How to Clean Leather the Right Way: Leather Experts Share the Best Tips, Products, and Methods

“How do you clean leather?” If you’re here, that means you’ve entered that question into your search bar at least once, if not multiple times. And it’s a good question to ask because, as you clearly know, leather is truly timeless. “Leather has become more versatile and, as a result, more luxurious over the years,” says Alton Hetariki, a fashion director with over 21 years of styling experience. “It’s no longer just an overcoat—it comes in various forms, styles, shapes, and it never goes out of style.” 

Only if you take care of it, that is. Regardless of whether you own leather clothing, accessories, luggage, or furniture—or all of the above—the material requires proper attention and treatment. We asked experts for simple steps on how to clean leather as well as which care products they recommend. Now you too can make your leather last forever.

How do you clean and restore leather?

According to “lifelong servant of the leather craft” Tanner Leatherstein, leather restoration “is a professional task that requires specialized experience and skills.” However, Leatherstein says, cleaning leather is different and can be done with a soft dry cloth via gentle wiping motions. 

But before you even begin, learn what kind of leather you’re dealing with, says Natalie Alexandrou, product development manager at Edinburgh-based luxury leather-goods maker Strathberry. That’s because each kind of leather requires different methods and products. It makes sense—much like your skin care routine, caring for the material should be tailored to the specific hide used and is usually a multistep process. And it’s all about cleansing and conditioning.

Once you know what cleansing product is best for your type of leather, you can generally follow the two-step process that’s often used by Dan Concord, a lead leather crafter at Yardley, Pennsylvania, leather working studio Liberty Leather Goods, who has been working in design and leather for 15 years. First, remove any dirt, grime, or buildup from the leather fibers with a soft cloth and your cleaning solution. “This helps the fibers remain fresh and strong,” he says. However, he adds, “Cleaning often removes important oils and moisture from the leather, which can dry it out.” That’s where conditioning, the second part of the process, comes in: “It helps restore that moisture, so the fibers can remain flexible and the leather stays healthy.”

Again, research the type of material you have before choosing which leather conditioners or cleansers to use. Leatherstein recommends trying specialty cleaners or leather wipes on a discreet area first. For example, if your leather looks very natural (like aniline, nubuck, natural vachetta, etc.), it’s highly likely it doesn’t have much of a protective finish on it. “This is good and a sign of exceptional leather, which means you should be very careful in applying any form of liquid.” Leatherstein says. 

Overall, Leatherstein’s top tips for maintaining your leather outside of cleaning include avoiding sharp objects and extreme temperatures. “A lot of leather gets scratched, especially the really good leathers, so it’s best to keep them in a breathable cloth dust bag if possible and in a dry place,” he says. Alexandrou also advises against storing or placing leather in humid places or in direct sunlight. “Humidity can cause the formation of mold, and direct sunlight can cause the colors to fade over time,” she says.

What soap is good for leather? 

Yes, you can use soap! But make sure you get one that is soft or mild, as most experts agree that these are best for leather stains. Concord recommends a soap called Leather Honey because it’s a “nontoxic, all-natural blend that was originally developed by a family decades ago for their own use.” Concord also advises that soap cleaners are sometimes combined with conditioners, which means they might contain chemicals that can reduce the longevity of the leather. So check the ingredients before buying or using. 

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