How to Care For Genuine Leather

Like me, many of you may own leather clothes, such as jackets, or leather accessories like handbags or belts. The quality means you’ll intend to keep them for many years to come, or you’ll pass them to their next life. Either way, genuine leather can last for a few decades.

brown leather crossbody bag with eyeglasses
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Such a beautiful piece of material is most probably pre-owned too, if you can’t afford it new like me, and has already lived some of its life. There may be blemishes such as light scuffs or even dried cracks that will really reveal its age.

Unlike other classic clothing fabrics, you’ll want to take a different approach when maintaining its everlasting beauty. This is because its make-up is very different, and is already whole when it is gathered. It is after all just the skin of an animal.

Spot Cleaning

With leathers, you’ll want to avoid submerging it in water at all if possible. This is because the chemicals that maintain its smooth sheen will wear and the leather may start to fall apart. But not to worry, because if you do get a slight stain on it, you can simply wipe it off with a clean damp cloth.

When doing this, using something as simple as soap and water soaked in a cloth is more than enough. There is no need for harsh cleaning products since the stains should wash out fairly easily, given that you clean it immediately.

crop unrecognizable person in yellow gloves cleaning white surface
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Leather is somewhat water resistant for a short while due to the natural oils that occur from being an organic product. So for small stains, this isn’t a problem. After a little while, if something acidic like soda or juice stays on the leather, it risks staining it if the leather treatment has faded slightly.

If the stain has started to set, simply dry the item as much as possible, then use something mild like baking soda and water, and lather it with a cloth. Dry it up as soon as possible. You could alternatively purchase a trusted leather cleaner online on places like Amazon. You can find products easily for a reasonable price.

Cold Water Wash

You may have no choice with a leather garment that has seen better days and needs a wash, particularly on the inside where the fabric lining sits. If so, then make sure you soak it in a cold water wash, or a cold water delicates cycle in the washing machine. Its very important you stick to cold and very slow spin cycles, to limit any deformation of the skin due to heat.

Cold water will maintain the color slightly better on the items too, as leather is not known to be a great absorber of colored dye. Therefore washing it with increasing heat will risk the color running from it. Just to be safe, add a dryer sheet to your wash so the excess dye can be caught.

Most importantly, the heat can strip the surface of the treated chemicals that keep leather looking so smooth and healthy looking. Without it, it would start falling apart, drying up and developing unsightly cracks.

Dry on a Hanger or Flat

The surface of leather has no problems maintaining most of its own shape, but aid is always welcome to avoid a crease staying in it forever. So you should definitely make sure it gets to dry in natural sunlight and air, and as a fairly thick garment, always keep some space around it.

I haven’t found the need to wash my leather in full water submersion before but when I had washed a garment containing leather samples, it had no issues drying on a hanger or laid flat on a towel. Of course if possible I try to avoid this scenario.

Conditioning Where Necessary

If you’re lucky enough to own a leather item that has survived decades, or been stored away for a while, you might notice that the exterior shows signs of aging. Usually this means the surface will start drying up, and cracks will form around it.

This is perfectly normal, and all it needs is a little treatment to bring it back to life.

The first thing you can do is give it a quickly wash, by using a clean damp cloth and rubbing it all over the exterior, then dry it off.

brown classic color design
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Next you’ll want to use a leather conditioner and apply this to a separate clean cloth. Apply it to the leather as instructed on the packaging. You can find leather conditioner easily and cheaply online or in most grocery stores.

An alternative to conditioner is to use Vaseline. If you already own this, then great! You can use the same method above and apply a moderate amount to your leather goods. You should only do this to goods that already have some sort of finish on it, not rawhide leather for instance.

If you must repeat this method, you’re advised to do this annually to maintain that lovely soft feeling of leather.

Ironing and Steaming Leather?

This might seem like a silly question, but if we don’t cover it, we’ll never know.

Honestly, I’d suggest avoiding ironing or steaming leather altogether. The material is not designed for that kind of heat, which will inevitably damage and stretch the fabric permanently.

But, if you really must get a stubborn crease out of it, then this is what you should do. Find a thin scrap of cloth like a piece of linen or cotton, something you don’t mind getting ruined. Put this scrap in contact with the crease on your leather, placing it on top. Then, on a low heat, gently iron this patch.

Never let the iron touch the leather. This will cause irreversible damage and it’s not worth it! I would also discourage steaming altogether since most basic steamers have one heat setting that would still be enough to damage the leather. So it’s best to avoid!


You may want to rest your leather goods at certain times of the year when it doesn’t suit your style or you need a break from it. When that’s the case, then there are a few options.

For leather clothes, keep it hung up. Examples include jackets on a strong hanger, or leather pants folded onto a pants hanger. Avoid using the grips on pants to prevent making marks in it. Also, think about investing in a protective dust bag, which can be purchased inexpensively almost anywhere. You can truly extend the life of your leathers when they’re not exposed to outside factors in storage such as dust and potentially pests.

assorted clothes hanged inside cabinet
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For bags and accessories, try to keep the shape of the item. With bags, fill it with paper so it doesn’t wrinkle or lose it’s shape in storage. Consider using a protective fabric bag to keep it extra safe as well. And as for belts, you can either hang them from the buckle or roll them up.

A Lifetime of Leather

Remember that leather can be for life if you treat it right, not just for Christmas! It’s the kind of luxury we want to avoid wasting since its production is pretty unsustainable to begin with. The more we care for pre owned leathers that already exist, the less harmful impact we can make by throwing it away and buying a new one every time.

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