resistant paint, such as Kilz, Perma-White, or Aftershock. Finally, add a dehumidifier or disposable moisture absorbers to help reduce the humidity in the space.
Home Cleaning Methods
If your leather purse is still wet, wipe it with a soft cloth to dry it and remove the mold and mildew. Hang it to dry in a warm, dry location in front of a fan or use a blow dryer set on "air" or "low." Allow the purse to dry in a sheltered location out of direct sunlight for several days before taking a cautious sniff.
Draw out the musty smell by placing the purse in a cardboard box filled with crumpled sheets of blank newsprint paper or packing paper and let it dry for one to three more days. Another method of removing odors requires a large, reclosable bag or a pillowcase and baking soda. Sprinkle baking soda over the purse inside and out and seal it in the bag for 24 hours. Gently shake and brush the baking soda off the purse and take another sniff; repeat as needed to remove any remaining odors.
Vinegar is also an option. Mix equal parts white vinegar and water and then test an inconspicuous spot to make sure the solution won't change the leather color. Wipe it with a cloth soaked in the vinegar solution or spray the purse inside and out and then hang it up to dry.
Commercial Leather Odor Remover
There are a variety of leather cleaners intended for use on leather purses, jackets, and sofas to remove stains and odors. Some manufacturers also provide a bottle of leather conditioner to maintain the soft, supple surface of your leather goods. No matter which product you select, put a tiny drop of the cleaner and odor remover in an inconspicuous location to ensure it won't significantly change the color of your purse.
Apply the cleaner according to the manufacturer's directions. Once clean, apply the leather conditioner, again according to the directions. Allow it to soak into the leather for the recommended time and then wipe and apply again if necessary. Finally, buff gently with a soft cloth.
Leather Purse Storage
After deodorizing and cleaning your leather purse, stuff it with archival tissue paper to maintain the shape. Also wrap any metal parts with tissue paper. Put the purse inside a dust bag or a clean cotton pillowcase; do not store it in plastic.
Put the stuffed and wrapped purse into its original box if possible. Alternatively, stand it upright or lay it on several sheets of wrapping paper or archival tissue paper in the top of the closet or other storage area. Do not hang it for storage, as the weight of the purse may distort and damage the handles. Avoid squashing or crowding your purses on the shelf; give them room to breathe.