You’ve just come home from your favorite leather store with a fantastic new purchase – the pants/shirt/harness/jock of your dreams. You pulled it off the rack, tried it on and it fit you like it was custom made. You’re having fantasies of having to create a “Take a Number” system for all the guys or girls who will be panting after you at your local Leather bar.
So, it’s all settled. You just put it on, get in the car, and head out, right?
I say the following with all of the love and respect in the world – absolutely not!
You just made a huge investment – not only of money (as we all know, leather isn’t inexpensive) but also of time and effort. You are about to enter an environment where people will be carrying (and possibly spilling) drinks. It will be hot, possibly smoky and likely crowded. Prior to wearing your new purchase, please take a little time to protect that investment by cleaning and conditioning it.
But Kristen, you might say, I’m not a bootblack! I don’t know how to clean and condition leather! Worry not, my Leather brother or sister. I am here to help you.
Though it may seem intimidating, cleaning and conditioning garment leather isn’t difficult. It takes a little time, but isn’t keeping your leathers in good condition so you can look your smokin’ hottest in any Leather environment worth it? Aren’t YOU worth it? I may not know you, but I think you are, and I think you should, too.
So, without further ado, here is the how-to of garment leather care.
Actually, one more little ado: I won’t be covering boots in this post. It’s a more involved process as well as a visual one. Depending on how helpful people find this post (hint: if you like it, let me know!), I will work on another one, complete with pictures, on how to shine boots.
So now, really, here are the steps to garment leather care. I mean it this time.
Step One: Cleaning
Why This is Important: If your leather is brand-new, it’s got a factory finish on it that cleaning will remove. If it’s not new, you have worn it, which means it has picked up some dirt and grime, you’ve sweated on it, some random jerk poured beer on it or (and I swear this has happened) someone puked near you and some of it splashed. Cleaning will remove all of that yucky stuff. Also, it will open up the pores on the leather (remember, it’s skin, so it does have pores) and allow the conditioner you’ll apply in Step Two to soak in more deeply and actually do the job it was designed to do.
What You Will Need
- Cleaner specifically designed for leather. This may include saddle soap, glycerine soap or Lexol cleaner. I find that pure glycerine soap (available in tack stores or online from www.bootblacksupply.com) works best. It cleans the leather well without drying it out. However, any of the items I listed will work.
- Soft towel. You will use this to wipe excess cleaner from the leather after you’ve applied it.
- If you choose to use glycerine or saddle soap, a round horsehair applicator. These can usually be found with shoe care supplies. Also, you’ll need water to create lather with the soap.
- If you choose to use Lexol cleaner, you will also need a rougher towel. I recommend a barmop, available at any mass-merchandiser (i.e., Target or Wal-Mart).
How to Do It
- Find a solid, flat surface upon which you can lay the garment. You might want to lay down an old bath towel as well to keep anything from getting on your work surface.
- Spread out the garment as you would wear it (by which I mean that the outside is up). Don’t button or zip it.
- Grab your cleaner of choice. If you’ve chosen soap, add water and swirl your horsehair applicator in it to create lather. If you’ve chosen Lexol, apply a small amount to your rough towel.
- Apply the cleaner to the garment. Regardless of method, work in small circles with the appropriate implement and add more cleaner as needed – always to your cleaning tool and never to the leather directly.
- Wipe off the cleaner with your soft towel before it dries.
- Flip garment over and repeat steps 1-5 on the other side (if applicable).
Congratulations! You have successfully cleaned your leather! Don’t you feel good about yourself? Take a moment to grab a beverage, change the channel on television or just breathe. Pat yourself on the back, too. I would do it, but I’m not there, so you will have to do it for me. But rest assured, I am very impressed.
We are now ready to move on to…
Step Two: Conditioning
Why This is Important: As we discussed in Step One (which you totally rocked, by the way), leather is skin. Since it has been removed from the animal it previously covered, it’s no longer getting oils added, so we must add them in order to keep the leather supple and prevent cracking. It also defends the leather against some of the evils we discussed earlier (like spilled beer). So it’s a really good thing to do.
What You Will Need
- Conditioner specifically designed for leather. I have used Huberd’s Shoe Grease, Lexol conditioner and Fiebing’s Aussie conditioner. I prefer Huberd’s because it is all natural and smells awesome.
- Soft towel. No, NOT the one you used in Step One, because now it is damp and it has soap residue and dirt on it.
- Your hands. Yes, I said it. You will apply the conditioner with your hands.
How to Do It
- Wash your hands. That will get rid of any residual soapor dirt from Step One.
- If you haven’t already, flip the garment over to the side you cleaned first.
- Take a small amount of your conditioner of choice and put it in one hand.
- Rub your hands together to spread the conditioner out and warm it a little. This helps in the application process, plus it’s fun and you’ll get a little moisturizing treatment.
- Rub the conditioner on the garment, again in circles. Continue to rub the conditioner into the leather until the surface of the leather has a very low sheen. This may take a while, so it’s a good thing this is fun! Granted, it’s a lot more fun if you’re conditioning someone else’s leather and they’re wearing it at the time. But I digress.
- Repeat steps 3-5 as needed until the whole surface is conditioned.
- Let the garment sit for fifteen minutes. If you’re short on time, you can skip this step and proceed to step 8. However, giving the conditioner time to soak in is very helpful, so if you have the time, take it. Get another beverage, walk your dog, watch some porn.
- After the fifteen minutes is up, wipe the leather down with your soft towel. This will remove any excess conditioner.
- Flip the garment over and repeat steps 3-8.
Guess what? You are all done. Last thing to do is hang the garment back up in the closet (you just took all that time and expended all that effort – please promise me you will not just throw your freshly cleaned and conditioned garment on the floor! Thank you!)
So, how often should the process be repeated? Honestly, only you can really be the judge of that. It all depends on how often it is worn and for how long, where you are wearing it and how you like your leather to look. Trust your own judgment, or ask someone (preferably your friendly neighborhood bootblack) what they think. If you want a guideline, I would recommend monthly cleaning and conditioning.
If, Heaven forbid, something is spilled on your leather or you get something like puke or chocolate icing on it (yes, that’s happened too. I don’t just make this stuff up), wipe off as much as you can right away and clean and condition the leather as soon as possible thereafter.
I hope that this has been a helpful and fun read. I can’t wait to see you out and about in your clean, conditioned leather. You look hot!
[WildCuddler’s Comments: This is an awesome how-to. Please leave comments if you loved it like I did, or any other leather care tips you may have.]