Everything You Need to Know About Taking Care of Your Leather

Woman in the snow with a leather backpack

Just about every leather expert in the world will have a different take on how you should care for your leather products (don’t even get me started on the lanolin debate). But one piece of advice that keeps cropping up is this: how you care for your leather is mostly based on your personal preference and style.

Do you like the rugged, cracked, toughened-up look of cowboys and ranch hands? Or perhaps you prefer the blinding shiny shoes of a dapper dandy? Maybe you’d like your leather jacket to be soft and conforming, like an extra layer of skin. (But like, not in a creepy way. Ew.) Decide on the look first, then bring on the customized love and care.

That being said, there are a few basics that you can still keep in mind when caring for your leather, most of which apply regardless of what kind of look you’re going for.

Things you should do often.

Wipe it down! The best way to ensure quality care is to make it constant care. If your jacket gets a good rain smattering one day, use a damp cloth to wipe it down once you’re out of the elements. A simple weekly wipe helps keep unwanted dirt and built up grime at bay, and makes it less likely that you’ll need to resort to heavy duty professional deep-cleaning later.

Things you should do occasionally. 

Condition! A good general rule for oft-used leather goods is to apply a conditioner every 3-6 months. If you like the rugged look, lean toward six months and steer clear of super-softening products. For soft and movable leather, stick to three months.

Things you should do once a year. 

If you just can’t calm the urge to waterproof (or your boots are doing some true stomping about in gnarly conditions), do so once a year. Because leather jackets tend to have a pretty large surface area with lots of folds and seams, it’s a good idea to have them professionally cleaned once a year or so (most major cities have at least one specialty leather cleaner, so do your homework and you’ll be good to go).

On the matter of storage.

Two biggies here: light and air. Your leather is like a claustrophobic vampire: it hates sunlight, but it still needs to breathe. Too much sun will leave your leather dried up and faded, kind of like a sunburn (editor’s note: do not put sunscreen on your leather). Too little air will create a breeding ground for mildew and rot. Use breathable fabrics, like a pillowcase, for travel and storage so that water can evaporate naturally. Enemies of the air, beware!

On the matter of form.

Kind of like those once-tight-but-now-super-loose hair ties you keep losing, leather does not spring easily back to life once bent out of shape. To preserve the smooth silhouette of your leather goods, be sure to support their original form when in use or storage. Cedar tree inserts work great for shoes, both to hold shape and dry out excess moisture. For your wallets and bags, avoid over-filling them when you’re using them in order to keep them stress-free.

On the matter of suede.

Yes, suede is a form of leather. In fact, it’s the same thing altogether, just the other side of the leather skin. But the fact that it’s the other side of the leather means that it calls for some different upkeep than your other products. The most important tip: you’ll want to steer clear of water and only ever use a suede-specific brush to clean off any dirt. Voila!

On the matter of lanolin.

Fine, we’ll get myself started on the lanolin debate. Lanolin is a waxy secretion obtained from sheep that helps keep their wool water-resistant, and does much the same for leather. However, lanolin will also soften the leather more than other products. So if you’re looking for the soft, supple embrace of lambskin, lanolin will work nicely, but keep it away from your rough and rowdy cowboy boots that you’re trying to keep, well, rough and rowdy.

Next time you’re in a boring conversation, be sure to talk about the nice leather we’re having!

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The Styletto is the official blog of Sole Serum, the essential oil-infused cream that relieves pain and eliminates inflammation caused by your most painful (but also most fabulous) shoes.