The oldest leather artifact in the world is a 5,500-year old leather shoe.
The size 7 woman’s shoe was discovered in Armenia.
The leather outlived centuries of decay because it was stuffed with grass and buried under a mound of sheep dung.
There is an easier way to preserve your leather and maintain its original condition for decades. It involves the use of leather conditioners, cleaners and protectants.
Leather is leather is leather.
Why would you invest in different cleaning products for your leather shoes, bags, jackets, furniture and car seats?
Why not use a shoe polish to clean your briefcase?
For starters, there is a wide variety in the range of leather hides and finishes used for products that are covered by the blanket label, leather products.
Understanding the composition and application of the different types of conditioners, creams and polishes can prevent staining, discoloration and stiffening of the leather.
But first, let’s start with the different layers of leathers and the basic steps to keep the leather in top condition.
The Different Types & Layers Of Leather
The surface of leather is referred to as the ‘grain.’
- Full-grain refers to the untouched top layer of the leather hide. The hair on the surface is removed, but the surface remains intact, with no flaws, marks or scratches.
- Top-grain is a leather surface that has been sanded to smoothen the hide. The uppermost layer requires some form of treatment to remove imperfections.
- Smooth-grain is achieved by removing hair from the uppermost layer of a hide.
- Corrected-grain refers to a leather surface that has an artificial grain applied to it.
- Split leather refers to the fibrous part of the hide that remains after the top-grain has been separated from the hide.
The Three Products Required To Maintain Leather Bags, Shoes & Furniture
1. Leather Cleaners
Cleaners remove the grease collected through dust, the remnants of the previous layer of polish and other oils mixed in the grime. Layers of polish built up over time prevent the leather from breathing, eventually causing the leather to break into cracks.
The best leather cleaners contain surfectants that attract dirt and grime from the surface of the leather.
Use solutions with neutral pH and cleaners that do not contain alcohol or abrasives that can damage or discolor leather.
Saddle soap can be used to remove dirt from exterior of leather. However, A lexol leather cleaner would be a better choice. A saddle soap will most likely be too strong for the leather on your bag and could cause discolouring.
A regular soap will be very drying and a saddle soap (which was originally designed to soften leather) has a high oil and fat content.
Your first line of defense against salt and snow is a quick wipedown with a damp cloth whenever exposure occurs, and keeping the leather healthy with conditioning as needed.
Thorough cleaning needs to be done very infrequently. It’s more important to brush and wipe down on occasion.
How To Clean Leather
- Remove dirt build-up by wiping with a clean soft cloth.
- Apply a dime-sized portion of leather cleaner to the cloth.
- Wipe the surface in a gentle circular motion, allowing the leather to absorb the cleaner.
- Remove excess solution with a dry rag.
If your favorite leather bag gets a stain – remember to test a small area on the bag before applying a cleaning solution to the entire surface.
Wipe your bag with a soft dry cloth every few days. This simple action will preserve the appearance of leather for years.
Recommended Leather Cleaners
2. Leather Conditioners
Conditioning adds moisture to the leather.
Leather has a tendency to dry out and crack over time. A conditioner keeps the the surface soft and supple.
Mink oil, leather honey and neatsfoot stimulate the natural oils of the leather. These are common conditioners used to add moisture, color and add a layer of protection on leather.
How To Condition Leather
- Avoid flaking, wrinkling or cracking of leather by dabbing a dollop of conditioner on a soft cloth.
- Gently rub the conditioner all over the leather.
- Condition once a month to ensure the leather continues to look its shiny best.
Recommended Leather Conditioners
3. Leather Protectants
Sealants coat the top leather layer and protect the skin from water, snow or ice. They also stop the natural oils and moisture in the leather from escaping due to exposure to sunlight or other environmental factors.
While it is not essential to polish leather, it adds to the aesthetics and offers a mild layer of protection. Applying polish to leather is a matter of personal preference.
A regular shoe polish can rub off on your clothes. Test a small portion to ensure the color matches and test if the leather is able to absorb the polish quickly.
Recommended Leather Protectants
Leather Products To Use At Home
Use the following leather products instead of a regular polish to clean your leather bags, luggage, apparel, accessories and furniture.
The Leather Honey leather conditioner is one of my favorite leather conditioners!
This tried and tested formula conditions and revives dull leather while protecting and softening new leather.
Leather honey is a clear, non-toxic solution that penetrates deep into the leather, making it more flexible and durable.
It functions as a conditioner by keeping the leather soft and supple and a protector by keeping the pores of the leather sealed against water and dirt. Expect the leather to darken at first, it will return to its natural color over time.
A single application lasts six months or longer. Simple to use, good for your leather, and a great price.
Chamberlain’s leather milk is a milky, water-based leather conditioner. Use this product to clean and refresh leather bags, boots, shoes, luggage and apparel.
Leather milk contains natural oils but can be used as a mild leather cleaner because it is water-based. The solution is slightly runny – be careful not to spill it when you open the bottle.
The light consistency of the conditioner makes it easy for leather to absorb it quickly. Use the applicator that comes in the package.
Your leather will feel softer and have a dull shine.
This product is suitable for leather items that benefit from being cleaned frequently with a leather conditioner. However, it is not suitable for use on extremely soft leather types because of the oils used in the ingredients.
Combine the leather conditioner with a leather cleaner and a water protector for best results.
Chamberlain’s Straight Leather Cleaner is an alcohol-based cleaner that washes out dust and dirt. The non-alkaline, pH balanced solution is perfect to clean all leathers without overloading them with heavy creams or toxic oils.
Protect your leather from harsh environmental conditions with the Chamberlain’s Leather Milk Water Protectant. This formula not only conditions your leather products, it protects the leather from water, keeping it supple and strong for longer.
This conditioning product is obtained from mink fat – the oil collected from the underside of mink fur. Used on a variety of leather items, it creates a waterproof barrier and conditions the leather at the same time.
An easy to use conditioner, this odorless oil adds a layer of protection shine to leather products. The oil easily penetrates most leather items and is easily absorbed.
Avoid using mink oil on older leather products. The oil has a tendency to soften the leather.
Mink oil is best used on lower quality items. It adds a protective layer on the leather which prevents high quality leather from absorbing a polish.
Neatsfoot oil is a thick oil derived comes from the bones of cattle. The name is inspired by the old English word for cattle, neat.
The oil keeps leather strong, supple and shiny. The color of the leather is largely unaffected unless exposed to sunlight after an application. In most cases, a beautiful patina develops after an application of neatsfoot oil.
With a high level of conditioning oil, neatsfoot oil can present a case of too much oil in one single application. A milder application would be beneficial for most leather hides.
Lexol is a suitable alternative.
Lexol – Leather Conditioner
Lexol extends the life of leather by restoring the balance of oils which are stripped in the tanning process.
The solution is odorless and non-greasy, with no chemical solvents.
Used on old leather, the solution penetrates the fibers and adds to the resilience of the skin.
Used on new leather, Lexol conditions the hide and helps to maintain suppleness.
Commercially available sprays add a protection layer over leather. The spray coating needs to be applied every few months and effectively protects the leather from stains and water.
However, these are inorganic products that will prevent the leather from breathing. Opt instead for a beeswax coating which acts as a barrier against water.
Beesbutter is an all-round leather are product with the consistency of soft butter. The wax melts into the leather as it’s applied. It adds a protective layer on the leather and provides water resistance upon application.
Works as a leather conditioner, leather restorer, leather softener, and leather protector.
The wide variety of colors available for shoes presents a challenge in finding the right shade of polish.
The Meltonian brand of shoe creams offers a cream with a rich texture, ideal for any smooth leather surface. The broad range of colors is suitable for shoes ranging from tan to oxblood and more.
The natural wax used in the cream offers a glossy shine and adds conditioning agents to the leather.
Apply the cream with a soft cloth and follow it up straight away with a cloth buff or a brush. Giving the cream time to dry makes the polishing difficult because the wax dries rather quickly.
Make sure you match your shoe to the color of the polish or play it safe with a neutral polish.
The Tarrago Shoe Cream provides a nourishing shine to your leather products. These creams are similar to the ones made by Meltonian, but with a liquid consistency.
This cream polish contains wax and conditioners which give leather a soft, satin feel and shine.
The combination of waxes and conditioners protects and feeds the leather, bringing back the original color.
Use a soft cloth or the applicator included with the cream. Let the cream sit for a few minutes before buffing the leather with a shoe brush.
Follow up with a soft cloth for a deep shine.
The Armstrong’s All Natural Universal Salve is composed of all natural ingredients that can be applied to hands, elbows, feet, wood and… your shoes.
This conditioning salve is free of mineral oil and petroleum derivatives, artificial chemicals and synthetics.
A fruitless search to find an all-natural conditioning product for leather boots prompted the founders of Armstrong’s All Natural to create their own grooming solutions.
For those with sensitive noses and skin, the Universal Salve is an all-round solution to condition all your leather products.
The beeswax formula in the Sno-Seal Original Beeswax Waterproofing protects leather from water, heat, snow and salt. The beeswax application dries to a solid wax that forms a protective layer on the surface of the leather.
The layer of protection insulates the leather and prevents oil, grease and dirt from clogging the surface pores.
Jobsite’s Grizzly Grease protects against natural acids which can eat and rot the leather. The formula penetrates deep into the leather to waterproof the pores. Weatherproof your boots, jackets and bags with this wax by applying a light coat with your fingers on clean, dry and warm leather.
Saddle Soap – Clean Tougher Leathers
Resist the urge to use soap to treat stains from spills. Though counter-intuitive, soap can’t penetrate stains and instead strips the leather of it’s natural finish and can leave a residue….
Saddle soap products are a better choice for treating your leather than regular soaps.
However, saddle soaps can strip the tanning agents used on the leather, which makes the surface hard and causes cracks to appear much quicker.
Saddle soap (like regular soap) emulsifies the natural oils present in the leather. The residue that is left behind after drying the leather out is greasy and can discolor the leather.
If you do choose to use saddle soap, be sure to follow-up with a nice deep conditioning for your leather items.
Leather Cleaning Wipes – Remove Dirt From Leather Easily
Leather cleaner wipes are a water-based cleaner that removes soil and surface dirt. They are gentle but effective for the following reasons:
- Leather cleaning wipes are made specifically to remove dirt and grime from leather. The wipes are pH balanced to maintain leathers soft, supple feel.
- They do not leave a dust-attracting residue and offer a streak-free clean.
- Wipes keeps the original sheen on the leather but removes the grime on leather that gives the surface an oily gloss.
- They are safe for use on aniline (untreated) leather. However, they are are not designed for use on nubuck or suede leather.
How To Protect Your Leather From Damage
- Don’t leave your leather bags in direct sunlight. It can cause the colour to fade and damage the leather.
- When cleaning always use a product designed for use on the material, a general leather cleaner will not be as effective on a suede or nubuck interior than a cleaner specifically designed for suede & nubuck.
- Resist using water on grease stains. The stains should simply wipe off leather surfaces.
- Avoid using any type of harsh cleaners or abrasive cleansers your leather purse as these will cause damage to the surface.
- Never use baby wipes or any other alkaline cleaner on your leather purse as it may damage the finish.
- Don’t stuff your leather bags with newspaper, which can smear. When not in use, store the bag in ints original dustbin and fill it with butter paper to maintain shape. An old pillowcase is a suitable substitute for a dust bag.
Give your leather bags and luggage a good cleaning twice a year. A regular clean, even if its a quick wipe down is essential to the longevity of your leather bags.
There’s a time and place for each of the leather conditioners, cleaners, protectants and polishes mentioned here. Use your discretion, read the instructions and follow them carefully for the best outcome on your leather products.