On the weekend, a friend and I came across a small vintage shop filled with rack upon rack of leather jackets and coats. The shop had the classic, musty vintage smell of a certain era that for me still brings up memories of playing dress up games with my sister when we were very little. Tulle tutus, Glomesh handbags and our grandmother’s fur stole were in high rotation.
Thanks to its natural properties, leather is strong, water-repellent and repairable, which means it can last for decades. “Leather is one of those materials that is often misunderstood – both easier and trickier to care for than you might think,” says designer Christopher Esber. “It’s a naturally durable material, but never without its quirks. Take care of it and it will take care of you.
Balm and chamois
The founders of British bag brand LPOL, Katy and John Maskell-Bell, say that to keep your leather garment clean and in top condition, you should apply a high-quality natural leather balm or cream every few weeks. . “This will ensure that your item will last for many more years, extending its life so you can enjoy more wear and tear.”
Before doing this, use a damp cloth to clean the surface of the item and let it dry for a few minutes. Then apply the balm using a soft, dry cloth in circular motions on all surfaces. Leave to act for about twenty minutes, then using a clean part of the cloth, remove any remaining residue and buff the leather to give it a discreet shine.
Since there are so many types of leather, from patent to suede, it’s important to use the right product for your garment. The team behind Farfetch’s repair service, the Restory, recommends applying Carnauba cream to smooth the leather, and using a spray for other types of leather such as suede or nubuck.
According to the Maskell-Bells, you can also select a conditioner based on the color of your leather item. For black leather, they suggest a natural black balm; for beige and brown leather, they suggest neutral leather. “We also recommend that you wax the edges and seams of your leather garment to make it water resistant.”
If you’re unsure, or if the item is particularly valuable, Esber advises leaving moisturizing or replenishing creams to the professionals. Most shoe and handbag repair services will also handle leather garments, and you can ask them for advice on home care for the future.
What about washing?
Esber recommends removing surface stains or dirt with a lightly dampened colorfast cloth and avoiding harsh cleaners or detergents. When in doubt, he says, “trust the experts. Look for specialty laundries that handle leather garments.” According to the Restory, leather should never be machine washed. Instead, wash the exterior of your leather item by hand, using mild detergents to clean stains from the garment.
If you have noticed that the lining of your item has started to smell, you can wash it with detergent and water, but you must be careful not to get the leather wet. To do this, start by turning the garment inside out. Next, the Maskell-Bells recommend that you “use a damp cloth with a small, pea-sized dot of natural fabric softener and lightly rub in circular motions to remove any dirt, stains, or odors.” Finally, let the garment dry naturally, ideally outside in the shade or in a well-ventilated place.
According to Esber, leather garments should never be stored folded, as this can damage the patina and lead to premature aging. Instead, place leather garments on padded hangers and store them in a dry place.
If you live in a particularly humid environment, says Esber, storage is key. “Make sure the place it is kept allows air to circulate. You should also keep it in a place where there is daylight without direct sunlight. Otherwise, be sure to take out your leather to get some fresh air from time to time.
Unfortunately, humid environments can cause mold to grow on leather goods. The Restory says if this happens, “it’s important to isolate the item from the rest of your wardrobe to prevent the spread of mold.”
They recommend placing it in a plastic bag and sending it off to be professionally cleaned. Before you put the item back in your closet, you need to monitor it for an extended period of time to make sure the mold doesn’t return.
If you want to try tackling mold remediation at home, the Maskell-Bells suggest taking a damp cotton or microfiber cloth and dipping it in a little white vinegar with a few drops of lemon juice. Then run it over the surface of the leather to remove the mildew and repeat until you are certain that all remaining spores are gone. Do this outside while wearing a protective mask, as the spores can be hazardous to your health, then let the item dry in direct sunlight.
To help! My leather got wet
If you happen to get caught in the rain while wearing a leather jacket or skirt, the Restory team says, “Don’t panic! Simply hang the item in a ventilated place and allow it to dry slowly and naturally.
“Do not dry your item on radiators or near artificial heat sources as this may warp or distort the shape,” they say. “If it’s suede, small rain stains can often be gently buffed out with a soft suede brush.”
For more extensive damage, take the item to an expert who can clean, recolor and restore the leather. Once the garment is dry, you may need to reapply leather conditioner.
Esber says: “Always remember that at its core, leather is a natural product and will naturally dry out if left in the right dry environment. And after that, you will often find that it will be like new!