Owning an item made of natural leather is like being in a sartorial relationship. Leather, unlike many other materials, takes on a personality of its own depending on how you clean, treat, or wear it. As if it were a blank canvas, leather takes on scuffs and develops a unique patina over time, adding to the appearance and texture of it. Ultimately it’s up to the individual regarding how their leather looks, but we’ve assembled a few key tips to ensure your pieces look their best for as long as you own them.
Cleaning your leather is essential, since not only does it remove surface dirt and stains before they become permanent features, it allows for further treatments to be fully absorbed and take effect. The most basic way to clean your leather is to take a clean, lint-free cloth and dip it in some warm water with a mild detergent. If you have a more prominent stain, try using mink oil in lieu of detergent. Always work the cloth in small circles and make sure to go over the entire garment, allowing it to dry fully before any further action is taken.
Natural leather, often called ‘vegetable-tanned’ leather, is untreated when it makes its way to you. For the unfamiliar, this adds the risk of permanently staining the garment, but to those in the know, it provides the opportunity to get the desired tone and patina from their piece.
The easiest way to ‘tan’ a natural, unsealed leather is to place it in the sun for a day or two. Make sure to rotate the piece so that all parts of it are exposed to sunlight. This will give the leather a nice, warm glow to it that can later be ‘sealed’ in and preserved. If a more mellow coloring is desired, simply treat the jacket and then wear it as you would normally; the color change will be less perceptible, but develop over time.
Leather, unlike many other materials, takes on a personality of its own depending on how you clean, treat, or wear it
This is the real maintenance aspect required with your leather, since as a natural material leather will dry out over time. Often people attribute cracked, ruined leather simple as a product of it’s age, but more often than naught it’s simply a matter of improper care. Properly treated leather will literally last a lifetime.
As a general rule of thumb, leather should be treated roughly every 6 months or so. If you live in a climate where winter prevents your wearing the garment, treat it before you put it away for the season; non-use is not an excuse for non-treatment.
The following products are time-tested methods for bringing the best out of your leather:
- Neatsfoot Oil: Used most often on saddles and baseball gloves, Neatsfoot oil is produced from the hoofs of cattle. It produces a soft-yellow tone that over time will darken with age. As with all the oils listed here, make sure the product is 100% pure, since synthetic substitutes provide little to no benefit.
- Mink Oil: Found in cream or liquid forms, this oil is the most commonly used to treat leather. It moisturizes and provides what many call a ‘reddish’ coloring. It can also be found mixed with waxes for use on items where waterproofing is desired.
- Leather Dressings: These are the products that should be used after oiling, to ensure that moisture is sealed into the garment, and dirt is kept out. This will give your leather that look of being properly maintained.
- Always make sure to test any leather product on a small, discreet section of the garment. All leather react differently, and you want to ensure you’ll be pleased with the end result.
- Always use a clean, lint-free cloth of sponge for application. Avoid using the same cloth for multiple products, as this will undoubtedly affect the result.
- The best results will always be achieved from the best leather. High-quality leather items are indeed expensive, but with the proper treatment listed above, they will quite literally last a lifetime, and likely cost less than their ‘inexpensive’ counterparts.
Leather care is one of the small pleasures of owning a quality item, and it will ensure that a piece is enjoyed for many years:
- Always make sure to remove surface dirt and stains with a clean cloth and mild detergent of mink oil.
- Neatsfoot Oil or Mink Oil will add color to the leather and moisturize it.
- Leather Dressings are to be applied last and seal moisture into leather, maintaining it’s look and lifespan.
- Treat your leather every 6 months, regardless of wear.
Have a great piece that’s gotten that way through some leather care tips or tricks? Let us and your fellow readers know!