Leather is a versatile and beautiful material that lasts for decades if the proper care is provided, which includes washing. There are many types of leather, each with different characteristics and needs. I will discuss how to wash leather based on unique leather types.
How to wash leather is the various ways of removing soil and debris from leather without damaging the material or worsening its appearance. Smooth leathers can be washed using pH-neutral soap and water or a leather cleaner; however, some leather items may require professional cleaning.
Many different types of leather are available, as are the methods for washing them. Can leather be washed, or are there special ways to clean some leather? Let’s explore the options for how to wash leather.
What Is Washing Leather?
Washing leather is removing dirt, dust, debris, and stains from the material to keep it fresh and clean without causing damage. There are several different types of leather, including smooth, suede, Nubuck, patent, and faux, and each requires special care when washing and cleaning to prevent damage to the material.
What We’ll Explore
- Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
- Can You Wash Leather
- Reasons You Might Choose to Wash Leather
- Variations or Styles of How To Wash Leather
- How To Wash Leather Overview Table
- Skill Level of How To Wash Leather
- Tools and Supplies Needed to Wash Leather
- How to Wash Leather Step by Step
- How To Wash Leather Pants
- How to Get Better at Washing Leather
- Leather in the Washing Machine
- My Personal Research on How To Wash Leather
- Helpful How To Wash Leather Insights
- Key Takeaways
Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions
Many people think leather is too delicate to be washed or even exposed to water. If one thinks about it, leather comes from animal hides, and those animals most likely spent their lives outdoors in the elements, including rain. Leather is actually very durable and water resistant; therefore, it can be washed.
Some sources will say that certain leather pieces like jackets and pants can be washed in the washing machine and then dried in the dryer; however, this is false. Washing machines submerge leather, leading to drying and shrinking, and the dryer will further dry out the material and cause additional shrinking. Leather should only be hand washed or dry-cleaned to prevent damage.
Can You Wash Leather?
Most types of leather can be washed by hand, from top grain leather to faux leather. The most commonly used leathers for jackets, shoes, and even upholstery can be washed with pH-neutral soap and water or leather cleaner and a microfiber towel or old t-shirt.
Both suede and nubuck have more delicate surfaces that require special care to maintain the soft and fuzzy surface, so washing them is a different technique. In fact, according to researchers Rohaeti, Kasmudjiastuti, Murti, and Irwanto, some suedes are now being treated with silver nanoparticles to be antibacterial, which could not only stop the spread of bacteria but would be a reason to wash suede carefully.
Reasons You Might Choose To Wash Leather
Many leathers and washing applications exist for items like shoes, jackets, accessories, and upholstery. These types of leather are often used daily, which exposes them to dirt, dust, debris, oils, sweat, spills, and more. Washing these will remove dirt, debris, and stains from everyday use, keeping them looking great and feeling soft and supple.
Other reasons for washing leather include freshening it up, removing germs, getting rid of any unpleasant smells, and keeping it looking clean. Washing leather removes all of these and keeps leather in great condition for the long haul, especially when followed with leather conditioner.
Variations or Styles of How To Wash Leather
Because several different styles of leather exist, several variations of washing leather do as well. Some washing techniques can be used on many kinds of leather, while others are specific to specialty leathers.
These variations of washing are not meant to be complicated or technical; in fact — they are all simple and straightforward and can keep all leather types looking great and lasting for decades. These are the general variations of how to wash leather:
- PH-neutral soap and water
- Leather cleaner
- Rubbing alcohol
- Saddle soap
How To Wash Leather Overview Table
|Area of Preparation||Details|
|Overall Level of Skill (1–5)||2|
|Time to Complete (minutes/hours)||30–60 minutes|
|Workspace Needed||Sink, countertop, or table|
|Skills Needed||Basic leather care|
|Tools and Supplies Needed||Mild soap, water, leather cleaner, saddle soap, microfiber towels or old t-shirts, leather conditioner.|
|Key Helpful Tip||Avoid getting leather too wet. Always apply leather conditioner once the leather is completely dry.|
Skill Level of How To Wash Leather
Washing leather generally takes little skill, although some leathers require special care. It helps to know that all leathers are complex materials and should be treated appropriately to avoid causing damage. Test any new products used on leather on an inconspicuous spot to check for staining and colorfastness. Avoid using too much water to prevent water stains and mold.
Always allow leather to air dry away from heat and direct sunlight and apply leather conditioner once completely dry.
Tools and Supplies Needed to Wash Leather
Few tools and supplies are needed to wash leather, depending on the technique used. Generally speaking, one will need to gather the following supplies to wash leather:
- PH-neutral soap and water
- Bowl or sink
- Leather cleaner
- Saddle soap
- Microfiber towels or old T-shirts
- Leather conditioner
How To Wash Leather Step by Step
Once supplies have been gathered and the workspace prepared, here is how to wash leather step by step using a leather cleaner.
- Remove dust and loose dirt with a soft-bristled brush, soft cloth, or vacuum cleaner attachment with a soft brush on low suction.
- Test any cleaning method in an inconspicuous place for color changes and damage.
- If no unwanted damage occurs, for non-absorbent leathers, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for any leather cleaner or apply a small amount of liquid cleaner to a microfiber cloth.
- Gently rub the leather with the microfiber towel in a circular motion to wash each section of the leather.
- Use a clean microfiber towel to remove any excess soap or water.
- Allow the leather to air dry completely away from heat and direct sunlight.
- Apply leather conditioner.
- If stains and soil remain on the leather, reapply the cleaning method only once more before consulting a leather cleaning specialist.
Watch this helpful video from Rose Anvil as they differentiate between Nubuck, suede, and rough out leather. This helps explain the different techniques for washing leather-based on the type.
How To Wash Leather Pants
Some leather pants are considered machine washable, while others are not. Always check the care label to see what is recommended (or not recommended) to prevent damaging leather pants. Turn machine-washable leather pants inside-out, place them in a pillowcase or mesh bag, and use the gentle cycle with cold water and mild detergent.
Use pH-neutral soap and water in a sink to submerge and agitate the leather for hand-washing leather pants. Then rinse, squeeze, and lay flat to dry away from heat and direct sunlight. Apply leather conditioner once the leather pants have dried completely. If the leather pants should be dry-cleaned only, leaving them to the professionals is best.
How To Get Better at Washing Leather
many variations and products are available when washing leather. This means there are plenty of opportunities to get better at washing leather!
- Try different techniques to see what works best for each leather item
- Don’t take it too hard if damage or stains occur. These are learning opportunities and also ways to get better.
- Test all products on inconspicuous spots first
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions
- Be patient
Leather in the Washing Machine
Using a washing machine for leather is very risky and will generally damage leather. It may only be appropriate for smooth leathers that have a strong odor or are extremely dirty. Always check the leather care label for any special washing instructions. If a washing machine must be used to wash leather, always use a gentle cycle, cold water, and pH-neutral detergent.
The leather item may be placed in a pillowcase or mesh bag. Avoid using bleach, fabric softener, and dryer sheets. Once the washing is complete, remove the leather item and allow it to air dry. Apply leather conditioner once completely dry.
My Personal Research on How To Wash Leather
Washing leather is not complicated; however, it helps to know what one is getting in to when preparing. I’ve compiled a reference chart for the reader’s convenience with the different methods, approximately how much it costs, and special instructions as indicated.
|Washing Leather Method||Supplies and Cost||Approximate Time to Complete||Instructions|
|PH-neutral soap and water||$5-$10 for soap, $5-$10 for microfiber towels, $10-$20 for leather conditioner||15–20 minutes washing1–3 hours air drying||Don’t use too much water; apply leather conditioner when completely dried.|
|Leather cleaner||$10–$20 for cleaner $5–$10 for microfiber towels $10–$20 for leather conditioner||15–20 minutes washing 1–3 hours air drying||Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and apply a leather conditioner when completely dried.|
|Saddle soap||$4–$10 for saddle soap$5–$10 for microfiber towels $10–$20 for leather conditioner||15–20 minutes washing 30 minutes to 1-hour air drying||Best for unfinished leather; follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use. Apply leather conditioner when completely dried.|
|Soft-bristled brush||$3–$10||10–20 minutes||Best for suede and nubuck, brush in the direction of the fibers.|
Helpful How To Wash Leather Insights
Can I put leather in the washing machine?
Leather is not made to be put in the washing machine, and doing so will cause damage. Some leathers can be washed in the washing machine, which is usually indicated on the care label. Leather should be washed by hand, especially softer leathers like suede and Nubuck. Use pH-neutral soap and water or leather cleaner to wash leather, allow it to air dry, and apply a leather conditioner to keep it clean and looking great.
What happens when leather gets washed?
Depending on how the leather gets washed, it could become damaged, dried out, shrink, or lose color; or it could get cleaned. Leather is water resistant, so washing it is fine as long as not too much water is used. Allowing water to sit on the leather too long or submerging it leads to stains and damaging the material.
What happens if you hand-wash leather?
Hand-washing leather usually leads to it getting clean! As long as pH-neutral soap or leather cleaner and not too much water are used, hand-washing leather is the perfect solution to dirty leather. Leather can also be hand washed with leather cleaner-just follow the manufacturer’s instructions for any dilution and use of the product for the best outcome.
How to properly wash leather?
Leather should be washed with pH-neutral soap and water, leather cleaner, a soft-bristled brush, a microfiber towel, or an old t-shirt. Gently rub the leather with the towel dampened with the cleaning solution in a circular motion, being careful not to get it too wet. Wipe off with a clean towel, air dry, then apply leather conditioner.
- Smooth leathers can be washed with a soft-bristled brush, pH-neutral soap and water, or leather cleaner and a microfiber cloth.
- Special leathers like suede and Nubuck require special cleaning brushes and methods.
- Always allow leather to air dry away from heat and direct sunlight, and apply leather conditioner once completely dry.
Leather is highly versatile and durable, adding character to any wardrobe and home. Following special care instructions when washing leather is very important because, with any investment, one wants it to last a long time. By following these tips on how to wash leather, one can keep them fresh and clean for a lifetime.
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