Leather can be virtually indestructible if treated properly. With a little bit of care and attention, your new leather will last well into vintage age and your vintage leather will continue to have a long happy life.
The most important things to remember about leather is not to get it soiled, soaked, or let it dry out. Despite the fact that all of these things can be rectified to some extent, it is helpful to not let leather get into such a condition in the first place. Proper storage, cleaning, and conditioning will keep leather looking as good as new no matter how old it is.
Storing leather properly when it is not being used is the most important thing you can do to keep it in its best condition. When leather is stored it should not be in extreme hot or cold, or in excessive dryness or humidity.
To Store Leather
- Clean and condition leather before any long period of storage
- Keep leather in a cool, dry place. Humidity can lead to mold, one of leather?s number one enemies.
- Keep leather out of sunlight and away from any heat sources to ensure that the skin does not dry out and crack
- Leather is heavy, so always hang it on a durable, padded hanger. Wood hangers are preferable.
- Stuff leather (arms, legs, etc.) with acid free paper to help keep its shape and help prevent dampness.
Keeping leather clean and conditioned only takes a few minutes, but it will make a big difference in how good it looks. If a leather item lasted 30 years of abuse before getting to you, a little soap and water won’t hurt it.
Cleaning and conditioning leather is very simple if you just think of leather as skin. Just as you need to clean and moisturize your own skin, leather needs to be maintained in the same way to stay supple, pliable, and resilient. If you keep your own skin care in mind while caring for your leather, it is sure to outlast you.
? Cleaning at Home
In many cases all that is necessary to clean leather is a damp cloth or a store bought leather cleaner. This will remove any surface dust or dirt. (Always follow manufacturer’s instructions when using a cleaner specifically for leather.)
If the leather has been in contact with perspiration, water, or is stiff, you may need a more substantial method to cleanse it.
- Treat or remove any stains on the leather before washing it.
- Using warm soapy water made with an gentle cleanser like baby shampoo, Dove (unscented), or soap flakes rub the leather with a soft cloth to produce a lather in any area you want to clean.
- Wipe away excess lather with a clean cloth.
- Rinse leather thoroughly either by running through warm water or wiping several times with a damp cloth.
- Pat leather dry with a clean towel to remove excess water.
- Allow leather to dry flat in a warm place out of direct sunlight and away from a strong heat source (fire, heater, stove, etc.)
Washing Leather in a Washing Machine
Some people claim that leather can be washed using a washing machine set on a very gentle (wool or delicate) setting with warm or cool water.
This method may not be worth the risk if you are washing a very old piece.
If you choose to use this method, DO NOT use any detergent meant for washing clothes other than Woolite or Soap Flakes. Also, do not use more soap than is necessary to make the water slippery with a small amount of bubbles. Too much soap will make the leather dry and stiff!
? Professional Leather Cleaning
If you have a very special or very delicate leather item, or if you do not want to take any chances cleaning it yourself, there are professional leather cleaners that can do it for you.
Many dry cleaners offer leather cleaning services through which your leather is sent off site to a professional cleaning company and then returned to the dry cleaners.
Conditioning leather replaces the tanning oils that are depleted over time through wear, heat, and moisture. Reconditioning leather every 6-9 months will ensure that it never becomes stiff, dry, or cracked.
A leather conditioner is necessary for this step. There are hundreds of products available for this task, so be sure to read the label before using a leather conditioner to be sure that that particualar priduct is suitable for your vintage leather item.
Do not use leather conditioners that contain waxes or silicone which do not allow the leather to breathe
- Do not use leather conditioners that contain waxes or silicone which do not allow the leather to breathe
- Dampen the cloth with water before applying the conditioner to it so that there is not too much conditioner applied to the leather.
- NEVER apply contitioner directly to the leather, apply to cloth first.
- Apply conditioner to leather by gently rubbing into the lie or nap of the leather until the entire surface has been covered.
- Allow conditioner to penetrate the conditoner for at least 30 minutes before applying antother coat.
Stains on Leather
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.
Always do a small spot test on a discreet area of the leather (like a inside hem or the under arm) to be sure that this the method you are using will not damage the leather or remove any color or finish.
Do not use these methods if a goods is rare, valuable, or antique. Seek the advice of a professional if you are unsure of these techniques.
If the stain is recent, hand wash the leather immediately with mild soap or leather cleaner.
Note: It may not be possible to remove some dried or set in blood stains
Wash leather in warm water with baby shampoo and/or fabric softener, making sure that the skin is saturated. Rinse lightly and dry flat.
Using an iron set on cool, place blotting paper or brown paper on the leather and then heat wax until it transfers from the leather onto the paper. Repeat as many times as necessary until the spot is removed, being sure to clean paper each time so that wax is not transferred back onto the leather or onto the iron.
Oil Based Stains
Leather skin is highly absorbent of oils and set in oil stains will not come out. Conditioning the entire leather item with an oil based conditioner may help even out the discoloration of the stain, making it less noticeable.
For recent stains, mix Soap Flakes (you can make your own by grating a bar of unscented vegetable based soap) with a few tablespoons of water. Rub the soapy mixture slowly onto the spot. Rinse thoroughly.
Leather can be stubborn about holding on to odors. 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.
If your previously loved vintage item has a detestable odor like cigarette smoke, its going to take some work to get it out, but it is not impossible.
First try cleaning the leather item. If cleaning the leather doesn?t work try one (or a few) of these remedies at home.
If the leather item has a lining, Febreeze is a great first response. It will undoubtedly take the smell out of any fabric. For the leather part of the item, it is possible to use Febreeze even though it is not recommended for use on leather by the manufacturer due to the possibility of staining or dye removal.
A spot test before applying the Febreeze to the entire item is essential to ensure that you will not damage the leather by using it. If the spot test shows no change to the leather, saturate the item inside and out with Febreeze and allow to dry flat.
Baking soda can be used a few different ways to remove odors from leather, all of which are very gentle, however it is always best to perform a spot test to be safe.
- Dry Baking Soda
Put Item in a paper bag or pillow case with an open box of baking soda for at least 24 hours. You may also sprinkle baking soda into the pockets and interior of the item or fill a sock with baking soda and leave it inside.
- Baking Soda Solution
Mix one teaspoon or baking soda with one liter of warm water and saturate the leather item (you may also increase the mixture and soak the item). Rinse item and dry flat.
- Dilute vinegar in equal parts warm water and let item soak. Rinse and repeat. Allow to dry.
- Sponge the item with straight vinegar and rinse. May need to be repeated several times.
Always use white vinegar as other vinegars may stain
What To Avoid
Although leather is very durable, it is not indestructible. Improper care or cleaning can crack and dry leather skin, remove finishes and colors, or make it too stiff to wear. Keeping leather away from chemicals, heat, and humidity are key. If leather is like skin, think of its care as anti-aging; if you wouldn’t put it on your own skin, it probably isn’t very good for the leather either.
As strong and durable as leather might be, it is fairly easy to ruin it’s appearance.
NEVER use the following chemicals or substances on leather:
- Household cleaners
- Turpentine and mineral spirits
- Waxes or silicone (prevent leather from breathing
Rule of Thumb: Leather is skin; if it would harm your skin it is going to harm the leather.
How to Clean Mold From Leather
Mold is one of leather’s number one enemies, but it’s not difficult to fix. To make your vintage leather mold free, simply follow the few steps listed below.
What You Need
- A soft cloth
- A warm, dry environment
- Leather cleaner or mild soap
- Dry out leather item in warm room until completely dry.
- Remove surface mold with damp cloth (mold will wipe off if the leather has been dried out completely).
- Allow leather to dry completly for a second time.
- Clean dried leather thoroughly with leather cleaner or a VERY mild soap like baby shampoo.
- Keep leather clean, conditioned, and properly stored to prevent mold from returning.
Note: This method is not applicable for suede or nubuck. Contact leather cleaning professional for these types of leather.
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