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…
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.