Explaining Unpleasant Odours That Can Come From Cheap Leather Bags & Goods

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    In this piece we look at unpleasant odours that can come from leather goods that have either not been manufactured properly, or have been treated poorly after manufacture.

    The fixes we recommend are suggestions only based on our own experiences. It’s important to bear in mind that every leather bag is different (even if its come from the same manufacturer) – if the leather bag your looking to fix is expensive, or precious to you, we always recommend an independent examination from an individual that is used to working with leather. Fixes are conducted at your own risk.

    My Leather Bag Smells like Mould

    If not stored properly, a leather bag can become susceptible to that mouldy smell that you probably associate with a thrift store. This smell can also occur if you get your bag wet and don’t take appropriate measures to dry it out.

    If your bag does get wet, such as dropping it into a pool of water, you should take action straight away by mopping the water away with a towel or cloth. The bag should then be left out in the open to dry out naturally – a hairdryer will only damage the leather by making it crack. Once fully dry it can be conditioned. If you store a leather bag away while wet, it can actually cause mould to grow in the lining. Especially if you’ve had food in there. This will cause a mouldy smell when you eventually take the bag out, and if it’s been left too long the damage may be irreversible.

    If the smell hasn’t gone too far, then filling some stockings with baking soda and then packing the inside of the bag with help draw out the unpleasant smell. You can also wash it out with an equal parts vinegar/water solution, but be careful not to over-saturate with water.

    My Leather Bag Smells like Mildew

    Mildew is most commonly associated with damp areas such as a bathroom or an old room. However, that strong musty smell can also become a problem in leather bags that have been left untouched in a cupboard for many years, or a bag that hasn’t been given a high-quality lining such as the 100% cotton lining used by MAHI.

    All is not lost for a musty smelling bag though, it is relatively easy to get your bag back to being as freshly smelling as it was new.

    Start off by giving your bag a good initial clean with a damp cloth or baby wipe to remove any dirt or dust – remember to clean inside and out. You should then leave your bag to air in on a porch or something safe outside, but never leave it outside in the rain. If a few days of airing doesn’t remove the smell, then you should move on to either a leather cleaner or a solution made from one part water and one part alcohol/vinegar. Put a clean cloth in the solution or cleaner and wipe your bag both inside and out again, being careful not to make the bag too wet as it can become damaged. You should repeat this process until the leather is odourless.

    Once complete, remember to condition your bag. This will be especially important if the bag has been lying in a wardrobe unused for a few years. To avoid the problem in future, remember to store your leather bag in a well-aired space and keep it in the dust bag provided.

    My Leather Bag Smells like Chemicals

    A chemical smell in a leather product can be very worrying, as chemical smells can be the first indication that the new leather bag you’ve bought is actually made from faux leather. Which makes sense, as faux leather is a type of plastic, and plastic is a man-made material that is processed using chemicals.

    Usually this chemical smell will disappear over time, although this can take as long as five or six weeks of airing, which is annoying if you were looking to use your new bag straight away. Sadly, some of these chemical smells are so strong they can actually cause breathing problems, especially in children or people with asthma, so this chemical smell can become very worrying.

    When buying leather you should always buy from a reputable company that you can research and trust that you are getting the best quality leather rather than being conned with fake or poorly made leathers. Without caution, you may find the cheaper bag you bought as a bargain, will actually cost you more in the long run.

    My Leather Bag Smells like Urine

    It’s impossible to pinpoint a consistent source of this problem but a likely cause that a cheaper bag may have been treated with urine. We know of incidents where bags sold as cow leather are actually made from the cheaper camel hide rather than from cows and, worse, the manufacturing process involves the camel hide being soaked in urine.

    Urine is full of a substance call urea, which will degrade into ammonia. If you put ammonia into water it creates an alkaline base, which can break down organic material. This soak makes leather much softer and easier to use, as well as being incredibly cheap to use. The urine also makes it easier for the manufacturer to remove flesh and hair from the hide.

    Unfortunately, traders will soak these urine-produced, camel leathers in salt water for a few days before selling so they will initially smell fine. However, after a few days the urine smell will become very prominent and the leather bag will be unwearable. Plus, as the urine is so penetrated into the leather you will be very unlikely to ever get the smell out using methods such as baking soda or leather cleaners.

    My Leather Bag Smells like Smoke

    Just standing beside a smoker one time won’t make a good quality leather like a MAHI bag smell like smoke, however, if your leather is subjected to smoke on a very regular basis, then the smoke smell can begin to penetrate your leather, leaving that unattractive, musty smelling smoke residue.

    Thankfully, smoke smells are relatively easy to remove from leather without damaging it. One of the simplest methods to remove that smoke smell is to simply place dryer sheets around the leather and leaving it for a few days – including the inside if it’s a bag or jacket. This is non-intrusive and the sheets will suck up the smell leaving that beautiful leather smell.

    Alternatively, you can make up a solution that is one part water and one part vinegar and rub it on your leather. You have to be careful not to saturate the leather, as you will damage it, but take it slow and repeat the process until the odour is gone.

    After either treatment, you should condition your leather to ensure suppleness and stopping the leather drying out. Try to keep you leather away from smoke as much as possible if you can.

    My Leather Bag Smells like Fish

    For many, the smell of fish is one of the most unpleasant smells in the world. So, the very last thing you want is for your leather to smell like fish, especially if you want to wear it near other people – they might think you have the fishy odour! But where does this fishy smell come from?

    Unlike MAHI, some leather retailers will treat their leather using cheap fish oil that hasn’t been filtered. This cheap fish oil will still have that distinctive fish odour that filtering removers, and if used to treat the leather, this smell will permeate the leather leaving it smelling like fish. Of course, you might not have noticed this fishy smell in the shop, that’s because this fish oil treated leather can smell perfectly lovely at first, however, when these oils begin to break down chemically with time, the fish smell is released.

    All is not lost though, this fish smell can be fixed, but it won’t be simple and most online DIY solutions like baking soda, will not be strong enough to kill off the stench. Yet you also need a solution that won’t damage the leather at the same time. Leather Clean, which is a detergent that should be mixed with water, is safe enough for you to completely submerge your leather in. This penetrates your leather and its mix of fresheners, cleansers, antibacterial agents and moisturisers will lift the smell from both the leather and the lining, which smells can often cling to.

    My Leather Bag Smells like Manure

    Leather that has a distinctively manure like smell, is common in cheaper leathers or leathers that have not been treated correctly. What you’re actually smelling is your leather decaying! Remember, leather is made from animal hide and in order for it to become leather that will last decades, you need to treat the animal hide properly. Otherwise your leather will begin to break down as it rots from the inside, leaving a distinctively manure-like smell coming from your leather.

    Of course, a fault in the treatment process can be a simple mistake, however it is far more likely to be a result of purchasing a poor-quality, cheap leather. These companies can sell their products cheaper as they cut down on the manufacturing costs by skimping on stages like the treatment. The result is a leather that will start to smell soon after purchase and cannot be fixed. Fabric sprays like Febreeze will alleviate the smell temporarily, but the leather will continue to decompose and smell until you eventually have to throw it out. Which is exactly why MAHI spend so much time quality checking every stage in the leather-making process, ensuring that a quality leather that will last forever is produced.

    Read more about our leather craft here.     

    1 comment


    You mention leather clean, but I can’t find that anywhere online. Where can I buy it? I will be getting my next wallet from y’all for sure. Thank you for being candid.

    Jason Forsman April 08, 2018

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