Pleather, a fashion term once used derisively, is a fusion of the words plastic and leather. It describes a synthetic material that looks like leather but is an imitation that usually costs less and is considered cruelty-free by animal-rights groups. Various types of pleather, including vinyl, are used in fashion accessories such as handbags; you can usually clean them easily without the aid of a washing machine or dry cleaner.
Spot cleaning is the fastest way to clean a pleather bag, especially if it has just a smudge or two. You can use various cleaning agents, including laundry detergent, spot treatment, upholstery cleaner, dishwashing liquid, and bath or hand soap. Dip a clean, lint-free cloth in warm water and pour or dab some of the cleaner on the cloth. The amount you use depends on the size of the area to be cleaned. Rub in circular motions, reapplying cleaner as necessary. Once the bag is clean, wipe it off with a separate wet cloth to remove any soap residue and then dry with another lint-free cloth. Spot-cleaning is particularly effective when you have a spill or smudge that has just occurred, since fresh stains usually are easier to remove.
For a severely soiled pleather bag, immersion in water may be a better option. Put the cleaning agent in a clean sink or wash tub and add warm water. Let the bag soak for about a half hour and then use a sponge or soft-bristle brush to wipe in circular motions. Don't forget the interior. When you're done, rinse the bag with cold water, wipe or shake off excess water and allow it to air dry. Leave the purse open so that the interior can dry more easily.
Avoid Machine Use
Unless care instructions on its label allow it, avoid machine washing a pleather purse; the machine's agitation may cause damage to its interior lining. A washer can also damage the purse's hardware and finish, both because of the agitation and the repeated contact between the bag and the washer basin. Drying a pleather bag in a clothes dryer could cause the material to melt, warp or dry out and crack and cause damage to the dryer; instead, allow the purse to air dry or use a soft, absorbent cloth to dry it. Not thoroughly drying the interior of the bag, which is commonly fabric, can cause mildew and an unpleasant odor. If you don’t want to wait for the bag’s interior to air dry, use a blow dryer on a low setting.
If cleaning instructions accompany a pleather bag, always follow them. If there are no instructions and you prefer a natural treatment, use a combination of one part white vinegar and two parts warm water; this combination is usually effective as a cleaner and won't dull your pleather’s finish. Avoid using cleaning agents that leave an oily residue. Periodically wipe the interior of your pleather bag with a moist cloth to clean it and to help prevent the fabric from dry-rotting.
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LaMont Jones was an award-winning fashion and beauty editor for a decade at the "Pittsburgh Post-Gazette." A five-time nominator and judge of the CFDA Awards, he covers New York Fashion Week regularly. Jones is a 2011 inductee into the Pittsburgh Fashion Hall of Fame and coaches fashion models.
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