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How to Clean Mold From Leather – An Easy Step-by-Step

Leather is a high-quality fabric that makes up some very useful products like shoes, purses, jackets, and even furniture and saddles.  With use and environmental exposures, our favorite leather products can grow mold.  I will discuss how to clean mold from leather and how to prevent it in the future.

Leather mold is fungal growth on boots, purses, jackets, and more.  It’s caused by moisture, darkness, and warmth.  Step-by-step instructions are given for removing mold and mildew from leather.  Tips for cleaning mold from other leather items are also shared, as well as tips for preventing mold and mildew on leather.

Do you have a favorite leather jacket or shoes that you haven’t worn in a while, and perhaps it looks like it’s grown some mold?  Are you looking for a way to repair your favorite leather things from mold but not sure how to do it?

What is Leather Mold?

Leather mold is groups of fungi growing together on boots, purses, jackets, furniture, and shoes.  It may just look like innocent dust, but the more it spreads, the more stain it leaves behind.  It’s not usually dangerous, although it can contribute to allergy issues.  

There are two types of fungi that can affect leather: mold and mildew.  Mold tends to appear green or black, while mildew is usually white, yellow, or gray.  Leather mold does NOT mean you will have to discard your favorite purse, shoes, or couch!

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Leather Cleaning Tools

What Causes Mold on Leather

Mold on leather is caused by the combination of moisture, darkness, and warmth.  It can be from exposure to rain or wet weather, storage in dark places like a closet, and also just regular use like leather boots and shoes and the moisture and microbes left behind by feet.  

Even a leather jacket can develop mold when exposed to body oils and then isn’t used for an extended period.  The moisture from the air and our bodies get trapped inside of the leather, where it cannot get out.  Even storing leather items with others that have mold can cause mold to grow on leather, treated or not.

How to Remove Mold and Mildew from Leather – Step-by-Step

Once you discover mold and mildew on leather, it’s best to try less invasive methods to begin.  We will review four methods to remove mold and mildew from leather with steps for each, starting with the least invasive.

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Brush It Off

  1. Take the affected leather product outside if possible; this will prevent the spread of any spores indoors.
  2. Brush the moldy or mildewed area with a brush and then vacuum.
  3. Leave the item outdoors in indirect sunlight to kill any mold or mildew spores.

Mild Soap

  1. Use dish soap or additive-free laundry detergent to create soapy water.
  2. Use a sponge or soft cloth to apply soapy water to the affected leather area, but don’t soak.
  3. Use a dry cloth to wipe the area to remove the soapy water.
  4.  Apply leather conditioner and leave outdoors in indirect sunlight.

Vinegar-based Spot Cleaner

  1. Use equal parts white vinegar and tap water in a spray bottle to create a spot cleaner for your leather.  The leather will disinfect and kill mold and mildew.
  2. Test an inconspicuous area of the leather first to ensure no discoloration from the solution.
  3. Spray a soft cloth with the vinegar spot cleaner solution to dab the affected leather area
  4. Use a clean, dry cloth to absorb excess moisture.
  5. Leave the item outdoors in direct sunlight to air dry.

Rubbing Alcohol

  1. Use 1 part rubbing alcohol to 4 parts warm water.  Rubbing alcohol is a very effective disinfectant.
  2. Test an inconspicuous area of the leather first to ensure no discoloration from the solution.
  3. Dab a cotton ball in the solution and dab the affected leather area, but don’t soak.
  4. Allow to air dry.

There are, of course, commercially sold leather cleaners and spot treaters you could consider for any of your leather products.  Just be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for dilution, treating, and cleaning for optimal results.

Cleaning a Leather Boot - How To Clean Mold From Leather - Liberty Leather Goods
Cleaning a Leather Boot

Tips for Cleaning Mold from Specific Leather Items:

We’ve shared four ways to clean mold and mildew from leather products, but now let’s look at some tips for specific leather items.

Leather shoes are notorious for developing mold and mildew from our feet (gross, right?), but also from wet surfaces and weather.

How To Clean Mold Off Leather Car Seats

Once you’ve identified mold in your car interior, it’s important to figure out from where it came.  Windows or sunroofs left open and spills are usually pretty easy to prevent (unless you have small children, am I right?).  Then just make sure to dry those areas thoroughly, test an inconspicuous spot with the cleaning method you intend to use, and blot any excess moisture when done.

How To Clean Mold Off Leather Jacket

Leather jackets, especially unfinished, can develop mold from rain, snow, sleet, and spills.  I had an unfinished leather jacket that my horse loved to lick and bite, so it was covered in stains.  It’s best to treat these spots early before there are too many of them.  You can test the colorfastness in the armpit or cuff of the jacket, then condition the leather once you’ve finished cleaning.

How To Remove Mold From Leather Shoes

Leather shoes are notorious for developing mold and mildew from our feet (gross, right?), but also from wet surfaces and weather.  Always dry shoes thoroughly and use the tongue or inner surface behind the heel for testing colorfastness.  Consider using drying and antifungal methods for treating the insides of your leather shoes.

How To Clean Mold Off Leather Couch

Where does the moisture on a leather couch come from?  The list goes on and on: spills, wet hands or feet, open windows, pets, and so on.  Consider prevention first, then clean messes early before there are an overwhelming number of spots.  The sides of leather cushions or backs of pillows can be tested for colorfastness.  Then consider making your leather couch a no-drink and no-pet zone.

Cleaning a Leather Couch - How to Clean Mold From Leather - Liberty Leather Goods
Cleaning a Leather Couch

How To Clean Mold From Leather Saddles and Saddlebags

Leather saddles and saddlebags are often affected by mold and mildew from the environment, horses, drinks, weather, and more.  Most leather saddles and saddlebags are kept in barns and saddle houses, which are not usually humidity controlled.  Consider a dehumidifier, or use drying methods before placing saddles and saddlebags in saddle houses.

How To Remove Mold From Leather Bag Or Moldy Purse

Leather bags and purses carry everything we need, from lotion and hand sanitizers to drinks and treats.  These can all lead to the development of mold.  Empty the purse and dry thoroughly, then use an inside portion of the bag or purse to test for colorfastness. 

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Consider zip-seal bags and sealed bottles for liquids and treats to prevent future spills.  Then clean out your bag or purse regularly to prevent any long-standing fluids.

How to Prevent Mold on Leather

The best method is to prevent mold on leather, and there are several different ways to do this.  Researchers Niculescu, Albu, Coara, Miu, Gaidau, Constantinescu, and Gurau at the Division Leather and Footwear Research Institute are testing antifungal essential oil products to treat natural leather to prevent mold from even developing. 

You want to protect your investment in leather products, so when they are not used, utilize climate-controlled storage with lower humidity levels (40-50%). Don’t store these items in outside storage facilities or places with the potential for moisture exposure or increased humidity, like an attic or basement. 

Leather should be conditioned every four to five months with saddle soap or another leather conditioner.

Leather furniture is also naturally exposed in our homes to the humidity in the air, which affects moisture, as discussed by faculty researchers Mihajlovski and Bahchevandjiev of Ss. Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje.  Leather should be conditioned every four to five months with saddle soap or another leather conditioner. 

This video provides step-by-step instructions on how to remove mold and mildew on leather so you can save your leather goods, instead of throwing them away.

 

Leather Products That Real People Clean the Most Frequently

To find out more about preventing mold on leather, I asked friends and family which of their leather items they clean the most often. Here is a table representing the percentages of their responses and what I learned from the poll.

Leather ProductTimes Selected
Leather Jacket15%
Leather Car Seat25%
Leather Shoes20%
Leather Wallet5%
Leather Couch20%
Leather Purse/Bag10%
The Most Frequently Cleaned Leather Products

Final Thoughts

Leather products are an investment that can last for a very long time when cared for properly.  It’s disappointing to see mold or mildew on our favorite leather shoes or purse, but now you have options. 

From dry brushing to rubbing alcohol, there are several ways to treat mold or mildew stains on leather products.  Start with prevention, of course, but when that doesn’t work, you now have new tools in your toolbelt for cleaning mold from leather!

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