Leather Care

Taking care of your chaps, saddlebags, leather coats and other leather items is essential in order to maintain a life time of good service. Leather does not take as much care as many people may think. It is a porous product which does accept moisture from elements such as rain, humidity, fog and dampness from the outdoors.

Mildew

Storing chaps, jackets and gloves in saddlebags, plastic bags or in trunks is not advised as any moisture from the elements in the leather itself can start the mildew process.  Even if the leather is put away dry, in a humid climate, the mildew process will eventually set in.mildewed-leather

Mildew is easy to detect on dark colored leathers. It will appear somewhat “dusty white”, grey or green and depending on how long it has been growing, it will have an odor.

Step One: The best way to start cleaning mildewed leather is to use a warm damp rag. On the suede side use the damp rag and a soft brush or balled up dry terry cloth towel which will help in getting the suede back to the way it should look; soft and somewhat “fluffy”.

Step Two: Kill the mold spores in the leather. In a clean container, mix equal parts plain cool water and rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol). Use a clean white cloth dipped in the mixture to wipe down the leather. For shoes, use a cotton swab to reach crevices and difficult to reach trimmed areas. **If you are cleaning a colored leather such as red, blue etc. check for color fastness by trying this mixture on a small unnoticeable corner first.

Step Three: Fiebings Saddlesoap is an excellent product to use for cleaning leather whether it be bugs or mildew; it softens, cleans and conditions. There are lots of products on the market made for cleaning leather and conditioning leather, here are some excellent ones from my buddies at Fox Creek Leather  https://www.foxcreekleather.com/accessories/leather-care/

If you prefer, you can apply a coat of light oil such as vegetable oil, canola oil or olive oil to the top grain side (the shinny side) instead.  It may take a bit of time to soak in so you can use a hairdryer on WARM not hot to heat the leather and encourage the oil to soak in. Use your hands to massage the oil or store bought conditioner cleaner into the leather and work the leather to soften it.

Remember leather is a made up of fibers which, like your muscles can become stiff. The moisture from the damp rage will help soften the fibers and open them up so the oil or conditioner soaks in. You may want to apply more than one coat.

The back side of the leather can also be oiled, however keep in mind that oiling suede may cause oil to come off on your clothing. If the jacket or chaps are lined and the mildew is in the fabric then you can take a damp rag only to the fabric also, do not oil the lining and test a small unnoticeable for alcohol tolerance.

After the leather product is cleaned you will have to air it out to start the removal of the mildew smell. In cases where the mildew was bad, there is no guarantee that the smell will come out.

Unfortunately, mildew is very hard and sometimes impossible to get rid of once it roots in leather. Once in the leather it can begin to grow again; faster. The mold spores can be air born in a closet, taken root in leather saddlebags where chaps or jackets were stored and more. Regular cleaning and a dry storage environment is the only way to keep it from getting started in the first place.

General Cleaning of Leather

Bugs, road grit and wind can take a toll on your leather gear and your leather saddlebags.  Leather can get so dried out that it will become brittle, crack and break, there is no turning back at this point. Leather is a skin that needs “nourishment”; oils and conditioners.

It is easy to maintain your gear through regular cleaning, even if only once a year. Start with a damp cloth as mention above, removing bugs, dust and grit. Next follow Step Three for conditioning.

Remember to store your leather goods in a dry closet with plenty of room so that it can “breath”. You will be glad you did!