A Complete Guide to Leather Care

leather shoes, wallet and jacket
Post by Trunk Club
November 12, 2018

Classic and enduring, leather adds just the right amount of luxury to year-round outfits. Chances are, you have it in your closet—a sleek jacket, a go-to pair of boots, or perhaps some stylish gloves. But are you schooled on the proper way to care for it? This unique material requires specific care and routine maintenance to keep it looking its best. Even if your preference is well-worn leather that looks like it has some stories to tell, following our comprehensive leather care guide will ensure it stays strong and beautiful for years to come. Read on about the following leather care tips:

  1. General leather care
  2. Leather care tips by category
  3. How to wash leather
  4. How to spot-treat leather
  5. How to store leather
  6. Items you'll need to care for your leather

General leather care

Items that get regular wear (your favorite work shoes, for example) should be wiped down with a damp cloth weekly to remove dirt and dust. Leather should be kept dry, but if it does get wet, let it dry naturally. Forced heat spells damage to this natural material, and sunlight will fade the color.

At the beginning of each season, take some time to apply the proper care products. A leather conditioner, applied every few months (see more on this below), keeps it soft and prevents drying and cracking. Don’t be alarmed when conditioner darkens your leather upon contact. It will lighten as it dries.

black leather bag

TIP: Polish adds shine—but does nothing to protect. Apply a conditioner and waterproofing product to repel the elements. We recommend waxes and creams, which work better and last longer than sprays.

Leather care by category

Leather Shoes and boots: 

Wipe your footwear down weekly with a damp cloth and condition every one to six months. Shoes can be polished as needed, and should always be stored with cedar trees. If you encounter salt stains, wipe with warm water immediately.

Leather Handbags, travel bags, and briefcases: 

Don’t overfill your leather bags. Once they’re overstretched, they can’t snap back. Wipe your bags down regularly and condition once or twice a year. Shake out or vacuum the liner periodically to keep the inside nice and clean.

Leather Jackets:

Wipe down every few wears with a damp cloth and condition twice a year. Consider a professional cleaning once a year. And always hang your jacket on a padded hanger, never fold it.

cleaning a black leather jacket

Leather Gloves: 

A quality, well-made pair should not stretch out, so buy them for the right size and shape for your hand. Wipe down with a damp cloth every so often, and use conditioner if they become stiff.

Leather belts and watches:

Try not to pull too much as you take your accessories on and off. To clean, wipe gently with a damp cloth and apply conditioner only when needed. Don’t wear watches while sleeping, and lay them flat when not worn.

Leather Clothing: Skirts, dresses, and pants:How to wash leather:

Take larger garments to a professional as needed.

How to wash leather:

You should never put leather items in the washing machine. Instead, you should gently wash your leather items every few years by following these simple steps:

  1. Mix a few drops of castile soap in lukewarm water
  2. Dip a clean soft towel into the soapy solution and wring excess water out
  3. Gently wipe your leather item with the damp towel to remove excess dirt or scuffs
  4. Taking a fresh towel, wipe clean
  5. Allow to air dry
  6. Hang and store appropriately

Important Tip: This method of cleaning leather should never be used on suede or nubuck leathers. See our tips on how to clean suede in our complete Caring for Clothing Guide.

How to spot-treat leather

While soft leather should be handled by a professional, many of the sturdier pieces you own may be cleaned and cared for at home. Only use water or a special cleaning product made for leather’s delicate surface, and be sure to patch test in advance to ward off any accidents. Avoid using too much water, because dry leather is happy leather, remember? Once the spot is removed, treat your item with a leather conditioner to prep it for the next wear. 

TIP: Any special products applied to leather should be the same color as the item you’re cleaning to ensure no unsightly marks are left behind.

How to store leather

Leather must be stored carefully to prevent the material from suffocating and losing its luxe finish. Before you pack any items away, give them a full cleaning and conditioning. Shoes and other accessories can be stuffed with newspaper (which both reduces moisture and helps hold shape). Place cedar trees inside shoes, and then put them in breathable dust bags. Leather prefers a cool, dry place to hibernate. Jackets and larger items can be hung inside canvas garment bags in a well-ventilated closet. Watches and belts should be laid flat and kept away from moisture.

shoe trees for leather shoes

TIP: Never store your leather in plastic. It will rot without ventilation (yikes!), so opt for canvas, a dust bag, or pillowcase.

Complete leather care kit:

  1. Washcloth + bucket
  2. Castile Soap
  3. Shoe polish
  4. Leather conditioner
  5. Waterproofer (cream or wax preferred over spray)

Watch our helpful video on caring for leather:

Need help with the rest of your wardrobe? Check out our complete Caring for Clothing Guide.

At Trunk Club, our stylists help people build their best wardrobes by discovering what fits their body, their budget, and their personal style.