Loving Leather: How to Clean and Condition part 2

Dawna "Blue" Orr

Thanks for coming back to read this second part! Last time, I provided you with basic instructions for cleaning leather yourself. This time, we are going to cover conditioning. Remember the general rule of leather care; if you would not use it on your face, do not use it on leather.

Once leather has been cleaned, it is important to condition it. Cleaning will strip away some of the oils that are introduced as part of the tanning process. Those oils keep the leather supple and prevent cracking, brittleness, and dry rot. When cleaning takes that protection away, it is imperative to replace them. That said; DO NOT apply conditioners to suede or nubuck. The suede and nubuk cleaners come with a built in conditioner. Applying leather conditioner to suede or nubuk will ruin the nap. If a suede or nubuk item has become very dry, consult a leather professional before continuing. (If you have a specific problem, feel free to contact me at the_blue_box@ymail.com. Include pictures so I can get a solid idea of what the problem is.)

There are many leather conditioners to choose from. Traditionally, mink oil based conditioners have been used. However, as we learned last time, there has been a movement away from animal based products. That leaves two sources for oils: petroleum based products and plant based products. Both types are commonly used for different purposes. Always test a new conditioner on an unseen area to check for discoloration before conditioning the entire item.

Leather ConditionersBlue Box Designs, 2016

If you are treating an antique or heritage item that you want to hand down or gift to someone in the future, then using a plant-based product is probably your best bet. Fiebing’s Aussie conditioner is a combination of plant oils and beeswax that provides good conditioning with the beeswax providing some water resistance. Another product that is widely used is Huberd’s Shoe Grease. It also uses a combination of beeswax and plant based oils to condition along with smelling like a campfire.

Here is the exception to the general rule. Normally, I do not smear petroleum products on my face. It generally is not good for the skin. However, if you need to condition an item that is exposed to the elements regularly (i.e. seats, saddle bags, tank protectors, etc.), then you want it to be as waterproof as possible. In these instances, petroleum and silicone based products are the way to go. Huberd’s and Fiebing’s both make products that are great for this purpose. Other brands I have heard good things about are Lexol and Leather Honey. The most widely known manufacturer of leather care goods is Kiwi. Though widely available and accessible, it is considered consumer grade and not the brand of choice for leather professionals.

Now, we are at the application phase. Remember that leather is skin, and skin likes to be massaged. When using a plant-based product, put the same amount in the palm of your hand that you would use if you were putting lotion on your hands. Then, rigorously massage it into the leather. Use one palm full for the front and a second for the back of garments. If using a petroleum-based product, I follow the manufacturer’s instructions, which generally recommends applying with a cloth.

After applying the conditioner, allow it to soak into the leather for 10 to 15 minutes. Wipe any excess off with a soft cloth. If you wish to apply polish, now is the time. Your leather is now ready to return to normal use.

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Dawna "Blue" is a small business owner in rural Alabama. She is a leather crafter and stitcher spending much of her time sewing patches onto biker vests repairing leather garments. She provides real life content.

West Blocton, AL

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