Leather care -10 answers on ‘How to clean Leather’ questions

Maybe you are the rocker chic who has many leather jackets and leather pants and matching boots to boot and don’t mind being seen in all of them at once or you have that one single leather shoes or wallet and cherish it with your life or you have a favorite dress with leather trimmings which you do not know how to care of – Whatever is your scenario, you are seriously in need of some lessons on leather love which is why you are here.

Let us read about how you can take care of your leather items at home.

leather care

General tips on cleaning leather

Use good quality clean damp cloth to wipe leather product from time to time.

Condition the leather once a year to prevent the leather from drying out.

Keep leather products away from water, direct sunlight.

Mild dish washing liquid solution at home can clean most dirt from leather – if you are unsure use branded leather care products.

Use a leather protection cream if you really to want to protect leather from stains, watermarks etc.

Do not get leather wet. Leather can shrink. This will call for a conditioner. 

FAQ 1 What are the precautions to take when cleaning leather.

First thing I have to say is – Do not wait for your leather item to fall into a puddle before you think about taking care of your leather product. Leather is not difficult to manage. It does not damage easily, especially good quality leather. But once you have a stain or a tear you have cause for concern. Everyone starts to think about leather care then. 

With leather care you need the leather to look good at the end of the cleaning but at the same time not do anything that will cut short it’s life. But before embarking on cleaning leather you should realize that leather is skin and it will naturally age and change color, develop a patina etc. 

If you have a branded item maybe the brand has recommended certain products adaptable to their product. 

Whatever you use, always test your cleaning product to check for colorfastness /fading.

Check out this post on the different types of leather to know what kind you have so that you can work appropriately.

The natural leather and the coated leather require different types of care so it is important you know which is which. If the leather thing is very costly it may fare better in the hands of an expert who knows his job.

Some leather will have a high absorbency of water like aniline leather. You can do a water test on it by dropping one single drop of  water if possible.Then you can touch and see the softness and the protective coating on the leather.

Whatever product/damp cloth you use, ensure that you work quickly – as most leather absorb anything liquid that touches it.

If food has spilled on leather and dried gently scrape off the surface with blunt knife or something hard.

Do not use hairspray, sanitizer, toothpaste etc on your leather. Do not.

Other than dust, oils from your body, cosmetics etc can also accumulate and penetrate the protective coating on leather and damage it prematurely. If body oil has made a mark on aniline leather be prepared to get it cleaned professionally. Do not expect to remove all the marks with home cleaning.

 Expensive leather calls for a professional or deep clean once a year. And a leather protective layer to protect leather against all contingencies.

If your leather product needs stitching and polishing maybe an expert will do a better than you can ever. Inquire after workshops in your area specializing in leather goods.

FAQ 2 What is the number one tip on maintaining leather?

Good quality Leather can last a long time if proper care is  taken – just protect it from heat, direct sunlight, and water. 

So buying quality leather – This is the first step in maintaining your leather .

If you’ve got it wrong in the first instance ( when you buy it) you are going to have trouble throughout the lifespan of your leather product.

The leather which has a protective layer on top like the pigmented leather is easier to maintain.  Semi-Aniline, Pigmented Bi-cast & Rub Off leathers are easier to maintain because of the top coat they have.  The polished surface does not damage easily. The additional protective layer of the leather  help protect against spillage and make the leather easier to clean in future.

If you have suede or nubuck leather product be careful with water spillage or any kind of stain. Rub-off leather may lose some of its colour with heavy usage.

Check the product to see if there are any visible flaws. Sometimes different parts of the same product may have different kinds of leather. This might not be apparent at a glance

The top quality aniline leather is super soft and super comfy but you had better be prepared to maintain it well. The highest quality leather do not have much coatings which protect it from damage so you will have to be extra careful with it.They take stains easily. So for everyday use, better to buy one with protection.

But nowadays most smooth grain leather comes with a protective finish already on it. You do not have to add any. Treat leather shoes, boots, bags etc with a water repellent finish for leather to protect it from the elements( rain water)

Checkout the different types of leather in this article.

A very light colored leather with a heavy grain will give you some headache if it needs a clean. The dirt will get trapped in the grain and will need professional cleaning

A cheap quality leather which is poorly made will harden and disintegrate within no time. Some will have flaws which will be hidden. However you maintain it, it will look bad whereas a top grade leather will look better with age with right maintenance.


When leather gets dirty there will be a dark shine to it – not the healthy shine of leather but a dirty cloudy shine. These stains may accumulate over a period of time with exposure to your makeup, hairspray, hair gel etc . You may not even be noticing them at once. But then one day your favourite leather good will look real dirty and you will know.

Then there are the stains (ink mainly), rips, tears, scuff marks, scratch marks, color changes, visible cracks -all damages to leather which needs attention

Some problems like lifting, bubbling or separation on coated canvas  are not possible to be corrected. Body oil marks on aniline leather ( the absorbent kind) also may not disappear with home cleaning.

FAQ 3 How to  remove dirt and water spills on leather ? 

Dust your natural leather item with soft cloth, at regular intervals – so that your leather remains dust free. You can also Lightly vacuum or brush the surface if there is excessive dust and dirt present. Wipe with a barely moist clean soft cloth and dry wipe with another dry cloth immediately for a thorough clean.

Clean suede with a suede brush or sponge. You may need to clean a newly bought suede item thoroughly with a terry towel to remove the dust from crocking. 

Nubuck leather should be lightly vacuumed regularly – no wet cleaning for suede/Nubuck leather as water marks can appear.

A regular wiping will remove dirt before it becomes a major problem. Use distilled water instead of tap water for this wiping.

Use a very mild cleaner especially if the leather you have is aniline leather with no protective layer on top. Do not use solvent cleaners on Nubuck leather.

The process of cleaning leather goes like this

  • Use a special leather cleaner or mild baby bath liquid soap or gentle body wash. Pour it in some water and dilute.
  • Rinse your cleaning sponge on this solution and lather. Apply this foam on to the leather ; use circular motion to clean – agitate gently with the sponge. Do not spot clean if you notice a stain – this may lead to that single spot fading. Just clean the whole area equally. Frequently rinse the sponge in water if you see it getting dirty while cleaning.
  • Wipe off with a clean terry towel or absorbent paper towels. Air dry
  • Use a protective conditioner / cream (recommended by your product manufacturer, if any) to protect it from oil and dirt in the future, immediately after cleaning. It usually comes in a spray bottle and you can spray it on the surface and then use a white cloth to spread it out evenly. You just need to apply a thin coat ; any excess should be wiped off. 
  • Allow to dry thoroughly,

Never ever use the hair dryer on leather – though it is tempting to. 

Any cleaner you use I would suggest that you test it on an inconspicuous place  before ruining , I mean cleaning, the whole thing.

This kind of cleaning can clean stains left by dirt, recent bleeding from other clothing, etc.

(A tip I have read – use Alcohol on shrunk leather to bring it to stretch).

And water spills  ?

If you have a spill, blot it immediately with a clean cloth or sponge.(no paper towels) Dry immediately with a dry cloth . Empty everything from the item and stuff it with tissue paper to absorb all moisture. Air dry in normal temperature.

Religiously do this every time your leather product get wet. Water damage is real.

FAQ 4 How to store leather ?

Two main setbacks in leather care are mildew and sun damage – both caused by improper storage

Leather can develop mildew on in its surface especially if you have stored it inside a wardrobe or worse a plastic bag. Never closet leather inside plastic containers or in places with humidity. A cool, ventilated area is the preferred storage place for leather.

The most ardent leather lovers have special bags made in muslin / thin cotton to keep their leather items moisture free. You can atleast use cotton fabric pieces to wrap and store leather

I always keep the silica packets that come with all electronic goods and keep it in my wardrobe as we have high humidity here – good for wool and leather.

Do not overexpose leather to sunlight . Fading due to sunlight can look very unattractive and it is damaging as well.  it is impossible to reverse sun damage. You may have dye that whole product , and even then not get back the even colour. When storing Keep away from sunlight – period

Never store sweaty leather jackets / shoes inside wardrobe. Let it airdry before storing.

FAQ 5 What to do if you notice Tears on your leather ?

A tear in leather is truly heartbreaking. But the good news is an expert can repair it so finely that it will look as if there has been no such tear there.

There are repair kits available in the market with DIY instructions which you can follow to the ‘T’ – you may get satisfactory results depending on the skill you have at such works – no guarantee. The repair process involves making a clean cut of the hole and then attaching a patch from behind and then glueing it . I would leave it to the professional if it was mine.


FAQ 6 How to deal with stains on leather ?

Do store stain sources like pens , lipsticks inside a pouch ; not in the pockets of your leather jacket or bag.

Also Make sure that you are not wearing a new clothing which may bleed next to a light coloured leather item. Prevention is better than cure in leather care.

Pen ink stains – don’t even think of removing it yourself. Give it to professionals.; even for ink pen stain, not only permanent ink stains. DIY solutions will further damage leather surface

If you get any oily stain on the leather, wipe the oil ( like butter, oil grease etc) immediately with a dry towel or tissue to wipe the grease off. After some time the excess oil will be absorbed by the leather. No use trying to wash off the oil.

One main tip is – Do not wait for any stain to settle for long on leather. Deal with fresh stains immediately.

Do not use petroleum based cleaners at home

Do use a microfiber cloth for cleaning spills and Do not use paper towels for this. They will get soggy and cause more problems

Don’t pour or spray cleaning solution on to leather surface directly

The wet stains can be cleaned if treated immediately. Dilute a baby soap in some water. dip sponge in this solution . Lather it into a foam. Now move in small strokes along the grain of the leather. I have cleaned food spills like this from leather.

Do not use a strong alkaline soap on leather . The white caustic nature of the suds from this soap will harden your leather

There are many home DIY leather repair kits available but There is no guarantee that home treatments on leather will remove engraved stains completely. Sometimes it may even destroy the leather. So any DIY on stains should be done very very cautiously.Grease, ink, cosmetics, permanent markers  – these are potential professional cleaning candidates

Some stubborn stains like  a spot where something bled into your leather or a pen mark or bleach spot may be impossible to remove even for the professionals. You may have to re-dye the whole product.

FAQ 7 How to avoid the horrible smell on leather  ?

Do not wear leather clothes when you expect to perspire a lot. Perspiration can make the leather smell bad.

So does mildew.Do not let moisture remain in leather . Air dry after getting wet and then store

Once leather develops the odor you can try any of the odor absorbing powders (usually used inside shoes) or as a DIY solution use our panacea for all ailments and problems – the baking soda powder. It has the capacity to absorb dirt and smell.

FAQ 8 What to do if your leather has become hard?

Leather becomes hard after some time with misuse or sometimes naturally due to the poor quality of the leather. This is especially true for belts and at times shoes.You may have to soften it somehow. Also a regular moisturizing is important to prevent the hardening and cracking.

You can apply a commercial softener/conditioner on leather periodically . Some posts I have read suggests to apply coconut oil – but I tried it and my belt turned a shade darker. Coconut oil also smells. I have read about applying vaseline / petroleum jelly too but have not had the courage to try it on leather.But it must work as leather is skin too.

A mixture of half distilled water and half rubbing alcohol can be used to stretch leather that has shrunk.

Whatever you apply, do it on clean leather.Clean with a leather cleaner before trying any softener.

Read the manufacturer’s applying instruction carefully. The usual way is to apply it and keep it on for a short period before wiping off gently with a microfiber polishing cloth. This conditioning is recommended every 6 months.

Be very careful with leather conditioners as some may change the colour of the leather. So if you use the conditioner on a piece with a scuffed area  that area may have a different color from the rest of the leather after the work. So be prepared.

FAQ 9 How to take care of small scratches scuff marks on leather ?

Rubbing on other things like your clothes it’s trims, your jewellery and  the resulting friction can cause scuff marks on leather. The leather can sometimes  break apart and lose dye from just friction and rubbing in normal wear. The cleaning process may accentuate the condition.

For small scuffes , scratches, you can apply a similar colored shoe polish. If you have a bag that are brown or black you are in luck, this idea will work. A small application and buffing with clean towel maybe all you need. Do not apply too much or you risk hardening the leather.

FAQ 10 How to remove water spots on leather ?

You can try using baby wipes on this kind of spots. Baby wipes have a small amount of oil which will remove the spots. Do not try this without testing on an inconspicuous area of course, because some brands may do more harm that good.

Leather is easy to maintain. Then there are those times when you find you cannot deal with it alone- which is when you should approach the professionals – leather care professionals who have the full-on setup ( the right material and equipment) for properly taking care of your beloved leather item.

( Use washing procedures recommended here with caution and lots of care. Not that they do not work – but you can never say with leather.)

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