Best Ways to Care For Your Leather Products
Your Ultimate Guide and Article To Leather Product Wellness
The leather you own and love whether it be a jacket, pair of boots, scarf, or keepsake, is just like anything else you own that is cherished and is definitely something you do not want to have ruined because of an accidental spill or a tear while having a night out of fun.
We hope to cover here and bring to you the most comprehensive guide and help article on all of the ways your leather fashion could show damage and how to fix that using easy simple DIY lifehacks to restore your garment back to it's original ( or as close to as possible ) state of well-being.
Since we are experts and professionals ( that's what we keep telling ourselves anyways ) on leather products, fashion, and apparel since that is what we work with each and every single day this list has helped us out of some tight jams and saved us a lot of money in the process. Let's face it leather is not cheap, even for us here at The Odd Portrait to buy it in bulk hide, our real genuine quality leather is sacred and revered to us since some of the designs patterns and pieces we obtain are very limited in quantity so we really have to be careful with how we treat it. We also have to make prototypes, test it out, throw it off roofs and run it over with cars from time to time, so our resources need to be conserved at all costs!
Disclaimer : We are no way in sponsor with, affiliated, or paid for by any of the products or companies listed within. This article is our expertise and experience that we hope to pass along to help you with your leather care, repair, and protection needs.
Does The Idea of DIY Leather Cleaning Scare You ?
I am sure you are conjuring up images and thoughts of the massive arsenal of bottles, chemicals, tools, hammers, and anvils you must need to tackle this task. After all you had a little bit of wine spill on your new leather jacket or accessories and the mighty god of thunder Thor himself must wield his mighty hammer and reforge it in the great eternal forge to salvage it. Heck I used to get frustrated at cleaning tennis shoes. You know the white part that never stays white after the first time you wear them? Frustrating maintenance yes, but so much money can be saved with some of these very easy simple helpful methods.
You do not need a garage full of gnomes tinkering the night away, but some commonly used time honored practices and principals will work just as well.
A Lesson On Leather
Shall we start at the beginning ? Going all the way down to the microscopic level, leather is made up of a tangle of fibers resembling a pad of steel wool. These strong little fibers are held together with what most everything in the universe is held together with : protein bonds. Next to preserve and add a lasting quality comes the tanning process in which hides are soaked in chemicals to prevent the fibers and their bonds from decomposing. Then fats and oils are tumbled with the hides (this was once a hand process known as "currying") to keep the protein bonds from drying out and to make the leather supple.
Unfortunately this is not going to last a lifetime, you must keep those protein bonds lubricated and supple is the key to long-lasting leather. If those protein bonds dry out completely, they shrink, become brittle and finally break. Once broken, they can't be mended. The leather is permanently weakened. Superman meet kryptonite. Soaking dried out leather in special oils may make it supple and bendable again, but it won't restore the original shape, protein bonds or its strength.
When water penetrates leather, ( it's mortal enemy ) it forms temporary bonds with the oils that are lubricating the leather fibers then floats them to the surface as it evaporates. Without those lubricating oils, the leather feels stiffer. Its fibers are more brittle and subject to breakage. You need to put the oils back in.
Different Types Of Leather
Just a quick reference here to give you a little more in depth guide and quick help with your product. There are multiple types of leather out there, so no, not all are made equally
The surface of leather is what is refereed to as the ‘grain.’
- Full-grain refers to the untouched top layer of the leather hide. The hair on the surface is removed, but the surface remains intact, with no flaws, marks or scratches.
- Top-grain is a leather surface that has been sanded to smooth the hide. The uppermost layer requires some form of treatment to remove imperfections.
- Smooth-grain is achieved by removing hair from the uppermost layer of a hide.
- Corrected-grain refers to a leather surface that has an artificial grain applied to it.
- Split leather refers to the fibrous part of the hide that remains after the top-grain has been separated from the hide.
That sums up this little primer insight and we will not make a history lesson to bore you to death over any more details and let's dive into what you hopefully are here looking for.
Three Main Types Of Leather Care Products
What cleaners main purpose is for is to remove the grease collected through dust, the remnants of the previous layer of polish and other oils mixed in the grime. Layers of polish built up over time prevent the leather from breathing, eventually causing the leather to become brittle and break into cracks.
Most all of the best leather cleaners contain surfectants that attract dirt and grime from the surface of the leather.
Use solutions with neutral pH and cleaners that do not contain alcohol or abrasives which will damage or discolor leather.
Saddle soap can be used to remove dirt from exterior of leather. However, A lexol leather cleaner would be a better choice. A saddle soap will most likely be too strong for the leather on your bag and could cause discoloring.
Often a regular soap will be very drying and a saddle soap (which was originally designed to soften leather) has a high oil and fat content.
The first line of defense against salt and snow is a quick wipe-down with a damp cloth whenever exposure occurs, and keeping the leather healthy with conditioning as needed.
However thorough cleaning needs to be done very infrequently. It is always more important to brush and wipe down on occasion and keep up maintenance.
Your conditioners are there to add moisture to the your apparel, scarf, or accessory.
Remember that leather has a frequent tendency to dry out and crack over time. Regular use of a good conditioner keeps the the surface soft and supple.
Mink oil, leather honey and neatsfoot stimulate the natural oils of the leather. These are common conditioners used to add moisture, added layers of protection on leather, and even color.
Sealants coat the top leather layer and protect the skin from water, snow or ice. They also stop the natural oils and moisture in the leather from escaping due to exposure to sunlight or other environmental factors.
While it is not essential to polish leather, it adds to the aesthetics and offers a mild layer of protection. Applying polish to leather is a matter of personal preference.
A regular shoe polish can rub off on your clothes. Always test a small portion to ensure the color matches and test if the leather is able to absorb the polish quickly. A little goes a long way.
My Leather Got Wet Help
This might be the number one problem on anyone's list. Wet leather is not happy leather that's for certain. Water is to leather like Kayne West is to Taylor Swift. Just mean, nasty, and it's mortal enemy.
Leather from not only looking stylish and fashionable is also great to wear outside when it is cold due to it's protective quality, the only problem that comes with that is nature likes to dump it's heavenly showers upon us during those times. What is one to do.
If your leather gets too wet remember this : Dry it slowly. Speed drying leather will change its chemical structure, and you will end up with a stiff crinkle cut out of chaos. Your best solution is room temperature with gentle air. This will always work better than direct heater time with say a hair-dryer, space heater, or other apparatus. Keep your apparel in the general shape you will want it to appear during the drying phase, as this is the result you will most likely end up with.
Leather clothing can last a lifetime if it's well maintained. One of the main causes of damage to leather apparel is water. Very porous types of leather, including some types of suede, can often be ruined by water. If your leather clothing gets wet, the first thing to do is let it dry thoroughly. Always dry wet leather immediately. A hair dryer on a low setting can speed up the process. Damp leather accumulates mold and mildew. Once mold and mildew form, restoration becomes more difficult.
Removing Water Stains
Leather that gets marked with water, it will leave a stain. Saddle Soap is an amazing product and you can find it on Amazon with that link, it has a huge use to remove the remaining stain. After initially drying the stained areas, wet the saddle soap and work up a lather with a sponge.
Apply the soap with the sponge and just pat it dry. If the dastardly stains remain, repeat the process. If it goes to the next step into mold or mildew, removal may require the use a soft nail brush. This process will most likely need to be repeated a few times. If the areas that you treat become faded, a leather dye or shoe polish in the appropriate shade can be applied once the material is dry. We will go over coloring a bit more however.
Stains on Leather Removal
Even leather isn't adverse to stains, especially if it's vintage and lived a previous lifetime before finding its way into your closet. However, you're not required to live with the stains of its past; most leather stains will come out easily with a little soap and water. It is even possible to remove blood, oil, and wax in some cases.
Nothing ruins a garment worse than a giant black ink stain mark. Ink stains are horrendous, but reversible if you catch it quick enough before it fully dries and the ink sets into the material and fabric. Especially with leather it will be absorbed very quickly. Think about it like this however any product that will dissolve ink will also do the same to the color of the leather. If you are fast enough some solutions out there will remove the offending color without damaging too much below. Most home remedies as useful as they may seem can only magnify the problem in most case. The area can be professionally color matched but we will come back to that
First before attempting anything you should test and see if your leather is treated or untreated. Naked leather that is untreated and untouched is super absorbent and will require professional help.
- Put a drop of water on any surface part of the leather
- If the water soaks up it is untreated
- If the water beads up it is finished and you can begin cleaning
Spot Cleaning Your Leather
Always spot clean an area before attempting any of the cleaning methods. Find and locate a small area of the leather in a well concealed spot. Using whatever solution you end up going with, wipe a small amount into the leather and check for signs of damage or discoloration.
What we are doing here is not just checking that the solution is cleaning the leather, but what you're checking is that the solution isn't ruining the leather. If the solution does not in fact work on your particular garment you don't want to add insult to injury and make it even worse. That's why spot-cleaning is highly recommended as a necessary precaution
How Can I Remove Wine From Leather
A common problem is always wine. Especially red wine and the stains they like to leave. A night out at dinner can result in a ruined piece of leather. Often costing more than the entire meal itself ! There used to be this little product called wine-a-way that used to work wonders that was very expensive and higher end bars and restaurants used to carry for such occasions but I would not count on it.
Here is a great answer and solution that will help you save your apparel and offer you some hope that all is not lost
- A drop of water placed onto the jacket will determine it's leather type. Does the drop soak into the leather instantly? Then the jacket is made from naked or aniline leather, which has no protective surface treatment and requires professional cleaning only. If the drop beads up on the surface of the jacket, the leather is semi-aniline and can withstand the home treatment you are about to give it.
- Take a soft cloth and blot the wet stain on a semi-aniline jacket with a white paper towel to absorb as much liquid as possible. Do not press hard against the jacket, easy does it.
- Dip a clean, white paper towel in hydrogen peroxide and place the towel over the red wine stain. Place a glass or other heavy object on top of the towel to help press the peroxide into the leather.
- Remove the towel after 30 minutes. If the stain remains, apply a new towel and leave it for another 30 minutes. Repeat if you are noticing a change for the better.
- Mix enough baking soda into 1 teaspoon of hydrogen peroxide to make a paste, if the stain has not disappeared. Gently work the paste into the leather with a folded paper towel, then wipe it away.
- Rub a small amount of white, foaming shaving cream into the leather, if the stain remains. Wipe away the remaining shaving cream with a paper towel.
- Dip the corner of a paper towel into distilled white vinegar, if the stain remains. Blot the towel against the stain to pick up any remaining color. In small circles gently rub a small amount of leather conditioner into the cleaned jacket with a soft cloth to restore its texture. Lets give your item a minimum of twenty-four hours of drying time
This is by no means the end all be all but hey Luke did not destroy the Death Star on his first run through the trenches !
Wine Removal Part 2
This is part two with another great method that can be used to remove wine again from your garment or leather. I can not take full credit for this one as Martha Stewart helped me out a bit with this one.
Blot the stain and then drape the stained fabric over an empty bowl, centering the stain within the rim. Using a clean, dry cloth, dab at the stain to absorb excess liquid. Don't rub, which can set the stain.
Pour cool water on stain and make certain you surely cover the entire stain with water.
Next step is to cover with salt and saturate the stain with a generous amount of salt and let sit until the salt begins to absorb the stain (it will start to turn pink). The sooner salt is applied, the easier it will be to lift the stain.
Get some nice boiling water and pour slowly and carefully pour said steaming hot water onto the stain from a height of about six to eight inches. Let sit until the stain lifts.
Soak in a vinegar mix and wash gently. If the stain doesn't come out after following the steps above, soak the cloth in a solution of one part vinegar to two parts water. Once the stain lightens, launder the item as usual.
Tip: Avoid putting the cloth in the dryer until the stain is completely removed. The heat will cause the stain to set.
Check out the video for some more step by step instructions.
How To Video On Wine Removal
Scuff Marks On Leather
Let's determine what type of leather we are cleaning first and foremost before attempting to remove the offending scuff marks. This can be judged by either lightly scratching the surface or placing a small drop of water on the surface. If the scratching leaves a mark or the water is absorbed, the leather is most likely unfinished. For untreated leather, dampen a sponge, and apply a small amount of saddle soap.
Remember when cleaning leather, always use circular scrubbing to apply or remove materials. Start off softly and non abrasive. Rub the sponge on the leather until the soap has formed a light lather. Then, rinse off the lather with cool water, and dry the spot with a microfiber cloth. Once the spot is dry, apply a leather polish for unfinished leather, and rub until the polish is absorbed and the mark is but a distance memory.
Finished leather cleaning do as such, use a mild moisturizing soap, such as hand soap, instead of saddle soap. Apply the soap to a microfiber cloth, and work into a light lather on the leather surface. Rinse off the microfiber cloth with clean water, and wipe the soap suds away. After drying the surface with a microfiber cloth, apply a leather conditioner to a cotton swab, and rub into the mark. After the conditioner dries, which can take awhile be patient here, the spot should be buffed to obtain a light sheen.
Usefull Leather Cleaners
Here are a list of common and useful cleaners for your leather apparel that has gotten damaged
- Leather Honey - This is a concentrate that will last for awhile and at $15.99 it may be worth it if you are prone to accidents
- Soap based cleaners such as Ivory are much more gentle than solvent based chemicals make them a good suitor
- Ink stick designed for use with leather. This is what a lot of professional cleaners will use, and somewhat expensive, it might be worth your while to invest in one
- Saddle Soap - Cleans and protects this is a traditional saddle cleaner which helps rehydrate the material with soft soaps such as glycerin and lanolin
- Leather cleaner and conditioners - Cleans, hydrates, and wards off cracking. Not a professional grade strength however, but Home Depot sales Zep which is easy to fi
- For more tips check out this article by our friends at Tips Bulletin and some homemade leather cleaning recipes
Home Leather Remedies
Your own home apothecary could be the solution to the stains that are plaguing your life. Do not want to go the commercial and industrial way of cleaning your damaged leather products ? A bit of a free spirit do it yourself in your kitchen type and want to experiment. We have here some tested yet unproven so do not hold us accountable methods.
Hairspray - No we are not joking many swear by this home DIY formula for success
- Take a Q-tip or cotton swab and douse it thoroughly in hairspray.
- Immediately take the Q-tip and attack the area of damage.
- Apply leather cleaner and conditioner to the spot in question afterwards. Because hairspray can dry out leather, causing it to begin cracking, it's important to treat the leather after using this method.
- Repeat until the ink stain is removed.
- Hairspray - No we are not joking many swear by this home DIY formula for success
- Isopropyl ( Rubbing Alcohol ) 70% isopropyl alcohol has worked for many leather owners in the past, although it's probably not a preferred method. Soak a Q-tip or cotton swab with a bit of rubbing alcohol before rubbing it on to the stained leather item. Because alcohol is also a drying agent, be sure to couple this approach with leather cleaner and conditioner afterward. Repeat if necessary
- Magic Eraser - Dampen the tip of a magic eraser and then rub it into the stain. Magic erasers contain a material called melamine foam, which helps remove tricky stains. Finish routine by applying a leather conditioner to the spot using a clean towel. Sourced from Wikihow
- Nail Polish Remover - Not the acetone based kind ! Some people have succeed at removing ink stains with the help of non acetone-based nail polish removers. Dab a little on a Q-Tip, rub the Q-tip against the stain, and finish with a nice bit of leather cleaner and conditioner to keep the leather from unnecessarily drying out
Odors And Help With Your Leather Material
Leather can be stubborn about holding on to odors. The material can be a coarse grain which can soak up strong smells, such as smoke, food odor, sweat, perfume, mildew or the “new leather smell” from the tanning process. Getting these smells out of leather may require some trial and error, and when in doubt, our little disclaimer here that you should always get the leather professionally cleaned to avoid damaging the item
You may be able to locate a leather specialist or dry cleaner in your area that can remove the odor, but it won't come cheap. Instead try removing unwanted odors at home. There are many safe and gentle methods of removing odors like using baking soda
Dry out the wet leather
If the leather is wet, or appears to be covered in mold or mildew, you need to remove any dampness quickly. The moisture can damage the leather permanently and create a smell that will be very difficult to get out. There are several simple methods for drying out the leather:
- Find a place the leather in a spot in your home that gets indirect sun. Direct contact with harsh sunlight can cause the leather to crack, chip and wear out. Choose a spot that is by a window that filters sunlight or that is behind a screen.
- Using a blow-dryer on a low heat setting works. Avoid bringing the blow-dryer too close to the leather as this can cause it to crack or chip. Run the blow-dryer at a distance over the leather to soak up the moisture and prevent big water stains on the leather.
- Use a clean dry cloth to wipe the leather dry, especially if you are trying to treat a pair of leather shoes, a leather jacket, or a leather purse. Skip alcohol based products or odor-masking products, like perfume, and use a clean dry cloth to give the item a good wipe. The chemicals in these products can get into the pores of the leather and possibly damage the item.
Pack the leather item in newspaper or packing paper.
Newspaper is of a porous quality and packing paper means they are both great for absorbing any bad smells in your leather item. Always check that the leather item is completely dry and that you are using dry newspapers. The loose fiber in newspaper makes it softer and more absorbent than other options, like office paper.
- Take several sheets of newspaper and crumple up in a box and place the leather item in the newspaper. Close the box and leave it sealed for one to two days.
- Periodically check in on the leather item to see if the newspaper has effectively drawn out the bad smell. You may need to leave the item in the newspaper for another day.
Use a Vinegar Solution To Clean The Leather
Vinegar is acidic and will help to counteract those bad odors and the smell of the vinegar, which could be a bad odor to some, will also dissipate with the any other bad smells in the leather.
- Stop before you use any acid based cleanser on the leather item, and do a spot test like we explained earlier to make sure it won’t discolor the leather. Mix equal parts distilled white vinegar and water. Choose a very small area on the item and dab the vinegar solution on the leather. If there is no discoloration or cracking on the leather, proceed with cleaning the item with the vinegar solution.
- Always use a new and clean cloth to wipe the surface of the leather with the vinegar solution.
- A spray bottle works well to spray the leather with the vinegar solution and then wipe it clean with a cloth.
- In case the offending odor is really bad, looking into soaking the leather item directly in the vinegar solution for 5 to 10 minutes. Make sure you dry the leather well after the vinegar soak so it does not get full of mildew or moldy.
Baking Soda To The Rescue
Baking soda is amazing for so many things in life but here we are going to be absorbing bad odors and it is safe to use on leather. You will need baking soda and a pillowcase or a zip-lock bag that is big enough to fit your leather item.
- Take your leather item and stuff it in the pillowcase of the zip-lock bag. Sprinkle a thin layer of baking soda over the surface of the leather. You can also sprinkle the inside of the leather item to remove any odors on the inside of the item.
- Tie the end of the pillowcase or seal the zip-lock bag. Let the item sit in the baking soda overnight, or for for 24 hours.
- Remove the baking soda by using a small vacuum or a clean cloth. Brush the baking soda off gently to avoid scratching the leather.
- Keep on repeating this baking soda process until the bad odor is hopefully gone for good.
Give It Some Time
Yes this sounds like the easy way out we are giving you but it will ring with bells of truth. Due to the nature of leather it wants to absorb things. And the smells it will do just that. It will lessen over time. So do not try and over mask it with perfumes and other chemicals to cover it up, as that may actually bond and adhere to the original culprit and make it linger around longer. The aging process your leather will go through will soften the material over time and ease and lesson up those pores where the smell is trapped, releasing it for good, and naturally once and for all.
Dry Leather Restoration and Help
If leather gets too dry rub something moist into it. Pick a leather dressing or cream, preferably recommended by the maker. Leathers can have paints, waxes, oils and all sorts of things applied to their surface, so you probably want to pick something similar to how it came.
Dry rot is what occurs if nothing is done to leather to preserve it. Sounds pretty gross when thinking something you wear everyday could have this forming inside isn't it?
The oils in the leather fibers have dried/evaporated to such a point that oxidation has begun to effect the fiber bundles. As time goes on, oxidation continues, the leather often lightens in color, looses strength (and maybe surface finish), then evidences obvious powdering. This process is called "dry rot" and has nothing to do with fungus or bacteria. If untreated, all leather will dry rot.
This might sound like a repeating mantra here but for each session, problem, stain, cleaning, or repair you must clean first ! Once the leather is clean, owners must prepare it for the restoration process. Use a leather prep solution and an abrasive pad. The solution removes the leather finish on the surface. However, do not use an abrasive pad if the leather is severely cracked. This could rub off pieces of the leather. Just use a soft cloth on flaking leather. Continue applying the leather prep until colour transfers from the leather to the pad or cloth. The leather prep removes any soluble silicones, but not waxes or polishes. To get rid of those, use an alcohol-based cleaner to wipe the leather down with and then give it 30 minutes to dry.
Strengthen the Leather
Many factors such as age and general wear and tear have caused the leather to become weak. In this weakened state it will eventually leads to a cracked surface. Purchase a leather binder and apply it with a sponge. This helps prevent future wear and tear. Do around 3 to 5 coats of binder and let each layer dry in between applications.
Repair Cracked Leather
Unfortunately if the worst has come to bear fruit not all is lost. If the leather has cracked heavily, you can fill in those cracks with a product called Flexifil. However, keep in mind that this product only works for mild cracks and not for holes, tears, or other damaged areas. For any big jobs such as those you are going to need to purchase a leather repair kit, and have a lot of time and patience on your hands.
The use of a plastic knife or a pallet knife will work the Flexfill into the cracks and then run the edge of a spatula over the top of the crack to get rid of any extra solution on the surface of the leather. Do this until all of the cracks are filled and then let everything dry for half an hour. Next, get a grit sandpaper and easily work off any of the dried solution that is remaining on the surface.
Restoring Leather Shape
Leather stretches out, but not back: If you start to overfill a wallet, it will never really return to it’s former taut self. If you stretch a leather bag when wet or very humid, it will move even faster. Just learn to carry the right amount, and this takes care of itself.
There are so many ways your leather bag or purse can crease or seem to permanently hold a new undesirable shape. If it is a soft leather your easiest remedy may be just stuffing it with tissue paper and pushing those lines out , and hope that the leather is moist enough to go back.
We featured a pretty cool and very detailed and informative article about re-purposing leather and all the items and materials you need to begin such a construction project you might find a lot of it useful for your project here.
Conclusion and Follow Up
We hope this guide helped out tremendously and you are well on your way to maintaining some amazing products. Understandably it is quite lengthy but it should cover all of your bases and last as long as your loved items.
If you enjoyed or found any use of this leave us a comment, ask a question, or voice your displeasure, any will work. We update this blog regularly will all sorts of useful help, tips, and other randomness. Also social media, Instagram, Facebook, you name it, you can find us for our most up to date happenings.
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