July 01, 2021 8 min read
Leather is a varied medium. It has a long and well-earned reputation as being reliable and versatile throughout modern history. It even dates back to just before the medieval period in certain locations. It is because of this reputation that many people think that there is very little care to be given to leather items in general.
However, this is not the case. Some people think that the only leather that needs to be cared for is cheap or poorly made. This is also not the case. Throughout our history with leather, we have picked up a few tips and tricks to help with leather care and cleaning.
This article will first walk through different types of care and how different types of leather need different types of upkeep before delving into some step-by-step ways to clean and care for your leather goods.
If you have done any research on how to clean and care for leather, you have probably seen a vast array of brands trying to tout their product as a way to care for every type of leather. This is demonstrably false, mostly because different leather generally requires different care.
It is easy for people to think of leather as a piece of plastic: easy to make, all basically the same, and all cleaned generally the same. This is also really not the case (though there are some plastic-like leathers, as we will discuss below). Each piece of leather is unique, especially if it is of quality.
Instead of thinking of your piece of leather as a piece of plastic, try to think of it as a plant. Each plant needs a little bit of different care, attention, and nurturing. Different types of plants need different types of care, and leather is no different. Below, we will walk through a few of the major types of leather and discuss what to be wary of and what to not sweat as much when it comes to product care.
We here at Andar are committed to full grain leather as it is the leather that is most likely to last and even improve with age. It is made from the most desirable part of the cowhide and tanned with meticulous care to ensure the highest quality for whatever it will be made with. It is also generally made from one single piece of cowhide, as opposed to other types that are stitched together from different cowhides.
The meticulous care given by the tanner means that to maintain its integrity, it will need meticulous care from its user and owner. Later, we will look at how heat and moisture are the biggest factors that wear down and beat up leather, especially high-quality.
Since genuine leather tends to mean different things to different manufacturers, it is difficult to explain what it will generally need in terms of upkeep. However, genuine leather is traditionally made with several layers of hide stitched together. This process makes it a little bit less permeable than top or full grain leather options.
Genuine leather is treated more severely when being constructed, so it is slightly more rugged for a while. Unfortunately, it is much less likely to be rescued if gone untreated for a long time. Unlike full grain leather, genuine leather is sometimes treated with waterproofing chemicals that allow it to withstand more moisture.
However, this is not without cost, as the waterproofing spray will make the leather less able to stay supple and will sometimes feel filmy and irritable to the skin.
When caring for genuine leather, it is important to know how it has been treated and what level of waterproofing it has been given. Knowing this will allow you to know what the next necessary steps are for caring for your genuine leather piece.
Along the scale of leather that needs special care and attention, bonded is toward the bottom because of the process of making it. In general, bonded leather refers to leather that is made of around 20% or less cowhide, and the rest is a sort of plastic called polyurethane. They are bonded together to make a cohesive piece of fabric.
This leather has a few uses, but in general, it is used for furniture. This leather was designed to be durable and long-lasting, so the care needed is minimal. However, because it is not supple, it does tend to tear quite easily as time passes. Every kind of leather needs a little bit of love now and then!
While PU leather could have been classified underneath the “Bonded Leather” section above, there is a key difference that causes different care techniques. PU is fully vegan leather made completely from polyurethane.
Because of this, it allows for a vast array of colors and shapes but lacks the true essence of leather because...it is not technically leather. Essentially, as it is a chemical compound that is not leather, the care and cleaning techniques below will not really account for the special needs of PU leather.
This answer is easy and not-so-easy. To put it simply, leather hates heat, moisture, and chemicals. However, each factor impacts leather differently. Because of this, we are going to break down how each impact leather and how you can prevent them from causing too much damage. Let’s make cleaning and maintaining your leather much easier.
Since leather is generally made through an application of heat, it is easy to understand why this factor is maybe one of the more important to be aware of. Especially with full grain leather, heat causes leather to warp.
This is due to heat changing how the fibers within the leather are bound together. Heat impacts the relationship of one part of the leather to the other part on a microscopic level. Because of this, it is important to watch out for how your leather is being exposed to heat.
Some practical examples of heat exposure are sunlight, body heat, and ventilation. Leather left exposed to sunlight will begin to shrink and shrivel as its heat levels will stay quite high. Try to keep your leather goods out of direct sunlight for long stretches of time.
With everyday carry items such as wallets, body heat is a factor. Having high-quality leather is a good defense against the heat, as both bonded and PU leather are most often impacted by these factors since they are made out of plastic, in whole or part.
Moisture is one of the most common ways that leather items become worn or damaged. However, most do not know that generally, the more damaging part of moisture is how the leather dries. If damp pieces dry too quickly, the piece will be robbed of the necessary moisture that keeps the leather soft and supple.
If it is dried too slowly, it can actually begin to mold and rot. Because of this, it is important to dry your leather correctly. Leather can get wet in some cases, but if dried improperly, it can become worn after only one time of becoming wet.
To properly dry your leather, dry it slowly at room temperature and away from moist air. Also, dry the piece in the shape that you would like it to end up in, as the elasticity will increase with additional moisture meaning your leather could warp in the process.
Do not put it on a surface if that will alter the shape. The most important thing is to not use heat or other ways to dry it quickly. This will cause your leather to become brittle and damaged.
In addition, knowing whether your leather is waterproof or water-resistant is a big step in helping combat water damage. Water-resistant means that the material is able to resist some amounts of water, whereas waterproof means it can be submerged in water, though not always for a long time.
Knowing what level of resistance you have against water when it comes to your leather goods will help you decide what level of care you need to have in any situation. In general, the full grain leathers will be more water-resistant, whereas the PU end of the spectrum might be waterproof.
Leather can be extremely sensitive to harsh chemicals because chemicals will alter the pH balance of the leather itself. After all, it is a type of hide and needs to be cared for as such. Just as harsh chemicals dry out your skin, they will alter the leather in the same way.
In general, water-based and natural organic cleaners are the best. It’s important to avoid any dyes or bleaches as this will discolor the leather as well.
In general, the harsh chemicals will damage natural leathers more than PU leathers, but the impact might be the same. The chemicals will interact just as poorly with the plastics in PU leather as they will in the organic material of real leather.
Now that we understand the different types of leather and what they are weak to and how we can begin talking briefly about how to clean these leathers. It’s unfortunate, but dirt and grime will always wear leather to some degree. Now, we need to differentiate between the two schools of thought when it comes to leather care.
The first one is called a “waxing” method, meaning you apply wax to the leather to protect it from moisture and damage. This is done when the leather is dry, and the wax has been slightly heated so that it does not clump up and make it difficult to spread around evenly.
After application, you must allow it to dry for at least an hour, then buff it off with a microfibre cloth. This sort of method is best used with any non-permeable leathers such as bonded and PU leathers, as the wax sits on top of the leather as a protective layer against dirt and moisture.
The second method is the “conditioning” method. Unlike the waxing method, this conditioner is designed to sink into your permeable leathers to revitalize the leather and make it more supple. This lets it maintain moisture even if exposed to heat.
This should be done when the leather is wet, as that allows the conditioner to sink into the leather deeper. This is best used with full grain and top grain leathers as their permeable nature allows them to take in the conditioner to remain supple.
After applying the conditioner, allow the item to dry at room temperature for at least a day, and remember to keep it in the natural shape of the leather. Andar sells a leather conditioner called The Leather Cream that is specially made for high-quality full grain leather products.
All leather needs to be cleaned, and now that you know what not to use (heat, moisture, chemicals), here are the things you should do and use:
Leather is ingrained in our history, but not all grains are equal. While every grain has its own unique purpose, the upkeep for each will be slightly different. When you rely on your wallet or backpack every day, return the favor with careful care and upkeep.