How to Clean Leather: From Shoes and Boots to Holdalls and JacketsHigh-quality leather, whether it be a garment or a pair of shoes, should see you through more than one season. A timeless material that remains in style year after year, there’s a reason why it’s a symbol of luxury.
Pure leather undergoes a careful craftsmanship process before making its way into our wardrobes, so it’s important to give it the proper day-to-day care and maintenance that it deserves.
Here at the House of Bruar, we pride ourselves on sourcing the finest leather goods. To make sure that your pieces retain their excellence and age gracefully, we’ve created a guide on how to clean and care for leather. Find out how to make your leather shoes, bags, and clothes look their best and last a lifetime.
- What types of leather are there?
- How to clean leather
- How to store leather
- How to care for leather shoes
- How to care for leather jackets
- How to care for leather bags
What types of leather are there?While leather is universally known for its opulence, it can be split out into various categories depending on its cut, grade, and finish. Each type of leather has a unique texture and properties that require slightly different care.
Some of the most popular types of leather are:
Napa leatherNapa is a soft, smooth, full-grain leather. Often considered to be one of the purest forms of leather, napa undergoes less processing than other variations. This means that it retains a lot of its original grain and texture – as well as some slight water resistance.
This water resistance can be improved with a special wax coating to add a sheen to its appearance and increase its durability. Napa is one of the more expensive types of leather and its supple, lightweight texture lends itself beautifully to a range of handbags, shoes, accessories, luggage, and garments.
Nubuck leatherNubuck leather is another full-grain leather, except the tougher grain has been sanded or milled down to create a silky, soft and velvety finish. Buffing the grain in this way produces a short nap – the micro hairs on the surface of an animal skin – which gives nubuck a striking resemblance to suede.
Nubuck’s fuzzy texture is often used for crafting jackets, accessories, and footwear thanks to its comfortable touch.
SuedeSuede is a soft leather, like nubuck, that has a velvety surface. The material is sanded down to leave a short nap of hair, which is why it’s easy to confuse the two types of leather as they undergo a similar process. The difference lies in the way that suede is made from split-grain leather. This is when an animal hide is split into several thinner layers before being processed.
As such, suede is often less expensive and more pliable than nubuck, making it easier to craft into a selection of everyday garments and accessories. It’s not uncommon to find jackets, shirts, dresses, shoes, and handbags fashioned out of suede. The downside is that it can accumulate dirt extremely easily and can be difficult to clean.
Read our guide to cleaning suede to learn more about caring for this type of leather.
Waxed leatherWaxed leather is also known as oil leather or pull-up leather and, as the name suggests, benefits from a coating of oil or wax to strengthen the surface of the fabric. This coating improves leather’s natural water resistance and durability, ensuring that your favourite items last longer.
An oil or wax coating not only maximises leather’s durability, but it can also add a coloured sheen to the material which appears glossy when it catches the light.
Saffiano leatherSaffiano leather is a full-grain leather with a notable cross-hatch pattern for which it is known. Saffiano gets its finish from a wax coating that’s applied to the surface of the leather, which is then finished by the ‘stamping’ method. This involves heating up the leather to loosen up the fibres, before a specialist machine presses the signature etched texture into the surface of the fabric.
This process transforms the material into one of the most durable and long-lasting types of leather; the wax coating offers scratch and water-resistant properties, making Saffiano one of the most easy-to-maintain leathers.
How to clean leatherWhether you own a beautiful leather holdall or a timeless pair of loafers, it’s always important to remember that leather is a natural fibre. Therefore, each individual piece is unique and will be characterised by irregularities. Always bear in mind that these irregularities are not imperfections and only add to the leather’s exquisite character.
1. Always be gentleAs a natural material, leather can be prone to stretching. To help maintain its shape, always use a gentle hand when cleaning your leather goods.
Also, before attempting to clean any leather items, always test a small, inconspicuous patch first. The inner cuff of a jacket sleeve, the tongue of a shoe, or the tag on a leather bag often tend to be made from the same material as the exterior of the item; these are some of the most discrete places to test.
2. Use a dry cloth to buff away small marksFor minor marks, whether it’s on nubuck or nappa, try lightly buffing them away with a dry cloth.
This can often remove small scuffs that aren’t dried or soaked deep into the fibres. It’s also one of the least abrasive methods and is less likely to damage the material, so this should always be your first port of call when cleaning leather.
3. Brush scuffs away on nubuck and suedeThe nap on nubuck and suede can be a little more complex to clean. Avoid getting these types of leather wet; any moisture can cause the nap to harden and ruin its velvety texture.
Instead, use a specialist suede brush to keep the nap fresh and remove any scuffs. Comb the brush in sweeping strokes, back and forth against the grain until the leather looks restored. Finish by brushing with the grain to settle the hairs back into the position they naturally lie.
4. Wipe down napa and waxed leather with a damp clothA coating is applied to napa and waxed leather, making it more resilient against water. It also means that you can use a damp cloth to remove any light stains.
Gently polish the surface of the leather to brush away any dirt. Try to wipe the cloth in the direction of the grain to maintain its appearance.
5. Blot up excess moisture with a damp clothWhether it’s a Merlot stain on your jacket sleeve or a pen has leaked in your bag, try to act swiftly to remove any liquid stains on your leather items. The longer the stain is left, the more chance it has at settling.
First, soak up any excess liquid with a sponge or absorbent cloth. Then use a damp cloth to wipe off as much of the residue as possible. Stains are more difficult to manage when they have dried, so try to lift the stain as soon as you can.
6. Use a non-toxic leather cleanerOnce you’ve blotted away the residue, use a leather cleaner to erase the rest of the stain. Certain chemical cleaners can shrink, warp, or cause your leather to fade, so always opt for a non-toxic cleaner to avoid this.
Leather cleaners can usually be used on napa and finished leathers that don’t have a nap, but always check the manufacturer’s instructions before applying the cleaner.
7. Finish with a leather conditionerWhen your leather is clean and dry, seal the material with a leather conditioner. This finishing step works to revive the fabric and give it an illustrious shine, soften the leather surface, and preserve it against future wear and tear. Some polishes may also enhance your item’s water resistance. A gentle polish can also help to treat small scuffs left over after cleaning.
8. Use a leather polish to enhance the colour of your goodsDay-to-day use can cause coloured leather to fade. To revive the appearance of your leather shoes, bags, or accessories, use a tinted leather cream or polish to hide any discolouration. A leather polish also does an excellent job of camouflaging small scuffs.
Always apply leather polish to freshly cleaned, dried, and conditioned items. Carry out a patch test on a small, inconspicuous part to be sure that the colour matches your leather and always fully buff the polish into the fabric so that it doesn’t transfer onto your clothes.
How to store leatherStoring leather correctly is just as important as cleaning it properly. How you keep your leather goods can help extend their lifespan by preventing unnecessary damage and preserving their quality finish.
1. Keep it cool and dryThe best place to store leather clothing and accessories is in a cool, dark, and dry place. Moisture can cause mould to grow, so it’s recommended to keep your goods where they will receive air circulation to let them ‘breathe’.
Having a designated storage space for your leather items can also minimalise the chances of them getting marked or damaged.
2. Store away from heat sourcesBe mindful that your leather items are kept away from direct sunlight and sources of heat. They can put strain on the material and cause it to fade, warp, or even crack.
If they require drying out before storing away, leave them out to air dry naturally.
3. Place accessories and shoes in a dust bagMost leather goods will come with a protective fabric bag to keep them dust-free and reduce the chances of accidental scuffs.
If you’re storing your items away for a long period of time, place them back into the dust bag for the best results. You can also use a cotton pillowcase to the same effect if you don’t have a dust bag to hand.
How to care for leather shoesThanks to its smart appearance and sturdy design, leather makes for an excellent piece of everyday footwear. However, there are a few things you can do to keep them looking their best.
1. Break in the soleThe sole on a brand new pair of shoes can feel rigid and unnatural when walking in. It can also be prone to slipping. We recommend you break in the sole before wearing them for a long period of time to ensure maximum comfort.
Wear your leather shoes around the house for an hour, a few times a week, before you take them for their first trip outside.
2. Stretch leather shoes for more comfortable wearFresh leather can feel particularly stiff at first, so you may need to stretch the material to help your shoes adjust to the fit of your feet.
To stretch a pair of leather shoes, use a shoe filler to gently loosen the shape until they perfectly accommodate your shoe size. Place the shoe filler into your footwear in between wears, gradually reducing the amount of time you use it as your shoes begin to fit more comfortably.
3. Leave them to dry thoroughly between wearsIt’s crucial that you leave leather shoes to dry fully between wears. A high-quality pair will need around 24 hours to dry out internally, which should help the leather last for longer.
Using a wooden shoe filler can help to absorb moisture and speed up the drying process, but it’s best to wear different footwear while your leather shoes are airing out.
4. Soften with a leather conditionerLeather shoes will require conditioning more than garments and other accessories because of the movement they endure as you walk. As leather is a natural fibre, it’s prone to drying out which can lead to creases or cracks in your footwear from where they bend as your foot moves.
Regularly wipe your shoes down with a cloth and use a leather conditioner to keep the material soft and supple.
5. Regularly inspect the solesYou’ll know your shoes need a new sole as they will be soft to the touch at the ball of the foot. A good cobbler can fix most damaged shoes, but they cannot work magic, so we recommend you check the soles of your shoes regularly.
How to care for leather jacketsA leather jacket is adored by all thanks to its status as a timeless outerwear staple. Its incredibly versatile nature means that it can be worn all year round.
1. Remove wrinkles by steamingMuch like shoes, leather jackets can also be prone to wrinkling, particularly around the elbow.
While a lived-in appearance may be the look that you’re after, you can try steaming your jacket to smooth out any creases. Electric clothes steamers can be too harsh on the fabric, so you’ll want to opt for a gentler method instead.
Hang your jacket up in the bathroom, somewhere where it won’t get wet. When you next use the shower, the built-up steam will help to loosen any creases.
2. Use quality hangersSturdy wooden clothes hangers do a much better job of protecting your garments – whether they’re leather or not.
Using a wooden hanger with wide shoulders will support your leather jacket more than a flimsy metal or plastic hanger. This will aid the leather in retaining its proper shape and reduce wrinkles.
3. Always follow the manufacturer’s care guidelinesAlways take caution when washing your leather jacket. Generally, they aren’t machine washable or tumble-dryer friendly, but review the manufacturer’s care guidelines for the best way to keep it clean and in good condition.
How to care for leather bagsFrom holdalls to handbags, leather makes an excellent choice for luggage as they combine sophisticated style with lasting practicality.
1. Use tissue paper to help them keep their shapeAs tempting as it is to fill a faithful leather bag with all your daily essentials, storing too much inside can cause it to stretch or fall out of shape.
Try not to overfill your leather bag and remove its contents when it’s not in use. Instead, use tissue paper to help it maintain its original silhouette.
2. Wrap up zips and clasps before storingIf you’re packaging up your leather bag to place into storage, you may want to wrap any hardware in tissue paper too.
This helps to keep any metal zips and clasps from leaving imprints on the leather.
3. Stand upright to reduce strain on the handlesWhenever possible, try to sit your leather bag upright rather than hanging it from its handles. This is to reduce stress on the handles and keep them from stretching.
Discover leather goods to last a lifetime with House of BruarLeather is a piece of quintessential luxury that you can trust to see you through each new season in style. Discover everything you need to keep your leather looking and feeling like new with our specially selected range of product care.
Alternatively, explore all ladies’ and men’s leather footwear to add to your collection.