Written by Seraine Page. Reviewed by cleaning expert Sean Busch.
Now that there’s a cool crisp to the air, it’s time to start pulling out your favorite leather.
Whether you’re wearing your mother’s well-loved leather jacket or your brand-new leather boots, leather is a luxe material that begs to be worn in the fall.
And unlike most clothing, it can’t just be tossed into the wash for a good cleaning. It’s cleanable, though. You just have to handle leather with care.
Removing dirt and grime is the first step to restoring your leather to its best state. Conditioning it well is the second step. If taken care of appropriately, you can extend the life of your favorite leather products by years.
Since you’ll be wearing leather boots, carrying leather bags, and donning leather jackets for your fall wardrobe, you’ll want to be ready to tackle stains ASAP -- like when you spill that pumpkin spice latte on your leather bag. Oops.
Here we share how to clean leather that you’ll wear all season long.
The Basics on How to Clean Leather
Some items are going to be less expensive to clean if you do it yourself at home. Busy mamas barely have time to go to the store, let alone to a specialty cleaning shop.
Some tips to keep in mind when it comes to cleaning leather:
Wipe up spills ASAP -- The longer it sits, the deeper it sinks. Don’t use baby wipes for these. Instead, keep clean, dry microfiber cloths on hand to wipe spills off quickly.
Avoid water at all costs -- Try not to wear your leather in the rain as it will stain and shrink your leather and potentially cause odor issues. This especially goes for shoes!
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Coated vs. Uncoated Leather: What You Need to Know
It’s important to know the difference between coated and uncoated leather since both are cleaned in different ways. To test if your product is coated or uncoated: Place a few drops of water on the leather. If it beads, it’s coated. If it quickly absorbs, it’s uncoated.
Here’s some insight into how each is different:
Coated leather is protected with a vinyl or polyurethane coating so it lasts longer.The biggest perk of coated leather is that it has an easy-to-wipe clean surface. This does give it a more man-made look, but it tends to last longer, too.
Uncoated (natural) leather will soak up liquids since it’s not protected with an extra finish. This leather product looks more natural, which unfortunately makes stains and spots show up more prominently on the surface.
Follow Directions Specific to Your Fall Fashion Items
If you have specific manufacturer instructions, follow those for cleaning your leather. Otherwise, try the following techniques for both coated and uncoated leather goods.
As with any cleaning project, be sure to test cleaning and conditioning products in a small, hidden spot first. Stop using any product at the first sign of major discoloration or “bleeding.”
How to Clean a Leather Bag
If your favorite leather bag is completely scuffed and looking worn-out, it’s time for a good deep clean. We recommend cleaning the bag by hand for a quick, gentle way to remove dirt and grime. You’ll also want to store it properly (in its original dust bag, if possible) to keep it free of dirt, grime and dust.
General Tips for Caring for a Leather Bag
- Always handle your bag with clean hands
- Keep cosmetics in a pouch to prevent spillage
- Stuff your bag with bubble wrap when not in use to help maintain its shape and avoid creasing
- Remove stains ASAP
How to Clean an Uncoated (Natural) Leather Bag
Step 1: If you’re using your bag daily, wipe it down with a soft, dry microfiber cloth to remove dirt and dust several times a week.
Step 3: Dampen a microfiber cloth with the diluted Leather Honey cleaning solution (follow bottle instructions) and gently wipe down your leather bag using circular motions. Cover every spot evenly and buff out.
Step 4: Allow the bag to completely air dry.
Step 5: Follow with a leather conditioner. Leather Honey also has a great conditioner you can use to keep your bag soft and supple! Apply a small amount with a microfiber cloth using gentle circular motions, then wipe off any excess with a separate dry microfiber cloth.
How to Clean a Coated Leather Bag
Step 1: Dust off any loose dirt on your bag with a dry, clean microfiber cloth. Never use paper towels unless you want a fuzzy leather look!
Step 2: Use a large bowl of warm water and a few drops of mild, gentle dish soap. Dip a microfiber cloth into the warm, soapy water. The cloth should be moist, but not soaking wet. Wring out if it’s too full of water. Wipe every spot evenly using circular motions.
As an alternative to using dish soap, you can also clean any coated leather product using Puracy Natural Multi-Surface Cleaner. Spray a clean microfiber cloth with two or three sprays of our multi-surface cleaner (never spray directly onto leather), then wipe the cleaner onto your coated leather bag with gentle, circular motions.
Step 3: Wipe your bag evenly with a dry microfiber cloth.
Step 4: For any small scuffs you find, try rubbing a light leather oil in small circular motions into the scratched-up surface. Let it dry completely.
Step 5: To prevent future scuffs and dirt build-up, use your favorite leather conditioner. Real Simple Clean Leather Cleaner/Conditioner can help restore shine and luster to your favorite leather bag. Plus, it’s made without toxic chemicals.
How to Clean Leather Shoes
Leather shoes are probably the trickiest of all leather items to keep clean. After all, you can’t get much closer to the dirt than you do with shoes! To avoid dingy-looking shoes and grime build-up, run a microfiber cloth over the shoes after each wear. Always check the care instructions before cleaning.
General Tips for Caring for Leather Shoes
- Clean every 8-10 wears
- Avoid contact with water when possible
- Store away from direct heat sources
- Use a shoe tree for men’s shoes
How to Clean Uncoated (Natural) Leather Shoes
Step 1: Knock off any loose dirt, dust, or salt outdoors by gently tapping the soles together.
Step 2: Wipe away any remaining dust, dirt, or mud with a dry microfiber cloth. Using warm water, barely moisten a microfiber cloth, then use it to wipe away extra built-up debris.
Step 3: Allow to air dry.
Step 4: Remove the laces.
Step 5: Apply a leather conditioner with a dry microfiber cloth to moisturize the shoe. Cover all spots evenly and apply the conditioner using circular motions. Allow to air dry.
Step 6: Use a neutral or color-matched shoe polish and apply in circular motions with a dry microfiber cloth. Again, allow to air dry.
Step 7: Buff your shoes using a clean microfiber cloth.
How to Clean Coated Leather Shoes
Step 1: Mix together a solution of warm water and a few drops of Puracy Natural Dish Soap in a bowl. You can also use a specially formulated leather cleaner like Leather Honey, or a gentle all-purpose cleaner like Puracy Natural Multi-Surface Cleaner.
Step 2: Dip a soft, clean microfiber cloth into the mixture. Wring out the microfiber to remove excess liquid. Wipe along your leather evenly using circular motions to remove dirt. Be as gentle as possible.
Step 3: Wipe the moisture off with a clean, dry microfiber cloth.
Step 4: Remove the laces.
Step 5: Apply a leather conditioner. Cover all spots evenly and wipe the shoe down using circular motions. Allow to air dry.
Step 6: Find shoe polish to touch-up the leather. A shoe brush will buff out any rough spots and give your shoes that newish-look you love.
For cleaning the leather soles: Mix together a small amount of dish soap and warm water. Dip a clean toothbrush into the mix and then run the brush in small circles along the leather outsoles. Rinse off once again with a clean cloth. Allow shoes to air dry before wearing again.
Note: When in doubt about handling a tricky shoe stain, consult a professional like a shoe cobbler.
How to Clean a Leather Jacket
Ready to show a little love to your favorite leather bomber jacket? If you’ve got the patience to detail your leather jacket, it’ll look new in no time. Most leather jackets use uncoated (natural) leather, so our instructions below are for those types of jackets.
General Tips for Caring for Leather Jackets
- Keep it away from heat
- Avoid wearing it in the rain
- Try not to fold it in half
- Hang on a wide, padded hanger
- Use a leather conditioner
Here are our best tips for spiffing it up before a night out on the town:
Step 1: Wipe off any spills with a soft cloth. The sooner you can do it after a spill, the better since uncoated leather is porous and will soak up any stains.
Step 2: Mix warm water and a few drops of Puracy Natural Dish Soap together in a bowl. Dip a soft microfiber cloth into the mixture, wring it out and wipe the jacket evenly using circular motions. Don’t soak the jacket, and be as gentle as possible. (Instead of dish soap, you can also use a specialty leather cleaner like Leather Honey, or you can use Puracy Natural Multi-Surface Cleaner.)
Step 3: Wipe your jacket down with a clean, dry microfiber cloth.
Step 4: Apply a small amount of your favorite leather conditioner evenly across the jacket using gentle circular motions and a clean, dry microfiber cloth.
How To Condition Leather to Keep it Like New
When you invest in quality leather products, you’ll want to keep moisture in the leather to make it look shiny and new. Since leather can also crack over time, adding a conditioner will lubricate the leather’s fibers and enhance the overall look.
Always clean and condition your leather -- whether it’s uncoated or coated. From jackets to boots to handbags, using a regular cleaning and conditioning routine will keep your fall fashion pieces ready to wear all season long.
A few tips on conditioning your leather:
- Make sure your leather is free from dirt
- Patch test prior to applying all over
- Put conditioner directly onto a microfiber cloth
- Apply in a circular motion
- When in doubt, use less
- Dry leather away from direct sunlight
Depending on your climate, you may need to condition items more often. For those who live in humid climates, every six months to a year you should condition your items. If your leather is often in the sun and is frequently exposed to heat, you’ll want to use your conditioner every few months.
Final Thoughts on Keeping Leather Clean
While leather apparel and goods need regular care and cleaning, it doesn’t take long and it’s well worth the time spent to maintain that like-new look. Leather is a delicate material, so using a combo of cleaning and conditioning will keep items pristine.
Final tips for maintaining your leather:
Do quick wipe downs often -- Frequent care is easy care. Prevention of grime build-up will make maintenance easier overall. Keep several microfiber cloths on hand for clean-up duty!
Pick your (cleaning) battles -- If you have a timeless, heirloom leather bag your grandmother gave you, it’s best to leave the cleaning to the pros. The cost is worth it to clean cherished items properly.
Remember air drying is key -- Always allow your leather to air dry after applying product. Never use heat sources like a hair blow dryer.
Since leather can crack over time due to drying out, it’s important to keep an eye on signs of major wear to repair it right away. Take it to a leather repair shop or a pro as soon as you notice wear that might crack the leather.
Want to learn more about coated leather products? Check out our post How to Clean Coated Leather: Safely Spruce Up Your Leather Furniture with These 3 Tips!