Leather is one of the most versatile materials and can last for a very long time if maintained properly. You can make countless products from leather that range from clothing to accessories and beyond. Leather products can serve you for a long time but need to be cared for because leather is a living material that requires a bit more maintenance than some artificial materials. In this article we will look into several cleaning methods suitable for different situations.
Leather products age
Just like everything else you wear or use, leather items will also become dirty over time. Fortunately, most of the dirt and smudge can be removed quite easily, though you should keep in mind that leather will change over time and there is nothing you can do to stop it. However, you can control the speed and nature of aging and this is what we are going to discuss today.
Basic cleaning is actually very simple and does not require much effort or tools. In fact, all you need is some water, an unscented bar of soap, a proper leather cleaning brush (a toothbrush will also do) and some cleaning rags. The cleaning process consists of 4 simple steps:
1. Begin by wiping away as much dirt as you can with the cleaning rag and brush. Most of the dirt should come off with ease. If you can’t remove all the dirt, repeat this step with a damp cloth as moisture helps loosen the grime.
2. If there is still some dirt stuck on your leather product, the next step would be using the soap bar. Make some lather from soap and water and rub it directly onto spots that are still dirty. The dirt should start breaking up and coming off the surface.
3. Wipe away the dirt and soap with a damp cloth. You should avoid soaking the leather whilst trying to remove the dirt and soap – it’s best to avoid making the leather too wet where possible.
4. Once the leather is cleaned, leave it to dry on a flat, dry and cool surface. Do not leave it out in the sun or apply any kind of artificial heat as this will shrink and crack the leather. It may take a little bit longer but the leather has to dry on its own.
Leather exposed to water
Sometimes your leather products can be exposed to large amounts of water, for instance, when you get caught in a pouring rain, drop your product in a puddle or fell completely into a body of water. When this happens, you will want to take extra care to get the leather dry.
You should never use a direct heat source or sunlight to dry the leather as exposure to intense heat will cause the product to shrink or even crack. If the leather is wet, the best course of action is to lay it out flat and let it dry naturally in a cool room. This way you can make sure that the leather shrinks as little as possible and will most likely not suffer any other damage.
Leather exposed to sunlight
As you might already know, sun is leather’s worst enemy and sun damage cannot be undone. Leather is usually damaged due to prolonged exposure to sunlight and it is often very difficult to avoid that completely. If you are fond of your leather product, the best advice is to keep it out of the sun as much as possible. If this is not possible, you must be prepared to replace your leather product at some point. Unfortunately, there is no ‘’sunscreen’’ for leather so this is something you have to keep in mind when using leather products.
Long-term care does not replace routine cleaning described above but there are some things you can do to extend the life of your leather products. There are also some things which you might consider doing even though these might have little to no effect in the long run. We have outlined some treatment options that you could try to prolong the life of your leather products.
Conditioning creams are similar to skincare products that many of you likely often use. Just like skincare products, they are designed to maintain fresh appearance and feel. Also, it helps avoid some negative scenarios like the leather becoming so dry that it starts to crack.
One product that should be highlighted is lanolin – a fatty substance found in sheep wool which is commonly used in leather conditioners. The main purpose of lanolin is to soften and moisturize the leather and that’s great if this is what you’re looking for, but if you want your leather to remain somewhat rigid and tough you should avoid using lanolin conditioners.
Another option that you could consider is oils. It might seem that conditioning creams and oils are very different products but this is hardly the case. Moreover, you will probably see leather oils with the word ‘’conditioner’’ on the label and no mention of the fact that it is actually an oil. The real difference between creams and oils is essentially your personal preference as some prefer oils while others prefer creams.
Shining your shoes is always an easy way to quickly make them look sharp and clean. But did you know that polishing doesn’t actually qualify as leather care? Your leather goods might look sharp after polishing but the overall condition of the leather is not affected.
Even though polishing your shoes isn’t a bad idea and a good polish every now and then is good for your them, it doesn’t really count as leather care. It should be noted that while this is not a standard, some polishes contain softening agents.
Leather is extremely water-resistant owing to its characteristic properties as well as the tanning process. But did you know that leather is not completely waterproof and prolonged or excessive exposure to water will result in leather absorbing the water? Spraying a waterproof layer on your leather goods might seem like a good idea but leather needs to breathe so that it could age properly, and “suffocating” the material will result in a cheap look rather than well-aged leather.
However, there are some viable alternatives to waterproofing sprays. You should consider using creams or waxes when wearing or using leather products during the rainy months. This of course means that you will most likely have to apply cream or wax several times during the rainy season. Creams and waxes are better for leather than sprays and they are also easier to remove once the season ends.
That being said, it is best to avoid waterproofing whenever possible as it will adversely affect the aging process of leather.
Other types of leather
You probably know that cow hides are not the only type of leather and, while some other types can be cared for in a same manner, there are some exceptions. You can find some information about maintaining other types of leather below.
Suede is technically a type of leather although the methods employed to maintain suede products are very different from those used for regular leather. Suede is very delicate because its finish is soft and delicate. This is particularly important when it comes to water because this will ruin a suede finish very quickly by making the surface look dull and rather unattractive. You can clean suede products with a special brush. There are also suede-specific conditioners that you should consider buying.
You can treat products made from alligator, snake or calf skin almost the same way as cow hides and there are only some minor differences. The most important difference is that you should make sure to use an appropriate conditioner for the specific leather type as the chemical composition may vary depending on the hide. Therefore, consult a leatherworker, cobbler or similar expert if you are not entirely sure which products to use.
Vinyl and Faux leather
Some of you may opt for faux leather instead because you are a vegan or you are just not interested in spending a lot of money on leather goods. While they are somewhat similar to real leather in being prone to excessive drying in direct sun and heat, they do not benefit from the same care.
For faux leather, basic cleaning is the only viable solution as other methods may completely ruin the texture. The best way to maintain faux leather is to limit exposure to sun and gently brush or wipe off the dirt. You should be able to maintain the look of a faux leather product for a while by following these steps.
If you are going to take care of your leather goods you should also familiarize yourself with different types of hides. We at Design de Valeur provide the highest quality leather products that will maintain their original look with minimal effort so be sure to have a look at our product range!