Why Do Handbags Smell of Fish? Banish Odors With These Pro Tips

Ever wondered why your brand-new handbag has a whiff of the seafood market? It’s not just you—it’s a surprisingly common issue that can take the shine off that exciting new purchase.

The culprit behind that fishy scent might be more complex than you think. From the materials used to the manufacturing process, various factors can contribute to this off-putting aroma.

Let’s dive into the nitty-gritty of why some handbags smell like they’ve been on a deep-sea adventure, and what you can do to freshen them up.

Factors that contribute to the fishy scent of handbags

When you’re dealing with a new handbag that reeks of fish, you’re likely encountering a problem that starts at the manufacturing level. The materials chosen for crafting handbags play a monumental role in this unintended odor. Here’s what might be going on behind the seams:

  • Chemical Treatments: Handbags often undergo chemical treatments during manufacturing. These treatments, necessary for preservation and enhancing material properties, can leave a strong residual smell similar to fish.
  • Dyes and Tanning Process: The dyes used to color your handbag, especially if it’s made of leather, might contribute to the odor. Leather tanning, which involves chemicals like chromium salts, can also emit a fish-like smell.
  • Glues and Adhesives: Many handbags are assembled using powerful industrial adhesives that have a pungent odor. Over time, these glues can break down, releasing smells that weren’t noticeable at first.
  • Synthetic Materials: Some synthetic materials resemble protein structures found in fish – when these materials are exposed to heat or moisture, they can start to smell.

What’s more, the packaging and storage conditions of handbags can exacerbate the issue. If a handbag is wrapped in plastic and stored in a non-ventilated space, the lack of air circulation can allow odors to build. Furthermore, if the storage area is damp, the growth of mildew can add to the unwelcome aromatic profile of your accessory.

Knowing these factors, you might wonder how these odors can be neutralized or prevented altogether. Well, you’re in luck. By identifying the causes, you can take proactive steps to ensure that your handbags stay fresh from the moment they hit your wardrobe. Remember, caring for your handbag is crucial for maintaining its quality and aroma. Keep it in a well-ventilated area and consider using odor absorbers for prolonged freshness.

The role of materials in handbag odor

When you pick up a new handbag, you’re not just holding a fashion statement; you’re clutching a myriad of materials that each play a role in that distinctive smell. Leather, for example, is a common culprit. The tanning process, which preserves the leather, often involves fish oil or other animal fats that can leave a lingering fishy scent.

Synthetic materials are no less to blame. These materials are usually petroleum-based and can emit a chemical odor reminiscent of fish after production. The culprit here is the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released by these materials, which tend to dissipate over time.

Adhesives also contribute their share to the symphony of smells in a new handbag. Manufacturers use strong glues to hold parts of the handbag together, and these can be particularly pungent if they haven’t fully cured by the time the bag reaches your hands.

Dyes and Chemical Treatments:

  • Strong, chemical-based dyes used in coloring handbags can contribute to the fishy smell.
  • Waterproofing and other chemical treatments applied to handbags for durability can emit odors during the “off-gassing” process.

Moreover, consider the hardware on your handbag; metal parts, such as buckles and zippers, can be coated with substances to prevent tarnishing, which, too, may give off a noticeable smell until they’ve been aired out sufficiently.

The Packaging Factor:

Don’t overlook the importance of packaging materials. Plastic bags and other wrappings may seal in odors during shipping and storage, preventing them from airing out. Once you unpack the handbag, these trapped odors become apparent.

Remember, it’s the combination of these different materials and processes that give each handbag its unique aroma. By understanding the materials used in your handbag and their influences, you’ll find yourself better equipped to select and care for your next purchase.

How the manufacturing process can affect handbag smell

When you’re exploring the world of handbags, it’s important to recognize that each step in the manufacturing process can leave its own mark, including distinct smells. Raw materials are just the starting point.

Tanning and Treatment of leather is particularly critical. Leather must be tanned to prevent decay, and the agents used, like chromium salts, can sometimes give off a fish-like smell. This scent might be more pronounced if the tanning process isn’t fully completed or is rushed.

In synthetic handbags, plasticizers are often used to make materials like PVC more flexible. These chemical compounds can emit a persistent odor reminiscent of fish, especially in closed spaces or when exposed to heat during production.

Adhesive use is rampant in handbag assembly. Depending on the quality and type, some of these glues have strong, pungent odors. They can vary based on their chemical composition; some of which may include fish oil as a component, lending to the fishy aroma you’re sensing.

Dyes and Printing Chemicals also play their part. The pigments and solvents utilized to add color can have metallic or chemical scents that mingle to create unexpected odors. While not directly fishy, they can alter how we perceive other smells in the handbag.

Let’s not overlook the role of Hardware and Metallic Accents. These elements can undergo processes involving chemicals that may produce volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which have a potent smell and can take time to dissipate.

If you’re concerned about odors, it’s worth investigating the manufacturing ethics of the brands you’re interested in. Eco-friendly and transparent producers often provide information about their processes, giving you insights into what might be contributing to the smell of their handbags.

Common misconceptions about handbag odor

The scent of a new handbag isn’t always what you’d expect. You might think only poor-quality or fake leather goods have odors, but that’s not the case. Even high-end brands can face the fishy smell challenge. It’s not an indicator of authenticity or quality; rather, it’s a complex issue.

Natural Leather Does Not Smell: That’s a myth. All leather, regardless of price, has a distinctive scent. Treatment processes can amplify this, leading to stronger odors.

Age Will Eliminate the Smell: Time may reduce the odor, but it might not eliminate it completely. Some materials and adhesives used in construction can have long-lasting scents that don’t fade easily.

Chemical Sprays Can Neutralize the Odor: Spraying your bag may seem like a quick fix, but it can damage the material. These sprays often mask the smell temporarily without addressing the underlying cause.

Storing Bags in Plastic Keeps Them Odor-Free: Actually, trapping your handbag in a non-breathable container can exacerbate the problem. Good storage solutions allow for air circulation to prevent odor buildup.

Only Synthetic Bags Smell: While it’s true that synthetics often have a stronger initial odor due to plasticizers, natural leathers are also treated with chemicals that can produce a strong scent.

Remember, contacting the manufacturer can provide specific care instructions that may help mitigate any unpleasant smells. And when shopping for a new bag, give it a sniff. Trust your nose along with the brand reputation to guide your choice. The right knowledge and care can help you keep your favorite accessory smelling fresh.

Tips and tricks for freshening up your handbag

When you’re facing the challenge of a fishy-smelling handbag, don’t fret. There’s an array of DIY solutions at your disposal. Start by emptying your bag. Remove everything, check all pockets and compartments, and shake out any debris.

Natural Air Freshening is your first and easiest step. Simply hang your handbag outside on a sunny, breezy day. The fresh air and UV rays can work wonders.

For the Interior, consider using baking soda. It’s a natural odor-absorber:

  • Sprinkle a generous amount inside the bag.
  • Let it sit overnight.
  • Vacuum it out the next day.

If you’re dealing with leather, reach for Specially Formulated Cleaners designed for leather care. Follow the product instructions carefully to avoid damage.

Activated Charcoal is another powerful odor neutralizer. Place a pouch of activated charcoal inside your handbag and leave it for a few days to absorb odors.

Dryer Sheets can offer a Quick Fix:

  • Tuck a scented dryer sheet inside your bag.
  • Leave it overnight to impart a fresh laundry scent.

Here’s a trick: Essential Oils can also refresh your handbag:

  • Add a few drops to a small piece of fabric.
  • Tuck it into an inconspicuous spot inside your bag.

Avoid Harsh Chemicals which can do more harm than good. Stick to natural or recommended products.

Remember, your handbag is an investment in your style. Regular maintenance not only keeps it fresh but also extends its life, ensuring that it remains a staple in your fashion arsenal for years to come. If these steps don’t solve the problem, consider a professional cleaning service that specializes in treating designer handbags. Their expertise could be just what your accessory needs to eliminate unwanted odors and keep it in prime condition.


You’ve got all the tools you need to tackle that pesky fishy smell in your favorite handbag. Remember, a little care goes a long way in keeping your accessories fresh and ready for any occasion. Whether you’re reaching for baking soda, activated charcoal, or a touch of your favorite essential oil, you’re well-equipped to banish odors and breathe new life into your bag. Don’t forget, if DIY methods fall short, professional cleaners are always there to help. Here’s to fresh-smelling handbags and stepping out with confidence!

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I remove a fishy smell from my handbag?

Empty the handbag, shake out debris, and let it air out in the sun. Sprinkle baking soda inside and vacuum it out after a day. For leather bags, use leather-friendly cleaners.

Can I use baking soda to deodorize my handbag?

Yes, sprinkle baking soda inside the handbag and vacuum it out after a day to help absorb odors.

What should I avoid when trying to freshen up my handbag?

Avoid using harsh chemicals that can damage the handbag. Stick to natural or specially formulated products for your type of handbag.

How can activated charcoal be used to freshen a handbag?

Place a pouch of activated charcoal inside the handbag to help absorb odors.

Are essential oils safe to use in my handbag for a fresh scent?

Yes, add a few drops of essential oil to a small piece of fabric and tuck it inside the bag for a fresh scent.

What is a quick solution for a smelly handbag?

Use scented dryer sheets by placing one inside the handbag for a quick fix.

Should I consider a professional cleaning service for my designer handbag?

If home remedies fail, consider a professional cleaning service that specializes in treating designer handbags.

Why is regular maintenance important for handbags?

Regular maintenance helps keep your handbag fresh and can extend its life.

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