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How To Clean Leather Clothing

Updated on June 23, 2008
A variety of leather goods and leatherworking tools.
A variety of leather goods and leatherworking tools.

Stuff You'll Need Before Starting

* Saddle Soap

* Leather Conditioner

* Steam

* Stain remover

* Needle, sturdy thread, and thimble if anything needs to be sewn .

* Sprayable scent that won't damage lining of coat such as Febreze or essential oil diluted in water as per instruction below.

How to Clean A Leather Item

First, look over the leather item carefully. Only use this process for normal cleaning and maintenance, not major stain removal or damage repair. If the leather is damaged or deeply stained, you'll need to take it to a professional leather cleaner. In addition, never try to clean fur or suede at home, only use this on grained, finished leather. Many dry cleaners have a leather cleaning specialty, but check for it before trusting them with your leather garment.

Get saddle soap and leather conditioner from a local leather or hardware store. Use Febreze or scent of choice; I use 5 drops of essential oil in one capful of alcohol suspended in 1 cup of water. Test all substances used on item first by putting a few droplets on a hidden area for 24 hours to determine if any damage will result. Read and obey all instructions and cautions on products.

With a large bowl of warm water and a sponge, get a good lather from the saddle soap on the sponge. It's ok, you can really work up some suds for this part, it won't hurt your leather. Be careful not to soak your lining or cloth bits though, some cloth doesn't react well to water. Apply liberally to all leather surfaces. Rinse well with clean, damp cloth, but never submerge leather in water.

Use a clean, dry cloth to apply leather conditioner. Do not be afraid to apply a lot, the leather will keep absorbing conditioner until it has enough, at which point it will just sit on the surface and can be wiped away. Leather consists of fibrous bundles suspended in lipids (oil or fat) and it must have enough oil or it loses flexibility.

Apply scent carefully to any lining or cloth bits with a spray bottle. Try very, very hard not to get it on the leather. Apply steam from two or three inches away in short bursts to cloth or lining. Do not steam leather, just the lining. Place a barrier, such as a folded up sheet, between leather and lining if possible. Use either a steamer or an iron along with an ironing board or some surface that will be undamaged by the heat. Don't press down with the iron, just use the steam. Be careful, steam burns are both painful and dangerous. Leave yourself plenty of ventilation room.

Check item carefully for missing buttons or split seams. Sew back together with matching thread. If you have to sew through the leather, start with a heavy needle and sturdy thimble. Stitch one way through and then go back the other way to fill in the entire line with stitches. You should be able to see gaps between stitches when you're done. Examine other seams to get the look to match. Use the holes that are already there, do not try to punch new ones unless you really, truly know what you're doing. When sewing a button back onto leather, stitch very securely five or six times with doubled heavy cotton thread.

After everything has dried completely, the leather can be ironed with a dry iron set to low/medium heat. Be careful, and check often for burning. It helps to place a thin cotton rag between leather and iron. Never use steam directly on leather, it will cause the leather to distort and permanently hang wrong.

When done, hang or store leather item promptly and properly. Put away all equipment and supplies safely out of reach of children and pets. The steamer and/or iron will probably still be hot, so be careful with it.

Special Tips and Warnings

# Leather cleaning takes some time gets pretty messy, so set the proper time and space aside to do it right.

# Do the leather cleaning and conditioning all at one time instead of breaking them up into two sessions. If you don't oil soon enough, your leather can dry out.

# Saddle soap and leather conditioner can be dangerous for children and pets, do not leave these cleansers out.

# Steam burns are very dangerous and painful. Make sure you have plenty of ventilation, be careful about your skin, and again, do not endanger children or pets by allowing open access to the area. Both move in a quick and unpredictable fashion.

# Test all cleaners on hidden areas of the item first and leave for twenty four hours to check for compatibility. If you notice ANY damage, do not use the product.

# DO NOT try this on fur or suede. You will ruin your item, so smooth, grained leather only.


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