A Simple Leather Care Guide

Some quick tips on keeping your leather shoes, jackets and bags in tip-top condition

Leather is a common choice for shoemakers and is often seen in jackets. It is a unique material with aesthetic appeal but there is a caveat; you must care for it in a specific way. No throwing it in the washing machine!


Caring for Leather Shoes

There are two types of method commonly used in leather shoe care, the traditional polish and condition way or another method which utilises a special cream and a horsehair brush. In this article I will stick to the traditional approach as it is what I use.


The Traditional Approach

For this method you will need a horsehair shoe polishing brush (pictured above are an applicator brush on the right and a polishing brush on the left, you can also buy an all-in-one brush with a small applicator on the reverse side), some shoe polish and some conditioner (also known as dubbin). You will also want a microfibre cloth for applying the conditioner, and a clean rag for getting the dirt and dust off of your shoes. You can get all of these from the shoe care section of your local supermarket. For best results, you should have your shoes on shoe trees while doing this; though it is not necessary.

It is up to you whether you want to get a specific type of polish made for a certain colour (e.g. black polish for black leather), or get a neutral polish. Make sure if you are buying specific polishes, that you do not use them on colours other than the one they are made for; you may damage the look of your shoes.


Method:

Polishing:

Start by unlacing your shoes. Once they are unlaced, use a rag to remove any dirt or dust that is on the shoe; you do not want to rub that into the leather!

Use the applicator brush to retrieve a small amount of polish from the container, and lightly spread it over part of the shoe surface (I like to start from the toe area and work backwards). Then, use the polishing brush to work the polish into the leather until all the polish is no longer visible. It is best to move the brush in a small circular motion, try to keep it even and keep the pressure at medium firmness. Once you have done this for one spot, repeat the process until you have polished the whole shoe.

Conditioning:

Once you have polished your shoes to the level of shine you desire, it is time to add some conditioner to hydrate the leather and give it some shine.

Dip your microfibre cloth into the container of conditioner to retrieve some, and lather it over part of the shoe in a thin layer. Using a dry part of your cloth, gently massage the conditioner into the leather. Repeat until you have conditioned the whole shoe.

You do not want to use too much conditioner or the surface will appear slick and greasy, but too little conditioner will have barely any effect. After one or two attempts you will discover exactly the amount of conditioner that is best for you.

Aftermath:

Once you have polished and conditioned your shoes, leave them somewhere out of direct sunlight to let the conditioner dry off; this can take from 30 minutes to a couple of hours depending on the climate. After that, re-lace your shoes and you are good to go.

Having shoe trees inside can make the polishing job easier. It is also great for helping your shoes stay in shape!

How often should you polish and/or condition your shoes?

Contrary to long-voiced opinions that say you should polish at least every month or some arbitrary figure, I keep it simple. Whenever you polish a shoe, you are taking away some of the leather’s top layer; in the same way as sharpening a knife slowly eats away at the blade. With that in mind, I only polish when it is necessary; if the leather has marks or light scuffs.

With conditioning, it is a different story. I would recommend conditioning every 3 months or so, just to keep the leather hydrated; this will extend its life.


Caring for Leather Jackets and Bags

With leather jackets and bags, there is usually no need for polish. Which is great, because that would take an awful long time! All you need to be aware of here are the laundry instructions, and to make sure you condition your item regularly.

Laundry:

The laundry tags on leather jackets generally say to dry clean only. However, you want to do all you can to avoid regular dry cleaning as it is not only expensive but the chemical exposure can quickly deteriorate your garment; use spot clean methods instead whenever possible. The same applies to bags.

Conditioning:

To condition a leather jacket or bag, use essentially the same method as conditioning your shoes. You will want to hang a jacket on a sturdy hanger, perhaps use a steamer rack if you have one. A bag can simply be set on a table. Then, simply set to work with your microfibre cloth and conditioner. Make sure you let a jacket dry off before returning it to your wardrobe.


How often should you condition your leather jacket or bag?

As a rule of thumb, you can stick to the 3 month cycle as with shoes. However, with jackets there is an additional point to remember: any time your jacket gets rained on, you should condition it once the jacket has dried out. Do the same for bags.

The reason for this is that getting wet actually dehydrates the leather, so repeated exposure to rain can cause the leather to dry out and start cracking up much faster than usual. This is especially important to remember for all you motorcyclists out there who ride during the wet season!


That’s all for now!

It does not take long to give your leather goods the proper care they need, nor is it expensive. The benefit you reap from it may be up to years of extra life from your leather product, so it is well worth investing a small amount of time in taking care of it.

If you are hungry for more knowledge and want a really in-depth article on caring for leather shoes, check out Ringo Mok’s Ultimate Shoe Care and Shine Guide.

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