Caring for leather is an important, but often overlooked aspect of owning fine leather goods. If left untreated, leather will dry out, crack and eventually fall apart. This can be easily prevented with some basic maintenance. The process is quite easy and in most cases only needs to be done annually. I recommend using the following steps in order to achieve the best results.
Leather goods will pick up dirt and oil from our hands, bags or pockets. To remove this buildup, begin by brushing the grain (the top part of the leather) with a horse hair brush, much like you may do to buff your dress shoes. This can help remove sediment that may be lingering in the grain, which allows oils and cleaning compounds to apply more evenly. Next, use a mild soap, like Murphy Oil Soap. First, add some soap into a bottle, dilute it with water and shake it into lather. Then add a small amount onto a clean cloth, such as a Saphir chamoisine cloth, and lightly wash the leather’s grain, being careful to avoid oversaturation. I tend to wipe in short concentric circles, before cleaning off the excess with a little water and a clean cloth. Finally, allow the leather to thoroughly dry. Be Patient. Moving on to the following steps while the leather is damp can lead to mold.
After cleaning with oil soap, I like to follow with Saddle Soap. This is essentially glycerin and will help clean the leather in addition to adding a polished look. Just like the oil soap, add some saddle soap into a bottle, dilute it with water and shake it into a lather. Then apply it to the grain in short circles and wait for it to dry. Once dry, buff the grain with a clean cloth and move on to oiling.
Over time the natural oils and moisture content of leather will dry out. The rate at which this occurs will widely vary depending on the leather and how it’s used. If you keep an eye on your leather goods, you’ll likely know when they could use a little pick me up. A good oiling will help preserve the leather and can bring a neglected piece back to life.
There are many guides, varying techniques and opinions on oiling. This is simply the approach I take for vegetable tanned leather. It all starts with a little Pure Neatsfoot Oil. Put a small amount onto a piece of sheep’s wool or a soft cloth. Then slowly work it into the leather in small concentric circles – starting from the middle and working outward. Be careful to avoid over saturating the leather; multiple light applications are better than one excessive coat. After this, set aside the leather and allow it to dry for at least a day. It’s important to note that oiling will darken leather, and doesn’t need to be done often.
Conditioners benefit leather in a number of ways. They help soften it, lock in moisture and add a subtle shine. Many also have oils in them and can reduce the need for traditional oiling. I tend to prefer Saphir Creme Universelle and Bickmore Bick 4 Leather Conditioner, but many great products are in the market today. Conditioner can be lightly applied with a soft cotton cloth in short concentric circles. Notice a pattern here? Then let it sit for 3-5 minutes, or until the conditioner dries and the leather takes on a slightly cloudy appearance. Finally, lightly buff it off with a clean cloth. The buffing will allow the leather to take on that subtle shine.
Since all of my goods go through this full process before leaving my shop, only a light conditioning is needed for the first year of use. After this you may want to consider going through every step as needed or annually. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.