It rubs the lotion on its skin. It does this whenever it is told.
August 20, 2012 8:39 AM   Subscribe

Lots of leather, lots of products. Are leather care products interchangeable?

I have a lot of leather to care for including a whole herd of vintage leather purses, various shoes, furniture and assorted bags. Colors and textures are ranging from reds, british tans, black, pebbled and smooth. Leatherl type is predominately cow hide but I do have stray camel or two. Do I need specialized products for each type of leather item or can I just have one bottle of conditioner and one bottle of cleaner like this: Chemical Guys

I want my leather goods to live well but not for me to be drowning in various bottles and cans of product.

So tell me, how do you keep your leather clean, pliable and beautiful?
posted by jadepearl to Home & Garden (6 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Saddle soap, and then the appropriate color shoe polish. For very soiled or muddy items, Murphy's Oil Soap, then saddle soap, then shoe polish. You can even buy neutral shoe polishes (basically just wax, no dye) if you want to simplify further, but the dye is what helps hide the scuffs.
posted by fiercecupcake at 9:05 AM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I use mink oil on nearly all my leather products (not suede).
posted by amaire at 9:17 AM on August 20, 2012

My dog scratches the hell out of our leather furniture and leather honey gets them all out. I haven't tried it on shoes.
posted by subtle-t at 11:35 AM on August 20, 2012

Don't put shoe polish on anything other than shoes, it will rub off on other items. I think Lexol is a pretty good multi-purpose leather conditioner. Saddle soap is sort of a soap and sort of a conditioner, and can build up, but is also a little more protective than oil/Lexol for that reason. It also helps buff out the scuffs.
posted by sepviva at 3:54 PM on August 20, 2012

You need two things, maybe three in total, I figure.

Glycerin soap in bar form, used sparingly and gently, will safely and effectively clean any leather except suede (obviously), in my experience. Go -easy- on the water, but not so easy that you're leaving soap residue. There's a small chance that dye will come out of the leather with any heavily-dyed/cheaply-made product, so if this happens at all (test first), skip straight to conditioning without the cleaning step. The oils of the conditioner you use will actually clean most things fairly well, and won't take the color out.

Mink oil and other products (olive oil, most heavier oil-based products, not beeswax or wax-based products) can and will darken leather. They're fantastic if you like that rich chocolatey-mahogany color it eventually turns, but if you want caramel/undyed leather to stay light, I wouldn't use it on those.

Instead, go with something more wax-based, like my favorite, Skidmore's. Doesn't need to be often. I've never known this product to darken leather, but again, don't drown your leather in it.

If you have boots that go outside a lot and need to be waterproofed, there's your third product, shoe polish or a heavier wax or mink oil. Take your pick for what your situation demands.

For all of my plentiful saddlery and gear and boots and shoes, these are the three things I have, accompanied by a sponge, a cloth, a bucket, and a polish brush/buffing brush. :)
posted by po at 6:00 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Friendly neighborhood bootblack here. We're the folks that keep folks looking shiny at your local leather bar. (Yep. We're a perfect example of a fractally-nested subculture.)

I can recommend a few products for various types and finishes of leather.

Garment leather: thin and delicate, like high-fashion gloves and fine handbags, including camel
To clean: Ever-so-slightly damp cloth. When the leather really needs cleaning, I second the glycerine recommendation, but saddle soap can work if you are quick and practiced at it.
To finish:
Meltonian polish is cream-based, and comes in most colors imaginable. Polish is only necessary if you have some scuffing or slight color loss. As others have said, avoid too much water, wax, and oils--you risk darkening leather and giving it a tacky consistency. Although, most darkening of medium-to-dark tones is temporary. I do not recommend that protectant stuff that comes in spray cans, except for camping gear.

Oil-tanned/"veggie-tanned" leather: flexible, has a lustrous finish, commonly full-grain cow or deer hide
To condition:
Huberd's Shoe Grease is marvelous! (I used to use Lexol, but I came to dislike the creamy, tacky residue left behind, and the chemical smell.) Huberd's soaks in better and smells like a campfire. The ingredients are more natural, mainly beeswax and pine tar (just like hippie shampoo.) You can apply this with your bare hands, as it's a non-toxic conditioner. Good for your cuticles, too.
Shoe oils, as mentioned upthread, are heavy-duty business, best suited to horse tack, latigo, and work boots that just won't break in.
To clean:
Saddle soap or glycerine to your heart's content, as long as soap doesn't remain in the leather. (Soap is alkaline, and tanned leather is slightly acidic.)
To finish:
Do not polish! If there is significant scratching and color loss from gouges, consider a tinted conditioner such as Black Gold. Re-dyeing should be done by a professional.

"High/hard shine": glossy, often black footwear, like men's dress shoes or spit-shined combat boots (but not to be confused with patent leather, which is actually a plasticky finish)
To polish/finish: Hard, wax-based polish such as Lincoln is great, and Kiwi will do in a pinch if the colors match. The process for "blacking" and polishing "hard shines" is what you picture from boot camp. A detailed set of tutorials is available here at Anyone Can Shine.
Unless the leather is extremely dry, avoid conditioning waxed leather, as it will spoil the shine.

For all your vintage items:
Tread carefully, as over-conditioning elderly leather can make it swell or crack. Skin is hygroscopic, and it may have expanded and contracted a lot in those years. A light conditioner designed for "exotics" may be fine, though.

Good luck, and I hope this helps.
posted by sunusku at 6:18 AM on October 1, 2012 [44 favorites]

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