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Leather Care: What's the Best Leather Conditioner?

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Leather Care: What's the Best Leather Conditioner?

WHY SHOULD YOU CLEAN LEATHER?

Leather is a hardy material that shows "wear and tear" over time. Wet or dry conditions, as well as friction and daily use, will create stains and abrasion. Your favorite leather article will get dirty with use. However, leather is an extremely durable and long-lasting material that will take care of you when you take care of it.

One of the enjoyments of owning leather products is to feel its appearance. And whether you're conditioning rain-soaked leather or caring for leather shoes in the winter, restoring leather furniture, or extending the life of your footwear, it's important to follow the golden rules of leather care

Sometimes a little extra protection goes a long way. Here is how to keep this material in impeccable condition

HOW TO CLEAN DIRTY LEATHER

Remove dirt from cracks and folds using a bristle brush; this is often needed with shoes and saddle parts but not with furniture. Leather can be cleaned using mild soap and water or a more powerful moisturizing soap. Be sure to read the instructions first so you're using the right type of cleaner for the given leather type. Generally, oil and vinegar can be used to remove tougher stains, but be sure to test the solution in an inconspicuous place first, so that you're helping (not harming) the product. To dry, remove with absorbent paper towel or a rag, letting the leather sit to dry indoors.


HOW TO USE LEATHER CARE PRODUCTS

1) Check to be sure that the type of leather cleaner is appropriate for the leather type. For example, suede and nubuck merits different care than patent leather or traditional cowhide.
2) Use a small amount to start, gradually applying more as you see it starts to work. A large amount of cleaner will do more harm than none at all, as this will over-saturate the leather, leading to tearing or shredding once you put the article into action.
3) Keep in mind that this step may require time and a little bit of elbow grease (i.e. work).


WHAT IS NUBUCK LEATHER CARE?

Nubuck leather is a "fuzzy" leather type. Nubuck is sanded on the outer surface of the leather, the part that would have been the exterior skin of the animal. Nubuck shoes should only be worked with when dry. Materials used to clean a nubuck shoe include soft bristle brushes, suede erasers, and sprays and conditioners specifically formulated for this unique leather type.

Unlike smooth leather nubuck has little hairs, giving it that distinctive look. Nubuck and suede shoes are more sensitive to care for than traditional leather. Learn more about the difference between suede and nubuck.

leather oil dissolve vial mink oil conditioner
WHAT IS LEATHER CONDITIONER?

Leather conditioner is an item meant to be assimilated by leather so that the material can be more pliant. Leather begins to crack and show fissures when it dries. To prevent this, conditioners offer much-needed moisture that keep the hide flexible.

Leather conditioners fall into three categories:

1) Conditioning Creams: These products preserve softness and durability. They protect against stains, aging, and dehydration.
2) Conditioning Oils & Dressing: Librarians and collectors have applied dressing in order to slow down deterioration in leather book covers. The most effective conditioning oil is a 60/40 mix of neatsfoot oil and lanolin. The Library of Congress Preservation Office found success with oil-and-tallow dressing (Source). 
3) Wax Conditioner: Wax provides an exterior coat of protection and water resistance. Similar to car wax, wax conditioners help prevent fading and cracking, providing excellent protection from harmful UV effects, while also leaving a pleasant scent.


TIPS WHEN APPLYING LEATHER CONDITIONER?

Leather is just like your skin. Although the hide has been removed from the animal, it still shows the same properties of your own skin. Applying conditioner will naturally darken the leather (depending on the color match, this should return to normal in a day or so).

There's such a thing as too much moisture! When working with conditioner be sure not to over-saturate the shoe or accessory. When cleaning, leather should "drink up" this oil and conditioner. Excess oil will attract dirt, which is the opposite effect you want. Over-conditioning can loosen the leather too much by over-saturating it with moisture.


WHY USE LEATHER CONDITIONER?

Dust, Grime, Dirt, Grease, and Mud get trapped in the many crevices leather articles have. This is even more important for shoes, equestrian saddlery, and boats which see plenty of outdoor use. Leather conditioner gives much-needed moisture into the hide, while helping to protect the surface from sun damage and additional particle bombardment.


WHEN TO USE LEATHER CONDITIONER?

When you see "wear & tear" and the mark of time start to make their effects, it may be time to give your leather article some love and care. Have your wardrobe ready the day before a job interview or big date so you're not scrambling with supplies the day-of.

Chopard Kevin Burg and Jamie Beck

Copyright: Chopard Kevin Burg and Jamie Beck

HOW OFTEN TO APPLY LEATHER CONDITIONER?

That will vary on the sort of conditions the article has been exposed to. We recommend cleaning and conditioning your leather items four times a year (once every 3 months). Take a Saturday to collect all your leather articles and go through them all; once you start one, and see the beneficent effects, you'll want to reproduce your effects to the other items in your home.

Leather that has been sitting in the sun - such as boat interiors - should also be cleaned once every three months.


HOW OFTEN TO CONDITION SHOES?

Generally, the rule is to condition every 5-10 wears in harsh conditions and every 15-20 conditions otherwise.


WHAT TO APPLY LEATHER CONDITIONER WITH?

Apply conditioner using a soft paper towel or clean cotton rag. Never apply the wet product directly on the leather as this may over-saturate the material. Set up a work station with newspaper or cardboard on the bottom if you are also shining shoes or working with acrylic paints

HOW MUCH LEATHER CONDITIONER TO USE?

Use a pea-sized amount of conditioner to start. Begin in an inconspicuous spot and wait 5 minutes to see how the conditioner treats the affected area. If you like the results you see, apply a thin coat of conditioner to a cloth rag and use this rag to gloss over the leather.


WHICH LEATHER CONDITIONER IS BEST?

These products are handmade in the USA with natural ingredients locally sourced in the Pacific Northwest. They are safe for leather, skin, and those you love. Available directly on Leather Care Supply's website.

Leather Care Leather Cream

Leather Care Leather Cleaner

Caranuba Wax-based Waterproofing Spray

Premium Leather Dressing & Restorer

Sneaker and Canvas Cleaner (inhibits mold and mildew)

Pro tip: We caution that you test any new leather care product in a hard to see area first, before covering it all over. Some products may alter the color of the leather permanently. Don't say we didn't warn you.


WHAT TO DO WITH WET LEATHER

Water removes the molecules that make leather pliant and flexible, making the article appear more weathered down and older.

wet fur

Read further: Your shoes got wet, now what? 


DOES MOISTURE MAKE LEATHER SHRINK?

Wet conditions make leather dry up like a raisin. The material shrinks because the water displaces the natural oils and leaves the leather fibers exposed to the air. The more porous the leather is the more water it will absorb. Leather that is cut closer to the skin of the animal (like suede and nubuck) are less resistant to rain when compared to grain leather, which is cut from the exterior of the hide.

Learn more about how leather protectants and repellants work

To remedy this, re-moisturize the hide. The way to do this is through leather conditioners and oils.


WHY MOISTURIZE WET LEATHER?

Leather is like your skin and will look and feel better when it's properly hydrated. The same way your dermatologist would tell you to hydrate your skin through essential oils and soluble fats, so too do we advise you to apply conditioner on your leather goods. By so doing, you avoid cracks or ugly bend marks that set in when a shoe is dehydrated and improperly moisturized.


CAN YOU WATERPROOF LEATHER WITH WAX?

Yes! Waterproofing leather goods with wax create a barrier between the hazardous outside elements and the shoe.


SHOULD YOU BLOW-DRY LEATHER?

High heat is dangerous for leather. There is a belief that applying high heat via external sources (like blow dryers, heating lamps or lighting lamps) will "open up the pores" of the leather material, allowing more product to enter into the leather. The heat generated from your wiping motion should be enough to work the product into the shoe. Allow leather to dry naturally at room temperature. Using a hair dryer to speed up the process is not recommended.

WHEN LEATHER FLAKES

worn shoe flakes cracks

Leather cracks, flakes, and peels due to dryness. The finish or sealant on the surface has been weathered down due to use, at which point the essential oils from the leather begin to wash away. To remedy this, apply a restorative conditioner on the article, and then a wax to guard against moisture and further contaminants. The conditioner will restore the essential oils lost due to environmental conditions - like snow - and the wax will help the leather article maintain a beautiful exterior patina. 

WHEN LEATHER SMELLS BAD

Free smells sign shoes stink

COMBAT SWEATY SHOES & BAD ODOR
Your feet sweat out more than an ounce of sweat each day... gross. Moisture buildup can cause unseen mold inside shoe lines to build up and can lead to bad smells. Keep those funky feet fresh by washing your feet every night.

Natural cleaning products exist to help combat funky feet. Apply baking soda powder to the shoe and leave it for 48 hours, or use a home-made 80/20 solution of water and vinegar. (The downside is your shoes will end up powdery from the baking soda or might end up permanently smelling like vinegar).

You can also purchase deodorizer balls which power through odor and deodorize unpleasant smells. Great for lockers, gym bags, closets, and glove compartments.


WHEN LEATHER TURNS WHITE

salt stains on shoe

White spots show on leather due to water damage, snow, or salt stains caused by perspiration or sea water exposure. (When the snow or sea water dries, it leaves a white residue on the shoe that can be difficult to clean off). Luckily salts are water-soluble, and can be removed with a leather cleaner or leather wash detergent.


CARE FOR LEATHER SHOES IN WINTER

During winter, the rain, sleet, slush, and snow can wreak havoc on your leather shoes. The frigid cold of winter, combined with moisture and precipitation makes maintenance key.

1) Place shoes on a windowsill or leave them outside on a sunny afternoon.
2) Use a waterproofing spray.
3) Cycle your shoes, reduce sweat. Wear a different pair of shoes each day, allowing them time to rest, breathe, and re-mold back to their original shape.

leather jacket motorcycle cool
FINAL THOUGHTS

Leather is a bold and beautiful material. The History of Leather teaches us that humanity has been enchanted with it since the beginning of time. Since then leather has been used everywhere, from luxury apparel, to furniture, to purses, to cowboy culture, to motorcycle culture and famous leather jackets

This much remains sure: In a world of low-quality materials we know that quality leather can last a lifetime with proper maintenance. Thank you for trusting in Leather Care Supply for your leather care maintenance needs. 

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  • Alex Pop
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