How to Care for Your Leather, Straight From the Experts

Anyone who owns a leather piece—be it a jacket, bag, or pair of shoes—knows that upkeep and repair can be a boggling experience. The list of dos and don’ts is seemingly endless, and the severity of ruining your beloved item is admittedly daunting (this author should know, she spilled nail polish on her favorite leather jacket once upon a time).

Because leather is such a tricky fabric to take care of, we decided to turn to a few experts from some of our favorite brands for advice on topics across the gamut. Our panel? J Brand Women’s Design Director Dena Bickerstaffe, Veda CEO and Creative Director Lyndsey Butler, and Baldwin Founder and Designer Matt Baldwin.

See below for their lifesaving leather tips, and if you have any you want to share, leave them in the comments.

Anyone who’s packed a leather dress or skirt only to pull it out of your suitcase riddled with wrinkles (or with one large out-of-place wrinkle) knows this is a major issue. Thankfully, you have options. “You can iron leather on low heat, but use tissue paper or a clean piece of fabric like silk between the leather and the iron,” Butler said. Alternatively, you can use the classic hot shower trick. “I’ve found the best way to get the wrinkle out is to hang the garment in the bathroom while you shower,” Bickerstaffe told us. “After it’s had some steam, pat it dry if there is moisture, and lay it flat on a piece of plain cotton fabric [no texture], add a piece of fabric on top, and then place something heavy like books on top.”

While lived-in leather is undeniably cool, there are inevitably items you won’t want to look faded. So what do you do? All parties agree: Keep it out of the light. You can also “store it in a dark colored garment bag for extra protection,” Bickerstaffe added.

Stiff and cracked leather can be unsightly. You can keep your pieces from getting to that point with a few easy steps. “Some leather can be treated with mink oil, saddle soap, or a leather balm,” Bickerstaffe said. “It can change the color of the garment if it’s a light shade, so always do a test in an inconspicuous area first.” Butler added that “for a very sturdy, stiff leather, a leather conditioner helps make it soft, but it’s usually not necessary for newer pieces made in soft or thinner leathers.” Also, you can approach the topic the old-fashioned way per Baldwin’s advice, and just wear the heck out of it. “Like a pair of raw denim, the best way to prevent stiffness in your leather is to wear it. Over time, the leather will shape to your body, and natural wear and tear can tell your story.”

Nothing quite like getting caught in the rain carrying your favorite leather bag, right? Both Butler and Bickerstaffe agree that a protectant spray is key. “Kiwi Protect-All is a good option, but always spot-test first to make sure the spray doesn’t cause any damage or discoloration,” Butler suggested.

Cleaning leather was at the top of this author’s list of questions. According to our experts, twice a year is a generally accepted amount of times to clean your pieces. However, if you have a smaller area you need to clean rather than polishing the whole item, “Spot-cleaning with a lightly damp cloth does the trick,” Butler said; just make sure to test a small area first.

So you’ve stained your cherished moto jacket—what on earth can you do? “I would take the garment to a professional dry cleaner that handles leather,” Bickertaffe said. “But in a pinch, you could try an ink remover stick that takes ink and lipstick off of leather and suede.”

Another preventive method for taking care of your leather pieces is so simple: storage. Keeping leather “in a clean, dry, cool place is best. I would also suggest keeping it in a garment bag in your closet,” Butler said. If you’re hanging your items, Bickerstaffe suggested using “foam pads on the hanger clips to keep from getting dents.” For shoes, keep them in the bags and boxes when not in use. Baldwin added, “The best way to store leather is to invest in oak or pine blocks to hang in your closet. This keeps all of your clothing fresh and eliminates any moisture that may damage your leather from season to season.” Who’da thunk?!

Keep going to shop beautiful leather pieces from J Brand, Veda, and Baldwin. Also, tell us if you found these experts tips useful in the comments below.

What's the best leather advice you've ever received? Tell us in the comments!

Opening Image: Style du Monde