Tips for Cleaning That Stinky Leather Bag from Overseas

Posted in Africa, Morocco, On the Ground

Last November, I visited Morocco for the first time. I found myself up to my ears in olives and tagines and enthralled with the chaos of the local souks (markets/bazaars) I visited. To check out my Morocco coverage from the trip, head over here. Now that the trip has been over for months, all I have left are my memories… and a bag that smells like pigeon shit.

I’m somewhat wary of buying things in countries where I don’t speak the language. In fact, haggling in the souks was both thrilling and completely discomforting as I had a traveling companion (and native Moroccan) do my translating for me. What exactly she was saying is a mystery to me. All I know is that I wound up buying a beautiful leather bag for $.10 on the dollar in terms of what it would cost in the US. Unfortunately, once I got it home, I realized there was a catch. There’s always a catch with bargains, isn’t there?

In this case, the catch was that the leather had been tanned in the budget Moroccan way, which is to say that it sat in a vat of pigeon poop for quite some time to soften it. Great for the texture, terrible for the smell. For months, I said I would take it in to a dry cleaner or leather expert to get the smell out. Once I started calling around for prices, though, it all fell apart. The lowest price I heard was $60 to clean my bag which had only cost $80. I was left with the best option out there for pretty much any job: do it myself.

After scouting around the internet, I found that I wasn’t alone in this conundrum. The problem seems to be quite widespread. I tried various home remedies, but nothing seemed to work. Washing the bag with olive oil and mild soap didn’t do much. Letting the bag sit in the sun for hours and hours only made it hot. Each time I would try something, it would fail and I’d put the darned bag back in my closet for another few weeks.

I decided to give the de-odoring process another shot, though, and I’m glad I did. Finally, after months of feeling bad about my purchase, I finally got the smell to (mostly) go away. How did I do it? Read on…

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1. Put the stinky subject in a giant plastic bag.

You’re going to need a leak-proof workshop of sorts for this project and the best/cheapest option around is a giant plastic bag. A plain garbage bag with work, but a thicker more industrial bag works better. I got mine from a local laundromat that uses them to pack up comforters.

2. Find an odor-absorbing powder.

My first thought was to buy some kitty litter. After all, that stuff is made to trap the poopy odors of your feline, so clearly it could pick up the pigeony scent, right? I was feeling rather lazy and didn’t want to run to the store, so I started looking around my house and found a bottle of Dr. Scholl’s Odor Destroyers Shoe Shot on a shelf. It’s the stuff I use to make my shoes smell less funky, so I thought it was worth a (shoe) shot.

3. Use an irrational amount of the stuff.

For my shoes, I give it one good spray and leave the powder to do its magic. For a giant leather bag like this, I decided to up the ante. I shot about half of the bottle into the large plastic bag. It was more than enough to cover the leather offender, but in this situation it’s better to use too much than too little.

5. Shake it like you’re clearing an Etch-a-Sketch.

The goal is to coat the bag with the absorbing powder. You want to shake the outer bag as hard as you can to completely cover every inch of that foul-smelling thing. When you’re done shaking, shake some more. More shake = less smell.

5. Be patient.

This one’s hard. You want to see if the powder is working, but every time you open the bag, you let the powder out and air in. You want to keep it as a closed eco-system where the bad smells are leeched off by the odor-absorbing powder. Let it sit for at least 24 hours to get the maximum effect — longer if you can stand it. You can also make it a multi-step process by repeating steps 1-5 every couple of days until the smell totally disappears.

For me, a full day in the bag was all it took to get rid of that disgusting smell. After wiping off the white powder the best I can — and watch out, because I’m pretty sure the TSA is going to have some problems with me the first time I bring it through security — you’ll be ready to rock. I can’t wait to use mine on my next big journey.

Comments

  1. Rather than thinking that I would be spending $60 to fix an $80 bag I would have though of it as spending $60 to fix an $800 bag (since you said you paid 10 cents on the dollar). Then it would have seemed like a bargain and life would have been so much simpler.

    • I got rid of the smell with about twenty cents worth of a product I already had at home. Now THAT’s a bargain.

      • I’m not disagreeing with the bargain from the final twenty cents POV. I’m just going by you saying you spent months going to leather and dry cleaner stores, searching the internet, trying different solutions, etc.

        The person truly getting the ultimate bargain is the person reading this and benefitting form your trials and tribulations WITHOUT having to have spent all the time on it.

        Thanks!

  2. tq kessler for your tips. Wow .. we just came back from Morocco last nite. 26/12..We bought few leather bags from the market.. Initially we did not realised the smell that horrible until we open up our bag at home. Now our whole hse smell like shit… !!
    I need to find what ever stuff I need now to do this magic. Tq Kessler.

  3. Hi there, great article and I’m in the same situation… so thank you! Quick question though, did you zip the leather bag shut or allow the powder to run inside the leather bag?

    • I left the bag open for the powder to get everywhere but YMMV. I believe the stain only gets applied to the outside but I wanted to do whatever I could to change the smell, so the more surface area, the better. Hope that helps!

  4. Thanks for the great solution, will be trying this on my bag from Cuba. Just wondering if the exterior of the bag turned out ok after all the white powder was used? I wouldn’t mind if the interior had residue but would hate to mess up the exterior with this remedy. Thx.

  5. I can’t wait to try this. I bought 2 white leather ottomans on Etsy that came from Turkey and they smell like wet goats. I tried everything – a commercial ozonator, baking soda in a closed plastic container, leaving them in the sun. I was about to throw them away. Fingers crossed.

  6. Thank you so much for the article. I got in the same situation. My goat leather bag has the strong smell. I don’t know it’s the leather itself or the manufacturer applied somewhat oil to make it look new, but the smell is too strong and sticks to my hand even. I tried washing it with soap (by hand) and added scent booster as well. However, the smell still lingers. I just applied the odor absorbent and put it into the bag as you guided. Now let’s wait for like a day or so to see if it works. Once again, thanks for your useful tip!

  7. Thank you for the tip! I still haven’t used the bag I bought from Morocco because of the smell! I was thinking of leaving it out in the sun for another 2 weeks when I stumbled into this!

  8. My husband and I just fell victim to the pigeon poop bag while in Morocco! The bag is question is currently stinking up the hotel room!! Lol. This post had us laughing hysterically! “Shake it like you’re clearing and etcha-sketch” We will definitely be trying this when we get home.

  9. Oh my Gosh!!! My brand new custom bag from Morocco stinks so bad I could barely stand to put it in my suitcase!!! Laughing out loud at how many others have been in this spot! Said bag is currently out in the sun, tomorrow I’ll try the Dr. Scholls remedy abs pray that it works!

  10. This was hysterical. I just got back from my second trip to Morocco and brought back a pouf…which I hate using because every time I put my feet up, I am smacked in the face by that horrid smell. I will definitely try this!

  11. Absolutely hilarious! Have bought a few stinky bags, just wondering whether the guys at customs can smell us coming and into the Australian quarantine bins they go! Maybe that would be a blessing!

  12. I just bought a bag made in Columbia off a Swap n Buy site. Real cheap now I know why….really funky smell….like musty leather. I will try this fix. Thanks

  13. I told the identical story to my car service guy on the way back home from Europe where I bought a great purse at a Seville train station. My purse smelled so bad I had to tell the driver to open the windows of the car. he smiled and told me he used to sell leather purses and has a cure. It works. Get a vanilla scented candle…a big one. Stick it in the purse, do not zip the purse. Stick the candle [take the plastic off the candle] and the purse in an airtight plastic bag. Wait a day or two. The first bag only took a day, a $18 amazon purse took. 3 days. The purses do not smell…not even of vanilla for some odd reason. they are scentless and are great. I just bought today a Furla purse from Neiman M. store and it stinks so bad once I returned to the car. I am off to buy a fresh candle.

  14. Thank you for your brilliant idea with deodoriser powder! I bought few days ago a camel leather bag and the smell was so strong :(( I put it in a plastic bag and i added: cat litter deodoriser powder, tumble dryer sheets and baking soda and now the smell is almost completely gone. I can wear it, i am so happy!

  15. Hi,I have a leather bag which I have tried so many things,but it still stinks. I am trying your solution now. Will leave it for a few days. Fingers crossed. Will let you know. Thankyou.

  16. This is too funny! I purchased a bag online from China, it also stinks!! My husband said I was crazy to “google” to see about taking the “stink” out the bag and there were all of you asking the same question, about “stinky” bags!!! Thank you Ladies, I will try a lot of your suggestions!!!
    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!
    Marilyn G

  17. Oh thank God I stumbled across this! I just ordered a pouf from Morocco and its gorgeous but the second i took it out of the package I about died. Heading to the store now to buy some odor eaters! Thank you Thank you!

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