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How To Clean a Leather Jacket – Tips From a Leather Crafter

Leather jackets are great for cool fall and winter days, riding motorcycles, or just grabbing coffee with friends. Over time leather jackets can pick up stains, scuffs, and spills, and washing machines and standard cleaning methods are not an option. I will discuss how to clean a leather jacket properly to keep you from guessing.

Cleaning a leather jacket removes soil while maintaining the material’s quality and appearance. A vacuum with a gentle brush or soft cloth with a leather conditioner or cleaner can be used to eliminate stains, dirt, and moisture spots from a leather jacket to keep it looking clean and new.

Do you have a leather jacket with a spill or stain that could benefit from being cleaned? Are you looking for how to clean a leather jacket and not sure how to do it? Let’s check out some tools, skills, and examples of how to clean a leather jacket.

What is Cleaning a Leather Jacket? 

Cleaning a leather jacket maintains the leather’s appearance by removing dirt, debris, spills, and more while preventing damage to the material’s fibers or protective finish. When you consider the processing done on leather, certain cleaning practices should be followed to maintain the leather’s integrity.

According to researchers Maina, Ollengo, and Nthiga, leather is tanned to make it resistant to bacteria, chemical degradation, and mechanical deformation and more stable and pliable. Because of the tanning process, care must be taken when cleaning a leather jacket.

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A Brown Leather Jacket

Uses for Cleaning a Leather Jacket  

According to researchers Meyer, Dietrich, Schulz, and Mondschein, leather is biodegradable and has been used both for protective and decorative purposes for centuries due to its flexibility and waterproof properties. We wear leather jackets inside and outside, in the elements, and around food and liquids.  

Over time these things can cause unpleasant smells, spills, scratches, and mold. So, it’s always a good idea to clean a leather jacket when a stain or mark occurs or if it’s been more than a month or two since it was last cleaned. Uses for how to clean a leather jacket include the following:

  1. Food and beverage spills
  2. Exposure to moisture or rain
  3. Stains
  4. Body Oil
  5. Marks from pens or pencils
  6. Mold from prolonged moisture
  7. Scuffs
  8. Hair products
  9. Everyday wear

Types or Variations of Cleaning a Leather Jacket 

Leather Jacket Cleaning – Dry Method

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There are several ways to clean a leather jacket; the simplest is sometimes the best. One method is dusting the leather fabric using soft cloths, strong paper towels, leather wipes, or a vacuum with a soft brush.

This can either be done dry or with a small amount of leather conditioner or protector. A good leather moisturizer consists of water combined with natural oils and is approved for use on leather jackets. Wipe off the excess conditioner with a clean cloth and buff the leather to finish.  

Caution should be taken using specialty leathers like Nubuck and suede, as they require a specialized stiff brush to restore the surface texture and may darken when cleaning with moisturizers; test on an unseen area before using on the entire jacket (and in general, use a cleaning method specific to Nubuck and suede).

Always get to know the type of leather you’re working with and whether or not there’s a protective coating, as the products you choose to use can affect both.

Leather Jacket Cleaning – Wet Method

Before any wet cleaning can be done, the material’s absorbency must be tested. To do this, apply a droplet of water to an inconspicuous area, like inside the jacket’s collar, and let it sit for about one minute. If the water soaks in or leaves a dark spot in the fabric, it is unprotected and should not be cleaned using liquids. In most cases, absorbent leather should only be cleaned using a dry method or by a professional.

If the droplet remains on the fabric and no darkness appears in the leather, it is protected, or water resistant and proper leather cleaning can be attempted. A small amount of leather cleaner can be used on a soft cloth to exfoliate the soiled jacket gently. Once the fabric is covered in the cleaner, let it set for about 10 minutes to release the stains gradually. 

After this time, wet the cloth just enough to remoisten the cleaner and gently scrub to remove the stain. Then wipe the cleaner off using a clean damp cloth. Allow the jacket to air dry for about 30 minutes, or use a hair dryer pointed across the leather and not directly toward it to prevent saturation under the water-resistant finish. 

If the leather remains soiled, repeat the process only once. Any marks that remain after the second cleaning may be permanent, and recoloring may be required to help cover them.

Tools Needed for Cleaning a Leather Jacket 

Certain supplies are necessary when cleaning a leather jacket. Microfiber towels or old t-shirts are best for cleaning a leather jacket because they are soft, (mostly) lint-free, and won’t scratch the leather. Here is a list of some tools that can help clean a leather jacket:

  1. Microfiber cloths
  2. Old t-shirts
  3. Paper towels that don’t shred
  4. Vacuum with a soft brush (be cautious of suction power)
  5. Leather conditioner/protector
  6. Leather cleaner
  7. Leather wipes
  8. Hair dryer
  9. Specialized stiff brushes for Suede and Nubuck (different for each)

Skill Level Cleaning a Leather Jacket

It does not take a high skill level to clean a leather jacket. However, there are a few things to consider to keep it looking nice and you looking like a pro. 

Always test the absorbency of your leather jacket before you apply any liquid. Placing a drop of water inside the collar or cuff will allow you to distinguish color changes without any noticeable damage. Some leathers are absorbent and can only be cleaned using a dry dusting method with a cloth or a vacuum with a soft brush.

Others have a protective finish that is water resistant and can withstand the proper liquid leather cleaning materials. Nubuck and Suede generally follow their own process, given the exposed nature of the leather fibers.

After cleaning, following up with a leather conditioner can keep your leather jacket looking soft and supple and is also beneficial regularly to slow the leather’s aging process. A little extra time now can mean a longer life for your favorite leather jacket. 

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Also, know when to ask the experts. If you’re dealing with a tough to impossible stain to remove, like ink, dye, or oil, it may be worth consulting someone experienced with removing difficult stains from leather jackets. 

How To Clean a Leather Jacket

Now that we have discussed the uses, variations, tools needed, and skill level, here is a step-by-step on how to clean a leather jacket:

  1. Dust with a soft cloth, leather jacket wipe, or vacuum dry or with a leather conditioner/protector to remove dust, loose dirt, and debris. Dusting sprays should be avoided. (Caution should be taken with vacuum suction power on delicate fabrics)
  2. Test the leather’s absorbency with a water droplet in a hidden place. Absorbent leather should not be cleaned with any liquid cleaner.
  3. If the leather is non-absorbent, apply a small amount of liquid cleaner to a soft cloth.
  4. Gently wipe the leather jacket with the cloth.
  5. If the stain remains after a gentle wipe, reapply the liquid cleaner and let it sit on the fabric for 10 minutes.
  6. Gently wipe the leather jacket with a slightly damp cloth.
  7. Let the leather jacket air dry for 30 minutes, or use a hair dryer to blow cool air across the leather, not directly at it.
  8. If the stain remains after the leather jacket is dry, repeat the cleaning process only once more. Anything that remains is likely permanent or requires a leather professional. 

Tips for How To Clean a Leather Jacket 

Here are some tips for cleaning a leather jacket with the best results:

  1. Never place a leather jacket in a washing machine or soak it in water. 
  2. Always use the right product for your leather.
  3. Never use harsh chemicals like bleach or alcohol.
  4. Avoid products with too much water to prevent water stains.
  5. Always use a leather conditioner once the leather is completely dry after cleaning. (to help restore any moisture lost from the fibers during the cleaning process)
  6. Consult a leather care professional for any tough stains or leather issues.

How To Get Better at Cleaning a Leather Jacket 

If you’ve done it once and felt alright with your work, how do you get better at cleaning a leather jacket? It just takes practice, the right products, and a little confidence. Always get to know the type of leather you’re working with and whether or not there’s a protective coating, as the products you choose to use can affect both.

Know what leather products are available, where to locate them, and the appropriate use for the products you purchase. Trust me — you will make mistakes, and it’s okay if you learn from them. We recommend testing products in an inconspicuous area for this reason!

Examples of How To Clean a Leather Jacket 

If you spill your beverage on your leather jacket, get it muddy, or otherwise mildly soil it, wipe off any moisture and clean it immediately to prevent stains from soaking into the fabric. If liquid soaks into the material, the leather is absorbent and should only be dusted clean using a soft cloth, leather wipe, or vacuum cleaner with a soft-bristled brush with or without a leather conditioner. Only protected leathers can be cleaned using liquid leather cleaners. 

Certain stains can be nearly impossible to clean and require consulting a leather expert. If the stain cannot be removed entirely, many professionals can repair the leather jacket or reduce its size or darkness. Some difficult-to-clean stains include:

  1. Ink
  2. Dye
  3. Oil
  4. Grease
  5. Body fluids
  6. Hair products
  7. Smoke

For a simple guide on how to clean a leather jacket, check out this helpful video.

Related Insights

Can I wash my leather jacket?

In general, a washing machine should not be used to wash goods made from natural leather. However, you can gently hand-wash stains from a leather jacket by dusting the fabric with a microfiber cloth, a vacuum with a soft brush, or leather wipes using a small amount of leather conditioner or protector. Liquid leather cleaners approved for use on leather jackets should only be used on protected leather. More difficult stains like ink and oil may require professional care.

Can leather be dry-cleaned?

Standard dry cleaning methods are not suitable for leather. While dry cleaning is done without water, it does use other liquid cleaners and chemicals that can damage leather. If your leather requires cleaning that you cannot accomplish by hand, it’s best to consult a leather professional.

Can I hand wash my leather jacket?

A leather jacket can be washed by hand with a dry dusting method using a vacuum with a gentle brush or soft cloths that do not shred, like old t-shirts, paper towels, or wipes labeled for leather jacket use. A leather conditioner can be applied to most leathers; however, only use liquid leather cleaners on non-absorbent leathers after testing an inconspicuous area.

What happens if you wash leather?

Without the proper precautions, washing leather can damage the material. Absorbent leathers that are cleaned with liquids can become dark, stiff, sticky, or deteriorated, and even non-absorbent leathers will take on some moisture. Leather should only be washed using the proper products labeled for leather use. Anything else will likely have the incorrect pH and can damage the leather.

Can you clean leather with soap and water?

Cleaning leather with soap and water is typically not recommended because even soaps that are mild for people can deteriorate leather. Soaps can have alcohol, acetones, and other ingredients that will damage the color and dry out the leather fabric. Leather will also absorb the chemicals in soaps, which can never be removed, leaving them to damage your leather over time. 

Methods for Cleaning a Leather Jacket

I asked friends and family how they would clean a leather jacket if there were a spill or stains on the fabric. Here is a table representing the percentages of their responses and what I learned from the poll about how people clean a leather jacket.

Leather Jacket Cleaning MethodTimes Selected
Paper towels20%
Microfiber towel13%
Soap and water (not recommended)26%
Leather cleaner13%
Multipurpose cleaner (not recommended)5%
Soak it (not recommended)5%
Leather wipes13%
Leave it5%
Methods for How to Clean a Leather Jacket

Final Thoughts

A leather jacket is an investment, and proper care is part of that. Cleaning a leather jacket with the right tools and products can keep it looking nice and lasting longer. No great skill is needed here — just patience and practice. Are you ready to clean your leather jacket?

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