If you’ve ever been caught in a rainstorm wearing your favorite leather jacket, you know all too well how leather responds when it gets wet. It is a hide after all, and most leather clothing is finished for durability, so a few sprinkles or a light rain usually roll right off. But a drenching downpour is another issue. When soaked, leather becomes fragile and can tear easily. That’s why cleaning a leather jacket at home can be risky and needs to be done with care.
“If you’ve spent a lot of money on your leather jacket, or even if you haven’t, it’s best to leave major cleanings to a leather care professional,” suggests Carolyn Forte, executive director of the Good Housekeeping Institute Home Care and Cleaning Lab. “Professional cleaners specializing in leather know how to clean both the leather shell and fabric linings without damaging either.” Not all dry cleaners handle leather, so make sure the one you select does so with success. Check online reviews and ask friends and neighbors for the names of reputable leather care specialists they’ve used.
What you can do at home is give your jacket a refresh to remove surface dirt and dinginess— especially noticeable on light color leathers — and spot clean problem areas quickly. Follow these leather cleaning tips and approach leather cleaning cautiously after consulting the care label for any special recommendations.
As with any at-home method, test it out on a hidden spot (like inside a pocket, cuff or the underside of the lapel) to make sure your cleaning products and technique are not damaging to the leather. Some leather easily loses color, especially when wet. “One of the biggest mistakes people make when cleaning leather clothing is getting it too wet, then rubbing the material too hard,” says Forte. If you see any bleeding or fading, stop what you’re doing immediately and take your leather jacket to a pro.
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Can I wash my leather jacket in the washing machine?
We don’t recommend it. You never want to completely submerge a leather jacket in water because it — along with typical laundry detergents — will remove the natural oils in the hide. Plus, all the tumbling and agitation of the machine can ruin the structure of the jacket. If the inside lining needs a refresh, take it to a pro who can clean it without compromising the quality and health of the leather exterior.
How to clean the outside of a leather jacket by hand
Leather can dry out easily, which can lead to unrepairable cracking, so you never want to fully submerge it in water which can remove the natural oils. Instead, surface and spot clean at home with these easy steps.
- Apply leather cleaner onto a sponge or cloth and squeeze to produce a foam. (Forte recommends this Leather Care Kit by Furniture Clinic, which also includes a protection cream that helps prevent future stains.) None handy? Fill a small bowl with warm water and, as the water is running, mix in a drop or two of mild dish liquid or neutral soap, then dip in the corner of a clean, soft cloth.
- Gently rub the foamy sponge (or soapy cloth) on the leather in a circular motion to lift the dirt from the surface.
- Carefully wipe away the excess cleaner with a damp, well-wrung cloth and repeat these steps as needed, being careful not to rub too vigorously. Turn the sponge or cloth and rinse it as it absorbs dirt to keep from re-depositing soil back onto the leather.
- Blot the leather dry with a clean towel, then let it air dry completely. Place the leather jacket on a padded or wooden hanger to prevent dimples in the shoulder areas and always hang it away from sunlight and heat, which can cause the leather to dry out and crack.
- Once dry, apply a leather conditioner to restore moisture and softness.
How to clean the inside or lining of a leather jacket
- Fill a small bowl with warm water and mix in a drop or two of mild dish liquid or neutral soap, then dip in the corner of a clean, soft cloth.
- Wipe down or blot the inside with the cloth, making sure to pay extra attention to the arm area.
- Remove excess soap by dipping a clean, soft cloth in just water, and then wiping down the inside again.
- Place the jacket on a hanger in a well ventilated space for it to air dry.
How do I protect my leather jacket from stains?
It’s a good idea to regularly apply a leather protector product that repels water droplets, dirt and stains, or at least helps make them easier to remove. Apply it generously when your jacket is new and ideally before the first wearing. Reapply it whenever you or a professional cleans the leather jacket and when you notice that water no longer beads up and rolls off easily.
How do I remove oils stains from a leather jacket?
The goal here is speed, so act quickly to keep as much of the oil spill as possible from absorbing into the leather.
- Blot up as much of the fresh oil as possible with an absorbent cloth.
- For any remaining stain, sprinkle an absorbent powder, like baking soda or cornstarch, generously on the spot and gently tap it in with a cloth.
- Let it sit for a few hours, then use a dry, soft towel to gently wipe the powder away.
- Spot clean the area using the steps above, or bring it to a pro who can treat the oil stain with professional-grade cleaners.
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