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Leather Cleaner Messed Up My Gucci Bag

When things that are supposed to help hurt instead.

A close-up of a black Gucci shoulder bag with gold detail. Photo: Christian Vierig/Getty Images

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Out, Damned Spot has long provided general tips to keep your fashions looking amazing, but now, twice a month, I'll also be answering questions about the very specific problems your new (or old!) purchases may present. Do you have questions for me? Ask away!

I stupidly brought my beautiful leather Gucci bag with me to an outdoor Germanfest, where I promptly spilled beer all over it. None got inside and I was able to wipe it clean, but when I got home I decided that now would be a good time to give it a proper cleaning with some Coach Leather Cleaner that I had at the house.

Today, I noticed that there is a slight discoloration down the side and back of said Gucci bag. I can't say for sure, but I can only assume it's from the leather cleaner. The bag is black, and the discolored area looks an almost metallic dark reddish color. I am grateful that it's not affecting the entire bag, but I'm so mad at myself and would really like to try to fix it (preferably before my husband notices it, as the bag was an anniversary gift). I did try wiping it down with a damp cloth but there was no change to the affected areas. Any suggestions? Is there anything that can be done or is this a permanent change to the color of the leather? Please help! — Lauren

There is definitely something that can be done, and today I'm going to surprise you with my advice: You should take the bag to a leather repair shop posthaste. Discolored leather is a fairly easy fix, and the repair will likely not cost you terribly much money.

I'm sure you didn't expect a cleaning expert to say "Send it to the professionals," right? You probably thought I was going to list some sort of miracle product that you can order from Amazon, slap on your bag, and declare victory. And I'll certainly give you that type of answer, because they don't pay me to write "Send it to the professionals," but in all honesty, that's what you should do, and I do get paid to be super honest with you.

So there's my professional opinion: Your bag will be totally fine, just as good as new, in fact, and all you need to do is find a reputable leather repairer in your area. Emphasis on “reputable!” A good way to find a reputable leather repair shop is to either ask the most stylish woman or man you know if they have a recommendation. Another good way is to call a local store that sells high-end leather goods and ask them who they use. You can, of course, peruse Yelp reviews, but that's a less trustworthy source than my first two suggestions, though certainly an option.

But let me show my work so you'll understand the path I took to get to this advice.

The first thing I did was to look up the Coach Leather Cleaner that was used on the bag to see if I could figure out why it caused discoloration (I do agree that it was more likely the cleaner, rather than the beer, that caused the staining). The description of the damage, that the black leather appeared to be an almost metallic rust color, tells me that there was, in essence, a color loss situation. Because of that, it's likely that an acidic substance was the culprit — when an acid comes in contact with dark materials, it can cause a patch of color loss that renders it a rust-like hue. Now, it could have been the beer that caused it, since beer is also acidic, but since you did so much wiping to remove the beer, and you didn't notice the discoloration before you applied the leather cleaner, I feel more confident in pointing the finger at the cleaner.

In researching the leather cleaner, I found a list of leathers and other hides that the product may and may not be used on; I found instructions for use; I did not find a list of ingredients. Humph. Without a list of ingredients, I can't determine if the cleaner is acidic or alkaline. Dead end.

Next, I considered the reversal of the color loss. That's actually fairly simple and something you could certainly do at home; the way to do that is to use a very good black shoe polish like Meltonian, which gets the nod as the best high-end shoe polish in our guide to the best shoe care products, to restore the color. If you choose to go that route, use an old T-shirt to apply a verrrrrrrrrrrry tiny amount of the polish, like, be so sparing with it that you begin to refer to yourself in the third person as Scrooge McDuck, just really be a total cheapskate with the stuff. And here's why: The overuse of shoe polish on a leather handbag can stiffen it up in a way that makes the bag feel less supple than it should. Once the polish has been applied, buff it thoroughly with a soft cloth and apply a small amount of leather conditioner to the entire bag.

By now, I'm gonna guess that you already understand why my advice is to take the bag for professional restoration and cleaning: While it's easy enough to get black shoe polish, the technique is wildly important, and someone who is trained to work with leather goods will understand the soft touch this particular bag needs.

There's a broader point to be made about the care and keeping of luxury goods, and I'll leave you on this high note: You should absolutely use and enjoy your beautiful and pricey belongings, and you should not despair when life happens to/on/around them — that's life! And just as you should enjoy your good things, you should also not hesitate to use a specialist to help you care for them. You know what's even more grown-up than owning a Gucci bag? Taking that Gucci bag to a specialty repair shop for regular and emergency maintenance. Your bag will thank you for it (and your husband never has to know!).