Leather Care Guide

11th Sep — 2021
Leather is one of the toughest yet most luxurious natural materials we have, but it is something you have to care for to keep it looking its best. When you invest in leather goods, providing the right care from the moment it's in your hands will ensure it lasts for decades to come. So, how do you ensure your leather goods last? From bags and belts to leather jackets and more, here’s your ultimate guide to caring for any leather product.

Weekly Care

To keep your leather looking as good as new, get into the habit of “feeding it” every week or so, especially if you use it daily. Smooth and fine leathers can benefit from a soft leather cream that will feed the leather and keep it supple. For high gloss leather, the application of good quality polish and careful buffing will keep leather looking as good as new. Just be cautious around the stitching, as it will degrade much faster if you leave it soaked in leather care products.

Daily Care

  • At the end of the day, look for any potential marks and use a brush or soft cloth to remove them before putting it away.
  • Take care not to overfill a bag or wallet and don’t stuff the pockets of a leather coat or jacket. Though it’s hard-wearing, leather can stretch and if you habitually try and carry too much the pristine crafted shape of the newly bought item will begin to look baggy and shapeless.
  • Beware of rain. Most leathers, particularly if they are treated, are water-resistant but rarely completely waterproof. So if a heavy shower is forecast take the precaution of carrying an umbrella. Should your leather get wet, avoid the temptation to put it near a heater to speed up the drying process. Always allow your leather goods to dry at normal room temperature and never force the issue with any sort of heat source. This is very important to note for your leather boots in winter!
  • Just as you don’t want to scratch your car, take care of your leather articles. Avoid sharp objects and be aware of rough surfaces. Leather is resilient but is susceptible to scratching and a scratch is hard to get rid of, especially on fine, smooth leather.

Take Special Care with Vegetable-Tanned Leather

Vegetable tanning uses natural tannins found in tree bark, berries, and leaves and is a prime example of leather that is designed to get better with use and time. It develops a lovely patina as it is handled and is exposed to water
If you feel the need to remove marks then a natural leather conditioner should be used, applied with a soft cloth. As with all leathers it is best to experiment on an area not seen in normal use just to make sure there are no detrimental effects.
Small scratches on vegetable-tanned leather can often be removed in the same way, just be gentle.

How to Care for Coloured Leather

The most difficult leather to look after is leather that has been dyed white, simply because it will show marks the most and is most likely to pick up colour from other objects. The only real answer is to be super vigilant and avoid contact with anything likely to transfer colour (jeans are often the biggest offender). The same goes for other light colours, such as cream, peach, and pastels.
Any other leather that has been dyed a colour (such as red, blue, or green) will be a little more forgiving than these light colours, but you may still experience discolouration in high-wear areas. As with light leather, try to avoid repeat wear against other objects and consider filling your leather good when it’s not in use to avoid discolouration around crinkles in the leather if it doesn’t have a lot of natural structure. A scarf or some tissue paper will do the trick in bags or boots.
Recolouring balms are available that will help restore the original tint, though prevention is better than treatment. As with all creams and polishes, test on a discrete area before moving forward. Leather comes in many varieties and what is good for one may be disastrous for another. Always read the manufacturer’s instructions and proceed with care.

Storage

Direct sunlight and excessive heat are the enemies of leather, prematurely ageing, hardening, and cracking. So always store your leather goods away from direct light and heat sources.
To protect further, it is a good idea to place each item in a cloth bag to prevent scratches and keep dust at bay. Plastic bags are to be avoided – they don’t allow air to circulate – but loose-weave cotton is ideal. Many leather handbags and other goods come with a dust bag to protect them, so make sure you make use of it or purchase one if needed.

Repairs

Because leather is tough, repair is often possible. If an item is torn then stitching is usually an option, but you may be able to get a replacement. Always return the product to the manufacturer or use a trained professional leatherworker to do the repairs for you – this is not something to DIY, even for minor repairs.
Light scratches can usually be buffed out, though sometimes colour balm will need to be applied to complete the job. Restoring the colour to a scratch is a detailed process that requires skill if the repair is to be flawless. It is possible to repair deep scratches but this requires filler so find a professional to do the work for you.

How to Care for Specific Products

Belts

We tend to wear belts every day so the marks of wear are inevitable. But you can slow this down considerably by having several and using them sequentially. When not in use you should hang them up in a closet away from heat and light and allow them to retain their original shape, or carefully roll them and store them in a drawer.

Bags and Wallets

As with all leather goods, when not in use, you should store handbags away from direct sunlight and heat. It is good to get into the habit of emptying them at the end of the day to keep them from becoming distorted. As mentioned above, if they are a design that “collapses”, consider stuffing them with a scarf or similar to fill them out when not in use.
Be careful with the handles - hanging bags up will result in the handles stretching and not having enough space above the stored bags will mean the handles get bent and distorted. Ideally, set them down so the handles can “relax” when not in use.

Essential Takeaways

Do:
  • Regularly dust with a soft cloth or brush
  • Gently clean off dirt as soon as possible
  • Allow wet leather to dry naturally
  • Use a high-quality conditioner at least twice a year to keep leather nourished and supple (ideally once a month or more often if in constant use)
  • Test any cream or polish you plan to use on a hidden section
  • Keep leather goods aired – don’t let them sit in plastic storage
  • Always store leather items away from direct sunlight and heat

Do not:
  • Ever soak leather in water
  • Try to iron leather
  • Ever put leather in your dryer
  • If caught in the rain, never attempt to speed up the drying process with direct heat, even if you are still using it (for example, don’t blast the heat in your car at your leather boots or jacket if you just got soaked)
Leather is tough but needs to be looked after with care. If you follow these simple steps your leather goods will last for many years, perhaps even decades. A good handbag, suitcase, wallet or jacket can become a constant companion and very much part of your life. Whether it’s a high-end designer handbag or a simple soft leather tote you can continue to enjoy it while other things wear out and go out of style.
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