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How to Correctly Clean Leather

By Catalogs Editorial Staff

Cleaning Leather stains

What to Do if Leather Gets Stained

Leather is an expensive natural product, so when a leather good acquires a stain its owner will want to know how to correctly clean leather. The best method is determined by the type of the stain and the type of the leather.

Cleaning leather can be risky because the cleaning process can change the color or appearance of the leather. Always test the cleaning materials on a small invisible part of the leather article before proceeding on the whole item. Avoid products like mink oil, shoe polish and waxes when cleaning leather furniture or garments.

If you are uncertain of how to correctly clean leather, consider seeking professional assistance because of the potential for damage from improper cleaning. Ask around to find someone you know who has hired a professional leather cleaner and was happy with the results. Even with a recommendation, ask many questions about the potential cleaner how they plan to clean the leather. Will it be done on the premises or are they sending it out for work elsewhere? Will your item remain the same color or do they plan to dye it to cover the stain? If they can’t answer your questions satisfactorily, take your leather article somewhere else for cleaning. Not all dry cleaners know how to correctly clean leather and you don’t want to pay someone to ruin your leather item.

Here are some general instructions for how to correctly clean leather. Before beginning, determine whether the leather has been finished, which is typical of luggage, furniture and garments, or whether it is unfinished, like baseball gloves, work boots and saddles. Then proceed as follows.

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Cleaning Finished Leather

Place a small amount of a gentle, moisturizing bath soap like Dove on a damp cloth and work it into a light lather. Rub the damp cloth on the leather without getting the leather too wet.

Using a fresh damp cloth, wipe off the lather. Do not use water to rinse the leather. Then polish the item with a dry towel. After it has dried completely, treat the article with a leather conditioner.

Cleaning Unfinished Leather

Using a damp cloth or sponge, rub saddle soap into the leather. Work the soap into a light lather. Wipe away the lather and allow the item to air dry. Oil the leather with a leather preservative such as mink oil.

dirty leather shoes

Specific Stain Issues

If the leather has a mildew stain, proceed as follows. Mix 1 cup rubbing alcohol with 1 cup water. Moisten a cloth with the mixture and wipe the affected area. Let air dry. For an ink stain, spray the affected area with hairspray. Then wipe it off with a clean cloth. Because ink can be extremely difficult to remove, you may need to consult a leather cleaning professional. If a leather garment has been soaked in water, let it air dry slowly and naturally. Keep it away from heat sources. Once it is dry, restore its softness with a leather conditioner. If leather shoes have been soaked, insert shoe trees to restore their shape and let them air dry. Grease stains can be removed by blotting the excess grease with a clean cloth. Then sprinkle talcum powder or cornstarch on the affected area. Let the item sit for at least 4 hours before wiping off the powder. Blood and urine spills can be removed by blotting off excess moisture with a clean, damp cloth. Let the item dry slowly away from heat.

If gum has become stuck to the leather, you can remove it by rubbing a plastic bag full of ice cubes over it to harden the gum. The gum will then be easy to pull off. If there is any residual, heat the area with a hair dryer and rub off the gum with a clean cloth. If a salt stain appears on a leather item, make a solution of 3 parts vinegar to 1 part water. Moisten a cloth with the vinegar solution and dab it on the affected area.

Even though you now know how to correctly clean leather, the best solution is to avoid allowing it to become dirty or stained. Handle leather with care and it will serve you well for years.

Cleaning Finished Leather

Lady wearing a leather jacket
Place a small amount of a gentle, moisturizing bath soap like Dove on a damp cloth and work it into a light lather. Rub the damp cloth on the leather without getting the leather too wet.

Using a fresh damp cloth, wipe off the lather. Do not use water to rinse the leather. Then polish the item with a dry towel. After it has dried completely, treat the article with a leather conditioner. Cleaning unfinished leather Using a damp cloth or sponge, rub saddle soap into the leather. Work the soap into a light lather. Wipe away the lather and allow the item to air dry. Oil the leather with a leather preservative such as mink oil.

Specific Stain Issues

If the leather has a mildew stain, proceed as follows. Mix 1 cup rubbing alcohol with 1 cup water. Moisten a cloth with the mixture and wipe the affected area. Let air dry. For an ink stain, spray the affected area with hairspray. Then wipe it off with a clean cloth. Because ink can be extremely difficult to remove, you may need to consult a leather cleaning professional. If a leather garment has been soaked in water, let it air dry slowly and naturally. Keep it away from heat sources. Once it is dry, restore its softness with a leather conditioner. If leather shoes have been soaked, insert shoe trees to restore their shape and let them air dry. Grease stains can be removed by blotting the excess grease with a clean cloth. Then sprinkle talcum powder or cornstarch on the affected area. Let the item sit for at least 4 hours before wiping off the powder. Blood and urine spills can be removed by blotting off excess moisture with a clean, damp cloth. Let the item dry slowly away from heat.

If gum has become stuck to the leather, you can remove it by rubbing a plastic bag full of ice cubes over it to harden the gum. The gum will then be easy to pull off. If there is any residual, heat the area with a hair dryer and rub off the gum with a clean cloth. If a salt stain appears on a leather item, make a solution of 3 parts vinegar to 1 part water. Moisten a cloth with the vinegar solution and dab it on the affected area.

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Even though you now know how to correctly clean leather, the best solution is to avoid allowing it to become dirty or stained. Handle leather with care and it will serve you well for years.

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