How to Care for Leather

Leather is one of the toughest and most durable materials, but it can also be sensitive. These tips will help you care for your leather to keep it in good condition.

Leather is a durable and versatile material. It’s also one of the most popular materials to create bags, shoes, and other items. However, it needs special care in order to maintain its beauty. Here are some tips on how to care for your leather goods. Read more in detail here: how to care for leather bags.

Vintage young man on motorcycle wearing leather jacket.

Leather items are nearly universally appealing to men. When wallets, boots, purses, coats, and gloves are made from an animal’s tough skin, they get a particular allure.

The attraction of leather is not difficult to comprehend. Our forefathers utilized it to make clothing, pouches, and a number of other useful items. And since leather is so long-lasting, many of those ancestral pieces are still in use today (in fact, a pair of shockingly well-preserved 5,500-year-old leather shoes were discovered a few years back). Aura of toughness, borne of the material’s historical association to hunting and slaughter, adds to the actual toughness. Plus, leather is just plain gorgeous.

While leather is strong as nails, we must keep in mind that it is still skin. It may fracture, discolor, distort, and dry. So today I’ll guide you through the many methods for treating and caring for leather so that it may be handed down your family line in whatever shape it takes.

Note that most of what follows applies largely to goods that are worn every day and are exposed to the weather on a regular basis, such as shoes, coats, and bags. Wallets, accessories, and other small items may still be cared for using these methods; they simply don’t need as much attention.   

What do you want the appearance of your leather to be?

The first step in determining how to handle and care for your leather is to consider how you want it to appear and what function it will serve in your life. A pair of tough work boots does not need the same level of care as a pair of elegant dress shoes. It’s the nature of riding a motorbike down the road with leather over your shoulders that a moto jacket will be more banged up than a bomber jacket you’d wear about town.

It’s also a matter of personal preference. Some guys like their luggage to have a pristine, polished appearance, while others are OK with scratches, flaws, and normal wear and tear. Dave Munson, the creator of Saddleback Leather Co., loves to treat his personal bags as little as possible, allowing them to have that worn-in appearance that conveys stories of travels (and occasionally misfortunes) without saying anything.

So consider how you want your leather to appear, and then we’ll go through some different treatment choices.

What Are the Differences Between Different Leather Treatments?

If you’re anything like me, you may have assumed that giving your shoes a nice shine every now and again was all that was required for the leather to last. In my imagination, all the lotions, varnishes, waxes, and conditioners in a department store’s shoe care area melded together into a single product. However, they aren’t completely interchangeable. Let’s have a look at the effects of these various treatments on leather. Keep in mind that there aren’t any universal advantages or disadvantages; as previously said, it all depends on what you want and how the leather item will be used.


Polish. Polish is mostly used for cosmetic purposes. On its own, it’s more about the product’s physical shine (typically shoes and bags) than it is about preserving it from the weather. However, many polishes have a moisturizing component, so read the product description and user reviews carefully to understand what you’re receiving and what it accomplishes.

Cleaning is an important element of a proper polishing practice, therefore it’s not a terrible idea. The frequency of polishing is entirely up to you and how you want your leather products to appear, although most casual things won’t need it. Polish is especially important if you have a fine briefcase or elegant dress shoes.

Conditioner/Cream. Leather conditioner or cream hydrates the substance, preventing it from drying out and cracking. Your shoes will not “shine” as a result of this, but they will be protected. It’s worth noting that conditioners don’t always make your leather waterproof (though some do include a water-repelling component). Leather conditioners have a lotion-like consistency and should be massaged into the leather carefully. The conditioner will absorb into the hide as a moisturizer would into your skin.

The frequency with which you apply conditioner, like the other treatments, is entirely dependent on your goals. Dave Munson, as previously indicated, treats his bags every 6-12 months, preferring to let them dry fully before re-applying. This maintains the leather appearing robust and durable while also allowing scuffs, scratches, and other blemishes to appear.

Most people — ordinary people who haven’t started their own leather goods firms – condition their products (mostly daily use items like shoes and bags) every three months or so, perhaps longer if they live in a dry area.

A Few Words About Lanolin

Lanolin is a waxy secretion produced naturally by sheep. Sheep create lanolin in the same way as human skin produces different oils. It may be found in a variety of human-use items, including moisturizers, cosmetics, and baby wipes, as well as leather care products.

Leather firms and style experts are almost evenly divided on whether or not to employ lanolin-containing leather care solutions. While it is a good hydrating lotion, it softens the leather more than other products. This may be ideal for coats in particular, as well as bags and shoes on occasion. A smooth, supple leather is quite comfortable to wear. Some people, on the other hand, are particular about their leather not being too soft. They want it to have a rough, almost hard appearance.

So keep an eye out for lanolin as a component in leather care products and utilize that information to get the most out of your leather.

Waterproofing. Waterproofing sprays or waxes cover your shoe with a coating that repels water, snow, spit, and other liquids. Depending on how often you use the product, these treatments are usually only needed once a year. Sprays should only be used when you’re in a hurry; they’re handy, but the result isn’t as good. During a single winter or rainy season, you’ll need to reapply a spray multiple times. Waxes (and sometimes creams) are more long-lasting and may be applied with more precision and control. You’ll be covering laces, zippers, and other items with a spray, perhaps needlessly wearing them and exposing them to chemicals.


Waterproofing is discussed more below, since it is a contentious subject in the leather business.

Cloth that is wet. When it comes to leather maintenance, the old standby is a moist towel. Given that leather is inherently robust, wiping it down once a week (without soap, since its chemicals may damage the leather over time) to remove dirt and dust (the most sinister perpetrators of early wear and tear) is a suitable maintenance regimen. This is the way to go if you don’t want to use anything else.  

Brush made of wire and suede. None of the following items should be used on suede (a kind of leather made from the underbelly of an animal’s skin). All you have to do now is wipe away the dirt and filth with a little wire or suede-specific brush. When using suede products, stay away from water as much as possible.

Final Thoughts on Treatment Options

These treatments might be confusing since they go by a variety of names and are often combined — you’ll see a lot of “shoe cream polish” or “waterproofing conditioner” on the internet.

How do you get around this? You must depend on your own product research to a considerable extent. Many leather goods manufacturers include care instructions (interestingly, hardly any mention waterproofing). Even so, you should go into ingredient lists and study up on how others are really caring for these leather things in forums or reviews. It’s unsurprising that some businesses are just selling their own conditioners or polishes, which may or may not be superior to other, typically less expensive products.

Finally, try the different treatments to see how they affect your leather — how it looks, wears, and handles the weather, for example. Leather is tough, so if you follow the guidelines below, you shouldn’t have to worry about ruining your shoes or bag by using the incorrect product.

No matter what kind of leather you have, there are certain basic principles to follow while caring for it.

Leather must be let to breathe. Leather, like skin, requires some air to avoid mildew and decay. Leather allows air to travel through, allowing moisture to evaporate naturally. That won’t be possible if your leather is completely sealed. So don’t put it in a plastic shopping bag to keep it or carry it (I’m guilty of this!). Use the item’s included storage/travel bag or a breathable fabric – pillowcases are ideal for shoes, purses, and/or other accessories.  

Avoid exposing leather to direct sunshine or heat. It might be tempting to put a leather item in front of a heater or use a hair dryer to speed up the drying process if it becomes saturated. Never, ever do it. When leather is wet and then heated fast, it shrinks and dries out too soon, much like skin and other materials. Allow for natural drying, even if it takes a few days.

Also, while keeping leather, keep it away from direct sunlight. The leather naturally fades with time, but sunshine accelerates the process. Drying and cracking are additional possible outcomes. Darker, humidified areas are desired, but air movement must be maintained to prevent mildew formation.


First, do a test. Always test a tiny area before applying any polish or conditioner. Even if very little, any thing will alter the color of the leather. Test a treatment on a tiny section of a shoe before applying it to the full shoe. Let it dry for 24 hours and observe what occurs. It may seem monotonous, but it will prevent your shoe from appearing anything other than how you want it to. If a certain brand/color works good the first time, feel free to use it again without further testing.

Colors that are natural or neutral should be used. Many varnishes and creams are available in black, brown, or neutral shades. The additional dyes are claimed to bring a leather product’s fading hue back to life. While black is a fairly safe bet for black items, there are just too many hues of brown to properly match everything. Stick with neutrals (typically white or gray in the can/bottle) to prevent altering the color of your leather unduly.

Clean using a moist cloth on a regular basis. Even if you don’t do anything else, giving any leather goods a frequent wipe-down with a moist cloth is the most reliable method to protect it from prematurely aging. Dirt, dust, and other abrasive particles rapidly collect in your coats, shoes, and bags, causing premature wear and tear. Wipe clean your leather with a moist cloth or even a paper towel on a weekly basis, or even after a single harsh usage in a winter storm.

Leather, in general, does not need waterproofing. Most leather items offered these days have been treated with a waterproofing chemical to some degree. Your leather will withstand rain, snow, and other elements in most settings and climates. If you hike with leather boots or go out in deep snow or heavy rain with them on a frequent basis, you should waterproof them — and even then, it’s more for the contents of the leather item (your feet, your laptop, your body) than the material itself. Inquire with the manufacturer if you have any questions concerning waterproofing. They’ll inform you whether the product has previously been treated and if it requires extra care depending on your activities and uses.

Things to Think About When Buying Leather Goods  

Shoes. Keep cedar shoe trees in your leather shoes (especially dress shoes) while you aren’t wearing them. This maintains the form, minimizes wrinkles, and absorbs excess moisture and smells naturally. Cleaning and polishing dress shoes should be done more often.

Work-style or everyday wear boots don’t require as much maintenance, but they should be wiped down weekly (or twice weekly if they’re truly worn every day) and conditioned every 1-6 months, depending on where you live, the time of year, and your preferences, as mentioned above in the conditioner section.

Bags/wallets. The most important thing to remember here is to avoid overfilling these containers. Leather will not return to its natural shape after it has been misshaped (hence shoe trees in shoes). Bags, on the other hand, need less care than shoes since they are not subjected to the same abuse. However, wash them down on a regular basis and condition them every 6 to 12 months.


Jackets. Shoes are a good example. If you use them often, wipe them down after a few wears and condition them every 6 months or so. It all boils down to how the thing seems; if it feels dry and minor cracks form, pay attention to it. When it comes to leather jackets, you want them to feel smooth and supple, so use lanolin-based treatments like saddle soap, which AoM style expert Antonio Centeno suggests. Consider having your leather jacket professionally cleaned once a year; specialised leather cleaners can be found in most large cities. Because jackets have more leather than most other items, there’s just more square footage to keep track of, and you’re more likely to miss anything if you clean and condition them yourself.

To summarize, make sure you have a solid leather-care program in place. In many cases, it will resemble these three simple steps:

  1. Depending on usage and accumulated filth and grime, wipe down leather with a wet towel 1-2 times each week. Leather shoes should be stored in cedar trees.
  2. Leather should be condition every 3-6 months, or more often depending on the climate and season.
  3. If desired and if your lifestyle/environment necessitates it, waterproof once a year.



The “how to care for leather messenger bag” is a topic that many people are interested in. There are many ways to care for your leather, but the most important thing is to keep it dry and out of the sun.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you clean and care for leather?

A: To clean your leather jacket, be sure to use a damp cloth with water or mild soap. You can also use rubbing alcohol and a rag. Avoid using abrasive cleaners on the outside of your jacket as this may cause marks that will not come out easily when you wet them again later.

How do you moisturize leather?

A: You should use a moisturizer on your leather. Moisturize skin with lotion, and then apply the cream-based moisturization to leather as well by applying it evenly across the surface of you leather shoes.

Should I moisturize leather?

A: If you own a leather jacket or shoes, its recommended that you do moisturize them regularly in order to protect the material. Additionally, some people use alcohol as an option for removing sweat and dirt from their jackets – though this should be done carefully so that there is no damage to your clothes!

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