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How to Clean Vegan Leather with Ease

Last Updated: April 14, 2024

Accidentally spill something on your vegan leather handbag? Perhaps you're looking to clean a wallet or other faux leather accessory, soiled from long use?

Maintenance of your existing clothing and accessories is much better than replacing them. Those choosing to exercise their leafy mind by making earth-conscious choices are curious about the best ways to clean and maintain their vegan leather products.

Let's discover how to clean vegan leather effortlessly with our straightforward guide. Whether you’re dealing with daily dirt or challenging stains, we will provide the essential steps needed to care for your vegan leather garments.

Key Takeaways

  • Eco-friendly vegan leather, made from sustainable plant-based sources, are environmentally friendly and cost-effective, offering a better alternative to animal leather.
  • Vegan leather garments require careful cleaning, using alcohol-free products and gentle detergents; proper conditioning and storage are critical for maintaining their appearance and durability.
  • Managing stains and scuffs on vegan leather involves specialized methods such as using isopropyl alcohol for ink stains or cornstarch and white chalk for oil and food stains, with regular care ensuring a prolonged life for your vegan leather wardrobe.

The Basics of Vegan Leather

Illustration of various types of vegan leather

Vegan leather, also referred to as faux leather, is designed to mimic the aesthetic appeal of real leather without using animal products.

Not all faux leather is sustainable. Most faux leathers are primarily made from polyurethane (PU), but a vegan leather product can also be plant-based, with some types even made from pineapple leaves, known for their strength and durability.

Synthetic leather is widely available as a cheap, cruelty-free alternative to animal leather. It is also much easier to keep clean as the plastic layers bind to form a protective layer for the fabric underneath. While we prefer synthetic leathers over animal leathers, if given the choice, we'd always recommend going for the sustainable vegan option instead.

Choosing vegan leather over animal leather has various perks. It’s friendlier to the environment, has a uniform quality that optimizes manufacturing yield, and can be cost-effective, depending on the material. These attributes foster vegan leather's growing popularity in the fashion market.

Cleaning Vegan Leather Garments

Illustration of hand-washing techniques for vegan leather garments

Caring for your vegan leather garments doesn’t have to be a daunting task.

You can clean them easily using:

  1. Natural cleaning products
  2. Hand-washing techniques involving gentle agitation and soaking in tepid water mixed with a gentle detergent
  3. For stains that are more stubborn, a microfiber cloth dampened with warm water or a mixture of liquid dish detergent can do the trick.

Once cleaned, make sure to air-dry your vegan leather garments. You can either hang them on a sturdy hanger or lay them flat on towels. This prevents shrinking, distortion, and damage to the material.

It’s always a good idea to perform a spot test with the chosen cleaning solution on a small, hidden area of the garment to prevent material brittleness or flaking.

Caring for Vegan Leather Bags

A little care and attention can keep your vegan leather bags looking as good as new. Regular cleaning, conditioning, and proper storage can go a long way in maintaining their appearance and durability.

The following subsections will provide a more detailed guideline on how to care for vegan leather bags.

Cleaning

Illustration of stain removal process for vegan leather bags

A gentle approach is essential while cleaning your vegan leather bags. 

Here are some steps to follow while preparing for cleaning:

  1. Use a soft silk or cotton cloth dampened with water.
  2. Gently wipe the surface of the bag to remove any dirt or stains.
  3. Avoid using harsh chemicals like bleach or alcohol, as these can damage your bag.

By following these steps, you can effectively prepare your vegan leather bag for the cleaning steps below. For tougher stains, a vegan leather cleaner can come in handy. 

Here’s how to deep clean your vegan leather bag:

  1. Add a small amount of mild eco-friendly laundry detergent or soap to the damp microfiber or a soft cloth.
  2. Rub the cleaner in a circular motion to avoid scratching the surface.
  3. After cleaning, dry the bag with a soft towel.
  4. Let the bag air dry completely to prevent moisture-related damage.
  5. You can also use a hairdryer on the cold air setting to speed up the drying.

Regular dusting and avoiding over-washing can also help maintain the bag’s condition. Speaking of condition, next we'll go over conditioning your bag to help maintain its appearance and extend its life.

Conditioning Your Vegan Leather Bag

Conditioning vegan leather holds as much importance as cleaning your vegan leather bag. Conditioners act as a moisturizer, preventing chipping, wrinkling, and drying out, ensuring the bag remains fresh and supple. 

To condition your bag, follow these steps:

  1. Start with a clean bag (after you've allowed time for it to dry from cleaning).
  2. Gently apply a little eco-friendly conditioner all over the bag.
  3. Spread it evenly with a microfiber cloth.
  4. Leave it for 10 minutes.
  5. Clean off any buildup.
  6. Allow the bag to air dry.

Remember to use a vegan earth-friendly leather conditioner instead of a PVC moisturizer to condition vegan leather. The latter will keep it soft and preventing cracking, but so will the sustainable options. 

  • Always conduct a spot test with the conditioner on a less visible area of the bag to ensure there’s no adverse reaction in color or texture.

Storage

Storing your vegan leather bags appropriately can greatly enhance their lifespan. 

Here are some tips:

  • Store them in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight or extreme temperatures to prevent cracking and peeling.
  • To prevent rubbing and color transfer, avoid storing vegan leather items close to one another.
  • Using dividers or separate compartments is recommended to maintain their shapes.

For long-term storage, avoid hanging vegan leather bags by their straps to prevent the straps from stretching or deforming; storing them on a shelf or in a cupboard is preferable. Keeping them in their original dust-bags or wrapped in a cloth or cover can protect them from dust and scratches.

Preserving Vegan Leather Shoes

Similar to vegan leather bags, your vegan leather shoes need special attention too. From cleaning and conditioning to protection against elements, the following subsections will walk you through the process.

Cleaning

Illustration of gentle cleaning methods for vegan leather shoes

Knowing the correct method makes cleaning vegan leather shoes an easy task. 

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Wipe them down using a damp soft cloth with warm water to remove dirt.
  2. For harsher stains, a mild soap can be used in conjunction with the damp cloth.
  3. Once cleaned, dry the shoes with a dry cloth.
  4. Air-dry them away from heaters and direct sunlight.

A soft brush can be used to gently brush the shoes regularly to keep them free of dust and dirt. Avoid machine washing or drying the shoes and using harsh chemicals like bleach or ammonia, as these can cause significant damage.

Take care to avoid getting wet solutions on hardware parts such as metal clasps or chains; these should be cleaned with a dry cloth.

Conditioning

Conditioning plays a key role in averting cracking and drying of your vegan leather shoes, which in turn extends their lifespan. Choose a suitable non-petroleum-based product, like coconut or olive oil, or something compatible with the materials you are working with.

Applying a vegan leather cream or plant wax all over the shoes, leaving them to dry, and wiping away any residue can add a layer of protection and keep the material lustrous.

Regular conditioning fosters resistance against the absorption of dyes or oils, further protecting the integrity of the material.

  • Reference your item's tag or the manufacturer to learn more about which conditioners work best with your shoes.

Protection

Offering protection to your vegan leather shoes can considerably prolong their lifespan. Before wearing them for the first time, shield them with a sustainable waterproof spray to create a protective layer that protects from wet conditions and dirt. 

Choose eco-friendly waterproofing sprays that are water-based and biodegradable to reduce environmental impact.

Before applying a waterproof spray, verify that the material of the shoes is compatible with the product. Vaseline or baby oil could be used to protect the shoes from drying out and cracking due to sun exposure, but both mineral oil and petroleum jelly are not eco-friendly.

Avoid direct heat and let the shoes dry naturally to maintain their condition.

After repairing vegan leather, apply a suitable waterproof spray or plant-based shoe wax to prevent future damage from elements like salt stains and dirt.

Addressing Common Stains and Issues

Even with careful handling, your vegan leather items can still experience stains and scuffs, including the dreaded ink stain. 

While it isn't recommended to use alcohol or mineral spirits to remove stains for natural vegan leathers, for light Ink or dye transfer stains, you can blot them with isopropyl alcohol applied with a soft cloth, dabbing from the outside in to contain the stain. 

Scuffs can be addressed by wiping down with a soft cloth and warm water, then applying distilled white vinegar to potentially swell the vegan leather, and buffing using an earth-friendly colorless shoe polish. There is a high risk of damaging your item further, so use caution.

Oil and food or blood stains can be removed with methods such as rubbing cornstarch on oil stains and applying crushed white chalk on food or blood stains and leaving it overnight.

General stains, including persistent water spots, can be managed with eucalyptus oil and a non-abrasive cloth, while conditioner can be used to buff out water spots.

Prolonging the Life of Your Vegan Leather Accessories

Understanding the right way to care for your vegan leather accessories is key to extending their life. Quick tips like minimizing the need to wash the accessories can ensure a highly durable piece that lasts a lifetime in your closet. The longevity of vegan leather is contingent upon its quality, with superior quality vegan leather enduring longer with the appropriate care.

Always consult the washing instructions before cleaning vegan leather accessories and opt for using cold cycles where appropriate and air-drying to help preserve the material.

For best results in maintaining the shape and quality, store vegan leather items in a cool, dry place away from high humidity and keep them stuffed with the original paper stuffing when not in use. To avoid quick wear and tear, regularly rotate the use of vegan leather handbags and wallets.

Making Conscious Choices: Sustainable Vegan Leather Alternatives

Opting for sustainable vegan leather alternatives is a conscious decision towards a greener future. 

Some alternatives to traditional leather include:

  • Piñatex, made from pineapple leaf fibers, which also contributes to local farming communities by offering additional income for what was previously waste.
  • Mylo, derived from the root structure of mushrooms, which offers unique sustainable properties and textures
  • MuSkin, also derived from the root structure of mushrooms, which offers unique sustainable properties and textures

These genuine leather alternatives provide environmentally-friendly options for those looking for leather alternatives, unlike real leather.

Cork leather, Bio-Tex, cactus leather from Desserto, leaf leather, recycled rubber, coconut leather, and apple leather are some other eco-friendly clean vegan leather alternatives, each offering unique sustainable properties and textures.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can water ruin vegan leather?

Yes, but vegan leather can generally withstand light rain and some moisture without significant damage, as it is often designed to be water-resistant.

Can you use alcohol wipes on vegan leather?

While we don't recommend it, you can use alcohol wipes on vegan leather depending on the specific instructions and type of vegan leather, but if you do, follow up with conditioning. It is advisable to follow the cleaning and care instructions provided to ensure proper disinfection and stain removal.

How do you get scuff marks out of vegan leather?

You can remove scuff marks from vegan leather by gently rubbing the affected area with a mixture of water and vinegar, or by using a colorless shoe polish or leather conditioner to cover up the scratch. Be gentle to avoid damaging the material further.

Should you oil vegan leather?

Please don't. While you can do this technically, unless the oil is from a sustainable source and is designed for this purpose, avoid using it. Try to avoid using Vaseline or baby oil as these are not sustainable sources. Consider a plant-based wax instead.

What can I use to clean vegan leather seats?

To clean vegan leather seats, use warm water and a non-abrasive cloth to avoid drying out the material and causing cracks. Avoid harsh cleaning products as they can be damaging to the vegan leather. Follow the same instructions from this article for vegan leather bags, and you should be in great shape.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Vegan leather is a sustainable and cruelty-free alternative to animal leather that requires proper care and attention. From cleaning and conditioning to protection and storage, taking care of your vegan leather items can ensure their longevity. By choosing sustainable vegan leather alternatives, you are making conscious choices towards a greener planet.

Now it's time to go through your closet and take action! Set some time today or this weekend to clean and maintain your vegan leather items, and do your part for the Earth and your wardrobe.

About the author, Leafy Souls

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This is the staff-writer's account for Leafy Souls' blog.

We aim to make ethical consumerism simple with helpful guides, tips, and recipes to inspire you to make the best decisions.

And, you can trust us to select, test and present to you the most beautiful vegan apparel and accessories, to help you look (and feel) your best.

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