October 25, 2021 6 min read
Regularly moisturizing your leather is key to keeping it in mint condition. If you’re wondering how to do that, here’s a guide from Andar.
We explain why exactly leather needs to be treated with oil, which particular oils are best for leather, and how you can apply them to keep your leather looking as good as the day you got it.
If you think about the many other garments and accessories you own (mainly those made from natural fabrics and synthetic materials), the idea of oiling them might seem overwhelming. However, keeping your leather well-moisturized is not only a normal part of its upkeep but is pretty necessary for keeping it in great shape.
Basically, the reason that leather needs to be oiled lies in this: Animal skin is made up of tiny fibers that are naturally lubricated. Leather goes through a tanning process, which fundamentally changes its chemical and physical properties that make it suitable for daily wear.
While this is good news for leather’s longevity, it does leave the leather more likely to dry out. And when leather dries out, it can start to develop cracks and lose its rich hue. Thankfully, regularly oiling your leather can stop this process right in its tracks and many times or even reverse it.
You might be wondering if leather oil is anything special and, if so, how it’s different from other oils, such as olive oil. Well, we can nip any doubts about their difference right in the bud by telling you that olive oil should never be applied to your leather.
Even though olive oil can soften your leather goods, it can also stain them, leading to spots and blemishes that you definitely didn’t ask for. Plus, olive oil isn’t absorbed by leather all that well, which can make your leather feel sticky and greasy.
We can apply the same logic to many other oils that you might be familiar with. Whether it’s coconut, avocado, or anything else you might find in the kitchen, it’s not our top pick for using on your leather goods. You can use them in a pinch, but they don’t offer enough benefits to justify the risk.
This makes sense if you consider that the main point of leather oil is to keep it moisturized, which requires absorbency. Many food-grade oils don’t have molecules that are small enough to penetrate the leather and will instead just sit on top.
Aside from adding moisture, leather oil can also enhance the natural hue of your leather goods and even add a protective layer that makes them water-resistant. All three functions of leather oil come together to make this a must-have tool in your leather care package.
Knowing what we know about leather oil, let’s take a look at some of the occasions that might warrant getting out the oil and conditioning your leather goods.
Here are some of the times you might want to use leather oil:
If you’re caring for full-grain leather goods, you know that being gentle is key when cleaning them. This means avoiding harsh chemicals and any aggressive physical motions.
Well, being gentle also means replenishing the moisture that was lost by the leather during the cleaning process. So, if you just gave your leather a good cleaning, this is the perfect time to apply some oil.
Leather can lose some of its rich hues as it ages. In addition, exposure to harsh weather and sunlight can accelerate this process. If you’re beginning to notice a change in the color of your leather goods, then you can turn to leather oil to restore it.
Stiff leather is a classic sign of dehydration. Regardless of what led to it, the solution is the same: more moisture. So, if you notice that your leather isn’t as smooth and flexible as before, then reaching for leather oil will make a world of a difference.
Cracked leather results directly from loss of moisture. Plus, the more you use dry leather, the more likely it is to develop cracks. So, if you’re starting to notice that your leather is excessively dry and starting to develop cracks, then it’s time to grab some leather oil.
Prevention is the best solution to stiff, cracked, or faded leather. If you oil your leather goods once a month, you can rest easy knowing that you’re going a long way to preventing your leather from deteriorating.
Hopefully, at this point, you’re convinced of the benefits of oiling your leather goods. Now, on to the fun stuff: picking the best oil.
Unfortunately, choosing the best oil isn’t such a clear-cut process. Indeed, the best oil for you really depends on what type of leather you’re oiling.
That said, here are some of the most popular oils for using with leather:
Mink oil is made from the thick layer of fatty acids found under the skin of minks. It’s an incredibly moisturizing oil and can do a lot to restore your leather’s softness and flexibility. Because of its high fatty acid content, it will also help your leather repel water—one of the most desirable functions of leather oil.
Beeswax is one of the oldest leather treatments still used today. It’s incredibly moisturizing while being able to form a protective water-resistant coating. For those interested in using the most gentle product available, beeswax makes a great choice.
Neatsfoot has been used for centuries in Europe to moisturize leather. “Neat” is the Old English word for cattle. Indeed, this oil is derived from the bones and feet of cattle. It’s a wonderful moisturizing option, but it’s definitely not for those following a vegan lifestyle.
Naturally, the best leather treatments will combine the above options to get the best results. In general, most blends will contain a combination of beeswax and seed oils. Whichever one you choose to go for, just make sure to check the ingredients to avoid any unpleasant surprises.
Now that we’ve covered our bases with the best oil for leather, let’s get on to the last (and most important) step: applying the oil to your leather.
Here are the steps you should follow for oil application:
While we love the natural patina that leather develops over time, it’s not impervious to getting dirty. When you think of everything it comes in contact with, this makes complete sense. So, before you get to oiling it, cleaning your leather is an important first step that will allow oil to penetrate much deeper than it would otherwise.
Avoid harsh chemicals at all costs. Instead, go for soap and warm water. Using a microfiber cloth, gently wipe the leather off several times, making sure to avoid scrubbing. If you wish to use a cleanser, make sure that it’s free of alcohols which can dry out the leather.
And not to get into too much science here, but pH is another important consideration. The higher the pH, the higher the acidity of the cleanser—and highly acidic cleaners can damage the leather. Instead, stick to a neutral pH.
After cleaning your leather, dry off the moisture with a microfiber cloth. Let it air dry for several hours before proceeding to the next step.
Once you’ve got your hands on your oil of choice, you can start applying it to the leather. Grab (another) microfiber cloth, apply a generous amount of oil to it, and gently rub it into the leather.
Apply the oil lightly and let it dry slightly before layering it on. This will help you from overdoing it and making your leather look and feel too greasy.
Once you’re done with the oil application, it’s time to let your leather dry. Remember to keep the leather in its proper shape so that you’re not presented with any surprises once it’s done drying.
A good rule of thumb is to let the leather dry for at least three hours and up to a whole night. This depends on what type of leather accessory you’re trying and how much oil you applied to it.
Make sure to keep your drying leather in a well-ventilated area. Letting it dry outside is a great idea (as long as you keep it out of direct sunlight). But make sure to avoid artificial dryers and heat as that can undo all the hard work you put into taking care of your leather.
Similar to your own skin, taking care of leather means regularly moisturizing it. Thankfully, there are many different oils you can use on your leather goods. But if you want to keep yourself from doing any of the guesswork, our tried-and-true leather cream will do the trick every time.
Our Sources:pH Value | The Leather Dictionary