How To Clean Leather

With leather shoes & bags good care and gentle stain removal helps to keep them looking their best. Find out simple steps on how to clean leather here.


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How to Naturally Clean your Leather Accessories | Get Set Clean
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Key Steps:

  • Leather shouldn’t be oversaturated as this can cause watermarks.

  • This means it’s best to spot clean leather instead of giving it an overall wash.

  • It’s a good idea to add a protective layer to finished leather items after cleaning. You can use olive oil or a commercial leather protector to do so.

  • Always test any cleaning solution on a small area first to check it does not damage the leather.

  • Dry your leather items naturally and remember to store them in the open to allow the leather to breath.

Leather is a material that will never go out of style – it’s hard wearing, it’s durable, and it feels fantastic – but there’s just one little problem: everyone seems to disagree on how to clean it. There are people who throw caution to the wind and pop leather jackets into the washing machine, there are people who wouldn’t clean their leather if their lives depended on it, and, of course, there’s everyone in between. Do you know how to clean leather bag fabric, leather shoes, or a leather jacket? No? Then read on:

When cleaning unfinished leather, it’s essential that you use a specialised saddle soap, rather than improvising with other cleaners. Always read the label of your chosen product to ensure that you use it safely and effectively.

How to Clean Leather Accessories: Finished / Unfinished Leather

To work out how to clean leather clothes or accessories, you need to determine whether you’re dealing with finished or unfinished leather. Keep in mind that 100% unfinished leather is very rare (unless it’s still attached to the cow), and that ‘unfinished’ in this sense tends to be used to describe leather that is very lightly finished. The level of finishing will determine the best way of cleaning your accessories. Heavily finished leather items can withstand greater amounts of water than unfinished leather, and are a little easier to clean, but cleaning unfinished leather isn’t too challenging with the right tools.

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To check what you’re working with, take a look at the label. If it’s not clear, or if you’ve cut the label off, here’s a clever trick: apply a tiny water drop to your leather on a small, unnoticeable area – if it’s absorbed straight away, you’ve got unfinished leather. If it stays on the surface, it means there’s a protective film that’s preventing the water from being absorbed. Don’t worry, this test is completely safe – one small drop of water won’t ruin your leather.

Spot Cleaning Leather Accessories

Due to the delicate nature of leather, it’s best not to give it a thorough, overall wash. Instead, leather should be spot cleaned as and when stains occur. You’ll want to employ different techniques based upon whether you have finished or unfinished leather.

How to Clean Leather Shoes and Bags with a Finish

Finished leather is very easy to spot clean. Firstly, use a stiff bristled brush (an old toothbrush works well) to knock off any caked-on dirt. Next, use a clean, dry cloth to wipe your leather and remove any surface grease and grime. Finally, apply a small amount of water and a dab of mild laundry detergent to a cloth (you may find it useful to use a spray bottle for this – it ensures that you don’t use too much water or soap), and gently clean all areas of the leather that remain dirty. For salt stains, white vinegar instead of water will work wonders.

How to Clean Unfinished Leather Accessories

For unfinished leather, start as if you were cleaning finished leather – use a brush and a cloth to remove any surface dirt. Now, instead of using water and detergent, gently massage saddle soap into the leather. Saddle soap isn’t really soap; it’s more of a mix of oils and waxes that are safe to use on unfinished leather. There is, of course, a small amount of mild soap in it that helps to clean. Remove any excess saddle soap with a clean, dry cloth.

How to Clean Leather Furniture

What’s Wrong with Cleaning Leather as Normal?

Popping clothes and accessories into the washing machine is so easy and requires no effort at all, but it’s not the best way to clean leather. There are two reasons why leather needs a little extra care and attention. Firstly, leather cannot be oversaturated. Too much water flushes the oils out of finished leather – the oils that keep it looking healthy – and it can create watermarks on unfinished leather that are near impossible to remove.

Secondly, some soaps can leave a barrier of residue on leather which prevents it from breathing. When leather is suffocated, it begins to dry out and crack. Leather needs to be out in the open, soaking up small amounts of moisture from the air. That is also why it’s better to store leather shoes on shelves, rather than in shoeboxes, drawers, or wardrobes.

Ongoing Care & Protection

Now that you know how to clean leather shoes and bags, it’s time to learn how to care for your leather to reduce the risk of stains and to ensure that any stains that do occur do not become deeply set into the fibres. The oils and waxes in saddle soap will protect unfinished leather, but if you’ve got finished leather, it’s always worth adding your own protective layer at regular intervals, and certainly after each wash or spot clean.

You can buy all sorts of leather protectors, but good old olive oil (the type you have in your kitchen), actually works really well. Use a cloth to wipe a small amount of the oil all over your leather and then allow to dry naturally. This will act as a mild waterproofing agent, it will add moisture to the leather to prevent it from cracking, and it will reduce the risk of stains being absorbed into the leather. It’s an inexpensive and easy way to prolong the life of your leather accessories – what more could you ask for?

Originally published