Note: this guide focuses on caring for full-grain, non-suede cow leather. Other types of leather may have different care requirements.
Leather is a durable material that can withstand many years of use, but that doesn’t mean it’s indestructible! Irreversible damage can occur due to abuse and neglect. Fortunately, taking care of your leather is simple: protect it from the elements and condition it now and then. Read on for detailed instructions to help you get as many years of service as possible from your leather!
The two worst enemies of leather are excessive moisture and dryness. Fortunately, with a bit of care and routine conditioning you can avoid both of these issues.
As a general rule, it's a good idea to apply conditioner every 6-12 months or whenever it starts to feel dry. Check out our materials page for conditioning requirements for each type of leather we offer. Drier climates and heavier use will require conditioning more often.
How to condition leather
Remember to first test new products on an inconspicuous area.
Clean your leather, if necessary. If it has picked up dirt and stains, use cleaners (like saddle soap) that are formulated for leather. Follow the instructions given for your specific cleaner. Cleaning can dry out leather, so use as little as needed, and once dry, immediately follow with conditioning.
Load the conditioner onto a soft cloth or paper towel. A little goes a long way, and it’s best to avoid over-conditioning. Using small circular motions, work the conditioner into the leather. Keep it moving and spread evenly across the surface. This is also a good time to minimize scratches and dents with a little extra cream and buffing.
If the leather is dry and absorbs the conditioner quickly, apply another layer or two.
Let sit for a few minutes, then buff off with a clean cloth.
what to use
When it comes to leather conditioner, there are two main ingredients: the oil and the wax. The types of oil and wax can vary, as can the ratio of each in various mixtures of conditioner. Different conditioners can affect the look and feel of leather, so it’s worth experimenting to find out what works best on your particular piece. You’ll also find special conditioners for other types of leather such as shell cordovan and exotic leathers.
All leather needs oil of some sort. Oil absorbs into the leather and allows the fibers to remain soft and pliable, which protects them from breaking down. Neatsfoot and mink, as well as a variety of seed oils, are commonly used.
Wax on the other hand tends to remain on the surface, protecting it from moisture and stains as well as giving the leather a buttery feel. You’ll most often see beeswax for this purpose. While you can find bottles of just oil, wax will usually come blended with oil to make it spreadable. Because it’s a blend of both, I often use it on its own as a complete conditioner.
The stitching can be one of the more vulnerable parts of a leather item. In most cases with regular wear it shouldn’t be a problem for a good while, if ever. Heavier use, however, can wear down the thread and cause it to break. Because we saddle stitch, the thread won’t unravel all at once but it will slowly work its way apart.
It makes us sad to think of a lovingly crafted piece of leather sitting forgotten in a drawer or even getting thrown away, so if this happens to you send your leather back to us and we’ll be happy to restitch it for free! We only ask that you take care of postage sending it to us, and for those within the US, we’ll take care of postage sending it back to you.
How to Handle Wet Leather
While conditioning won’t fully weatherproof leather, the oils and waxes will still help to repel some moisture. A few raindrops or a small spill usually won’t hurt, although stains are possible.
If leather gets soaked, let it dry fully then condition it. Heat can shrink leather, especially when wet, so try not to dry it in direct sunlight or with hot air from a hairdryer.
You really want to avoid sending it through the wash and dryer. Even if you can bring it back to life, it just won’t be the same. If you often forget your wallet in the laundry or constantly expose it to weather, it may be better to look for a synthetic or fabric wallet.
How to Handle Dried Out Leather
Leather is basically a dense mat of fibers. When well-conditioned, these fibers glide over each other during use. When severely dry, the fibers are brittle and prone to grinding and breakage from repeated bending.
Now, assuming it’s not exposed to the elements, leather won’t just dry out overnight. It can even sit around in a drawer for some years without any adverse effects. Just make sure it gets conditioned now and then as needed.
So what do you do if you are dealing with stiff, dried out leather? First, avoid bending the leather as much as possible before and during treatment. Apply the conditioner (in this case I would use an oil, such as neatsfoot) in multiple thin layers, waiting 12-24 hours between each treatment. Do this until the leather no longer absorbs the conditioner as quickly, then buff with a soft cloth. If the treatment is successful, the leather should become pliable once again. Finish off with a layer of a wax blend conditioner to help protect the surface.
While leather can often be brought back to life, any actual cracks and breakage will, of course, remain. At best, the appearance of some cracks and scratches can be minimized.