New Life For A Family Heirloom Leather Briefcase

Emma Bryson Horizon Airlines Pilot

This project is special because it comes from my sister-in-law, Emma, who recently inherited this leather briefcase that belonged to her grandmother. As a pilot for Horizon Airlines, Emma is constantly on the move and wanted to be able to use the bag to haul around all of her flight manuals and paperwork.

She sent it over to me hoping to get it to a point where it would not only look better, but also for it to be able to withstand the wear-and-tear of heavy daily use. 

Cleaning and conditioning this briefcase was pretty straightforward, but it did pose a couple challenges, namely a stubborn ink stain, scratches, and visible dry cracking. Follow along to see how we were able address these issues and get this bag back to looking better than it has in years.

best way to clean leather messenger bag with otter wax saddle soap

The bag itself is well-constructed, but the visible ink stains and dry cracking had Emma just about ready to clip its wings. It's obviously been heavily used for a long time without much in the way of cleaning or conditioning.

I'm pretty good at being able to look past surface-level defects, and what I saw underneath was a bag made from super high quality leather that's been gradually softened and broken-in over a couple decades of use.

The ink stains present the biggest challenge, especially because they've had so much time to settle into the pores of the leather. Ink stains are notoriously difficult to extract from leather, think of it almost like removing a tattoo. You want to be able to remove as much of the dye as possible, but scrub too hard and you'll risk damaging the leather or permanent discoloration.

How hard you attack the stain really depends on the condition of the leather. This leather is pretty resilient, so I chose to be a little more aggressive and go after the stain with our Saddle Soap, warm water, and a power scrubber with a medium-stiffness nylon bristle.

best way to clean leather messenger bag with otter wax saddle soap
Had to bring out the big guns to get at those ink stains. The scrubbing attachment on this mechanical screwdriver won the day and did a fantastic job at deleting the ink that had settled into the surface.
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After wiping all the residue left over from the cleaning process it was time to apply our Leather Salve to provide a deep conditioning treatment and really moisturize the dried out leather. 

how to clean and condition leather with otter wax leather salve

I used both horsehair brushes to buff the surface of the Leather Salve clear, using the large brush for most of the surface and the smaller brush to buff the hard-to-reach spots and thread seams where the Salve tends to accumulate. I recommend going over everything twice just to make sure that you've evened everything out and buffed out anywhere the Salve might have accumulated.

how to apply otter wax leather oil to condition leather

For the final step, I went over the entire bag with a healthy coating of our Leather Oil. The great thing about our Leather Oil is that if you use it relatively often you'll never have to go through the entire reconditioning process.

Our Leather Oil helps maintain moisture levels in the leather and helps keep it from ever drying out to the point where conditioning would be necessary.

otter wax how to condition and polish leatherSince it's family, I decided to go the extra mile and mist the inside of the bag with a room/linen spray from a local company called Running Late Apothecary. The one I used is called Tabor, and smells like crushed Douglas Fir Needles. Super fresh. It’s great stuff and I highly recommend it.running late apothecary tabor room and linen spray

Otter Wax How To Clean And Condition Leather Messenger Bag