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April 18, 2023 5 min read
There are few pieces of jewelry more iconic than watches. What’s more, when we think of quality watch bands, our minds often immediately go to leather. Top-notch leather bands last a long time and get better with age. However, as a daily part of many peoples' wardrobes, it gets exposed to grime, dust, dirt, and more.
Eventually, there comes a time to clean your watch band. The first watch bands were improvised to keep pocket watches attached to the wrist during wartime. Today, we’ve moved on to bands for both their practical and aesthetic virtues.
Learn how to take care of your leather watch band below:
The first step in cleaning your watch is to gather all your tools. While you’re at it, it helps to familiarize yourself with watch terminology. The part of the watch that the bands fit between to connect is called the lug. The actual connector that goes inside the band is called the spring bar.
You may need a specialized tool to remove your band if you want to fully clean your watch band. Some bands come with their own opener, while others don’t.
You’ll also want two cloths, a solution of water and a mild soap, and a leather conditioner. These will help you remove, clean, and restore your band fully. Once you’ve assembled your goods, it’s time to get to cleaning:
The second step (and the first real step) in cleaning a leather watch band is to remove the band. Depending on how thorough you want to be, this step may be semi-optional. As this might require precision work on your watch itself, you may risk damaging the watch if done poorly.
Apple Watch Bands, like this leather Apple Watch Band, are the easiest to remove. Simply hold down the band release button, and slide the band out.
Some watch straps are simply looped through the lugs and can be removed by hand. Most leather straps are connected to lugs through a spring bar. If you look at your watch, you may see or not see some holes in the lugs.
If you have a hole: Press your strap-changing tool through it until you feel the spring bar push in. Then, use your other hand to remove it. Spring bars are extremely tight and liable to go flying when removed. You should either have spares or be extremely cautious about possible loss.
If your watch doesn’t have drilled lugs, grab a strap fork. Place it in between the band and the lug, and leverage it to push in the spring bar. Be careful not to scratch the case of your watch, and move on to the next step.
With your watch band removed, it’s time for the easiest step: Clean the surface of your band. Here, you are going to remove surface-level grime from it.
First, simply take a dry cloth, possibly slightly spritzed with water (if you want a deeper clean). Rub it gently along the watch band. That’s it.
Seriously, that’s the whole step. Even though it’s simple, it is an important one: This prepares the surface of the band for everything that is to come. Cleaning the surface allows the cleaning solution and conditioner to penetrate better, resulting in a cleaner, healthier band.
“Deep-clean” is a bit of a misnomer, but it accurately gets at what is happening in this step. First, get a mild soap and water. A soap is mild if it has a slightly basic pH. pH refers to the acidity or lack thereof in a given solution. At intense levels on either side of the scale, there are corrosive acids and high-powered sanitizers like bleach.
Diluting a mild soap further with water ensures you have a highly delicate soap for your leather. This is ideal, but at the same time, you don’t want your band to become saturated, either. Lightly wet a cloth in the solution, and squeeze it to remove excess water. You want it to be damp but not wet.
From here, run the cloth along your watch band. Carefully check beforehand the materials of your band: If the underside uses suede or nubuck, you should avoid wetting it. Andar products use only full-grain leather, meaning they are more water-resistant than products made from lower-grade leather types. Even then, it’s best not to get leather wet at all, if possible.
First, wipe your watch band with a dry cloth. When finished, there should be no visible moisture on the band. If your watch band dries without being wiped, the leather may be discolored or prematurely aged.
Lay it somewhere to dry once being wiped. You don’t have to keep it in a dark place, but be sure to keep it away from direct sunlight. Sunlight can damage the dyes used in the tanning process and harm your leathers.
Once your band has been cleaned and dried, it is now fully clean. However, this doesn’t mean that the cleaning process is complete. There are still a few final steps necessary before your watch band can be reattached. The next step involves treating your watch band to extend its longevity and improve its appearance.
What does every single type of leather share, aside from its appearance? The answer: Longevity. The whole purpose of tanning is to create a product that lasts. Not all products are made equally: Full-grain leather has superior water resistance to nearly every type of leather in existence.
However, there are ways to improve the longevity of all leather types. A carefully-formulated Leather Cream or balm helps to replenish the natural oils and color of leather. It can also offer subtle protection so the innermost layer stays protected (from moisture like sweat).
Take another cloth and your preferred leather conditioner and delicately wipe it into your band. You should use tiny, circular motions to do so. There should be as little visible conditioner as possible when all is done.
Much like how you wiped away excess moisture, the next step is to remove any excess conditioner on your watch strap. Its texture should be smooth and pleasant and not greasy or oily when you are finished. With that completed, all you have left is to reverse the very first step you took previously.
In order to reattach your band, you should perform the steps you took to disassemble your band in reverse. If you have an easily removed watch band, simply slide it in and be on your way.
If you are replacing a band with a spring bar, first place the spring bar in one lug. Then slide your watch band over the spring bar. From there, you should use your spring bar removal tool to push it inside itself, as you initially did. While it is tense like this, you can slide it into the other lug.
With this, you have successfully removed, restored, and replaced your watch band. These skills can also help you if you ever want to switch out your watch band.
These steps don’t just apply to cleaning your watch bands. Leather care is determined by the leather, not the form it takes. You can apply these essentials to laptop cases, travel bags, wallets, and more. If you want to be sure you’re getting some of the best leather possible, explore your options with Andar.
A Brief History of the Wristwatch | The Atlantic
A Primer on pH | PMEL Carbon Program
General Introduction to the Chemistry of Dyes | National Library of Medicine