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Leather Care: How to Keep Leather Looking Fresh and New

Updated on August 21, 2015

It's the Season For Leather Care Again – How to Keep Leather Looking Fresh and New

The autumn and winter months are rapidly approaching. This can mean a lot of things: the holidays, cooler weather, traveling and visiting loved ones, parties and family gatherings... but as any fashion conscious person knows, it also means that the opportunity has come around once again to make a bold statement: it's leather season!

Chances are good that you own at least one leather garment. Whether it's a handbag, a short jacket or a full length coat, with its clean lines, supple texture, and unmistakably subtle scent, leather can be one of the striking materials in your wardrobe. Unfortunately, it also has a reputation for being difficult to maintain. As everyone knows, when leather begins to go bad, it goes bad quickly, and it's not long before your once-beautiful coat is full of unsightly cracks and splits, and the surface becomes scratchy and scaly.

So... how can you keep your leather looking fresh? Leather Care is easy!

Luckily, once you understand why it is that leather can be such a difficult material, it's rather easy to take care of it and keep it looking its best year after year. For all the fuss people make over caring for it, leather is one of the most durable materials used in clothing, and there's no reason that a properly maintained garment shouldn't last a decade or longer (notwithstanding changes in fashion).

The main thing to remember is that leather, even after all the tanning and processing it undergoes, is still essentially a skin. And just like your skin, it requires regular cleansing and maintenance to look it's best. The secret behind leather's soft, pliable, and supple texture is that the porous fibers of the material are infused with natural oils. These oils will gradually begin to dry out over time, which will cause the surface of the leather to become brittle and even crack. Periodically replacing these oils is the key to making sure your leather stays supple for many years to come.

Though the treatment of leather is usually handled by professional cleaners, it is possible to undertake the task on your own if you keep a few simple things in mind. If you do decide to do it yourself, the garment will need to be treated twice a year with a cleaning solution specially formulated for leather. This solution will break down and dissolve the old oils and release them from the fibers of the material. At that point, a high quality leather conditioner should be applied which does the exact opposite, replenishing the leather's natural oils for a certain period of time. It helps to understand this process by relating it to moisturizing your own skin, or washing your hair. The exact same principles apply.

These intensive treatments are essential to keeping your leather looking its best, but what about more regular maintenance, such as the kind of things you can do on a weekly or daily basis?

Leather Care #1 - The Wipe-Down

As you wear leather, it's natural for dirt and grime to begin to accumulate on the surface. Before this becomes a problem, you can wipe the surface of your garment down once a week or so with a damp cloth and a very mild soap. Of course, conduct a spot test on an inconspicuous part of the garment before using anything stronger than water. Lay the garment flat and then, using circular motions, do a cursory cleaning to get rid of any surface dirt or light stains. When this is done, use a new cloth and the same circular motion to apply a lotion that's specially formulated for leather. Try to lightly work this into the surface of the material, but don't be too rough. When this is done, allow the garment to air-dry.

Leather Care #2 - What To Do When wet?

If you're wearing your leather in the winter, it's inevitably going to get wet at some point, whether it's from rain, sleet, or snow. When this happens, resist the urge to use heat on the garment. Keep any leather far away from radiators, space heaters, blow-dryers and the like. Instead, hang it up somewhere in a non-humid room and allow it to air-dry. Heat will quickly sap the leather of its oils and it'll begin to crack and split long before its time.

Leather Care #3 - Waterproofing Leather

It's possible to purchase a repellent for your leather that, when applied, will help to waterproof the surface and prevent it from absorbing unwanted moisture and oils, but be careful. Read the label on any product you buy to ensure that it's specially designed for leather before using it. Heavier silicon or wax-based products will impair the leather's ability to breathe, and you'll soon have a severe problem on your hands.

Leather Care #4 - Avoid Self-Damaging The leather!

Never attach any pins to your leather, or wear any accessories that either puncture the surface or attach to the garment by means of an adhesive or sticky backing. What might start out as a tiny pinprick can rapidly spread when the surrounding leather begins to dry out more quickly than you had anticipated. Likewise, the film left behind by adhesives will prevent the leather from breathing. Leather is usually striking enough on it's own without any garish accessories, but if you must accessorize, be sure to remember the above.

How To Clean Finished Leather

Leather Care #5 - Leather Storage

If you won't be wearing your leather for a few days or longer, always be sure and store it in an upright position. If you use a cover, it must be one made of breathable cloth, because plastic will not allow the leather to breathe and it'll quickly begin to mildew, creating stains and an unpleasant odor. Use wide, padded hangers so that there's not a sharp crease at the shoulders of the garment. Creases will set into the leather if allowed to remain in that position too long. At that point, they will become problematic to remove and may be prone to splitting. Not everybody has access to one, but if you can store your leather garment on a mannequin, this is perhaps the best solution for long-term storage.

When storing leather, it's important to keep it in a place that it is neither so dry that it will turn the leather brittle, nor so humid that mildew sets in. The average closet should suffice, but you might want to lay the garment out once in a while even if you're not wearing it to allow it to breathe. Never, ever store the leather in direct sunlight, as this will dry it out quickly and cause a bleaching effect.

Leather Care #6 - What To Do With Wrinkled Leather!

If your leather becomes wrinkled, you can get rid of those wrinkles by running a hot bath that produces a lot of steam and then hanging your garment in the bathroom for a short period of time. Definitely don't store it there overnight or anything, but a few hours should be sufficient to relax the material and let you smooth out any unwanted wrinkles. It's generally never a good idea to iron leather, but if you find that for some reason you absolutely must do so, take some extra precautions. Never allow the iron to come into direct contact with leather, and never use the steam settings. What you want to do instead is place some kind of heavy paper such as a brown grocery bag, or even a sheet of thin felt-like material over the surface of the leather and then iron on top of that. Don't maintain contact for too long or you'll risk overheating and burning your garment.

Leather Care #7 - Avoid Chemicals

Because it's so important to keep the surface of your leather breathing and supple, be careful to never apply hairspray, cosmetics or perfume while wearing it. Any of these products can set up a film on the leather that might be undetectable at first, but will quickly interfere with the leather's ability to breathe and retain it's natural oils. If you suspect that the surface of your garment has come into contact with any of these products, consider giving it a cursory cleaning as described above. Don't forget to re-apply leather lotion after every one of these treatments, or you'll be doing more harm than good.

Leather Care #8 - Over-Oiling

ยท As dangerous as it is to allow your leather to be depleted of its oils and dry out, you also want to be on the lookout against the leather becoming too saturated with oils. This means that the oils from your body that accumulate during the wearing of the garment might harm the surface over time. On top of the periodic surface cleanings, the addition of a fashionable scarf to your wardrobe will do wonders for keeping the oils from your hair and face from coming into too much contact with your leather. The collar area is particularly sensitive to this danger.

One should note, however, that the above really only applies to articles of leather with a large surface area. Smaller leather accessories such as belts, wallets, and handbags are actively handled so often that their oils are worn away and replaced entirely by their contact with your body and hands. Such items don't particularly require any further treatment beyond this, though of course you'll always want to follow any instructions on cleaning that are provided by the manufacturer, particularly in the case of expensive shoes or handbags.

That might seem like a lot to keep in mind, but really, all that's required to keep your leather looking fresh is a little common sense and an understanding of how leather works. Once you've gotten into the habit, the above tips and routine maintenance for your leather should take no more than a few minutes a week. The years and years of use that you'll get out of your garment, and all the looks you're sure to get when wearing it out, will more than make up for your dedication in the long run.

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