When I buy vintage bags for my website, I try to buy bags that are in really good condition with little damage and no stains. However, there is often a small amount of where and tear due to the age of the bag and the fact that someone has used it and loved it in the past.
Occasionally, I will buy a bead bag with a small amount of bead loss, just because I really like the bag. In that case, I will do my best to repair the bag sympathetically and have a couple I am working on at the moment. Sometimes I will get a bag in a job lot which has got some staining and I do my best to spruce it up a bit for sale. Buying handbags over the internet or even at outdoor sales can catch me out, as you don't always realise a bag smells of cigarette smoke. The odour is really hard to remove.
When I think it will be possible, I tend to gently handwash handbags in warm water with a mild handwash detergent. It is amazing how many light stains can be removed and how sparkly beads can become afterwards. Needless to say, completely washing a bag is not always possible and really depends on the structure of the bag and materials used. Sometimes I can get away with just spot cleaning a particular area.
Most of the time, the results are quite successful. However, one vintage clutch bag does spring to mind. It came with a couple of other bags and was a white clutch bag, probably 1960's, with small beads dotted over it. It was very dirty and badly stained, so it was either try and clean it or throw it away. I decided to soak it for a while before rubbing at some of the stains to try and loosen them. What I didn't realise was that the bag was not as solid as I had first thought. The internal structure was made of cardboard and soaking it wasn't really the best idea. As I worked on the stains, the seams came apart and the bag disintegrated into a soggy mess in my hands! The only place left for the poor bag was the bin.
It was quite funny at the time and I didn't really have much to lose as the bag was in such a poor state to start with. I am definitely a bit more careful with others now though!