smoke-free leather

September 11, 2015 in the 101 by stacey


Cigarette stank got you down? Freshen up that old smokey vintage find with these simple tips.

If you are an avid thrift store and flea market shopper like I am, then you know that one of the drawbacks of bargain basement treasure hunting are the weird smells. Often embedded into those old rags like fleas on a dog, musty, moldy, and aged perfumed scents can turn that incredible vintage find into a project. This is especially true of cigarette smoke, one of the toughest odors to remove. Just imagine a dress hanging for years in the closet of a smoker’s home, and then it gets thrown into a box or plastic bag for a few more years before it ends up at the Goodwill. You could get a headache just thinking about the smell.

Leather that has been infected with smoke stank has its own set of problems. While dresses and shirts can be thrown into the washing machine, the same can’t be said for leather goods. This was an issue I ran into recently when I found this boss 1980s handbag at a thrift store out on Long Island. It is in nearly perfect condition (and still has its original price tag attached… who remembers Bradlees?!) and meshes perfectly with my current 80s fashion fixation. Plus, at $5.99, it was a no-brain purchase. But oh man, the cigarette stench nearly knocked me over. I didn’t let that stop me from bringing this bad boy home, though. I looked at it as a challenge. After doing a bit of research, I experimented with different cleaning methods and after about a week of work, I’ve almost completely removed that offensive aroma.



Rubbing alcohol
Clean cotton rag or towel
Dryer sheets


1. Place 2 to 3 dryer sheets inside the bag and close it up. The dryer sheets help to absorb any bad odor that might be in the lining (and make the insides smell like fresh laundry!)
2. In a small bowl, mix 1/2 cup of tap water with 1/2 cup of rubbing alcohol.
3. Dampen a clean cloth with the solution.
4. Wipe down your bag with the cloth. Allow to dry.


5. Repeat this process a couple of times until the smoke smell has gotten weaker. It took me 4-5 wipe downs to get it to a tolerable point. I also staggered when I cleaned the bag, never doing it more than once or twice a day. I wanted to give the alcohol a chance to kill the odor.
6. Hang the bag outside to remove any leftover stench. This could take a day or even a week, but fresh air is the ultimate adversary for cigarette odor. If the dryer sheets haven’t completely eliminated stink from the lining, do what I did — pull the lining to the outside and use a clip hanger to expose the lining to clean air, too.


* Avoid placing your item in direct sunlight because it could fade the leather.
* My bag had patches of both leather and suede. At first, I was wary of getting the suede wet. But when the alcohol accidentally leaked onto it, it did not ruin the nap at all. So I eventually just cleaned the whole bag without worry.
* I used a minty-scented rubbing alcohol which actually worked better than the regular type.
* Heat and humidity will not help with the smell. Wait until the weather cools off before placing your bag outdoors. And if it’s breezy, even better!