Leather jacket cleaning/oiling?
September 12, 2014 8:19 AM   Subscribe

I bought a nice Burberry leather bomber jacket a few years ago that I wear pretty heavily during the fall/winter months. Breaking it out again for the season and noticed that it's got a bit of accumulated grime on it and the leather has coarsened a bit in spots from exposure to the elements. Can anyone recommend a good way to clean or oil it to get it back into top shape? I'm also open to taking it in somewhere for treatment if that's advisable, but very wary of harsh treatments or chemicals (i.e., certainly no dry cleaning).
posted by decoherence to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (4 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I restored a cream leather sofa ("Bone" was the official, original color) from years of cigarette smoke and kid-shoe scuffs with over-the-counter Leather Restorer (or whatever, I don't recall the exact name). Wet a rag with it, rub it on, wait ten seconds, rub it off, rinse the rag, repeat.

At some point I had to stop to avoid over-wetting the leather and scraping off the skin. Then I hired a restorer to dye it back to an even color, which was out-of-the-bottle dye (no extra tinting). At first the new parts looked WHITE; after one week I stopped seeing it, and I certaiinly couldn't tell you now which surfaces did or did not get redyed.

So: OTC leather products are pretty safe, is the upshot of that. Clean, then moisturize with a cream (leather is skin, after all), then redye if you wish. I'd do it in that order, so the scraped and thirsty areas don't absorb excess dye making dark spots.

If you go in with the mindset that it will end up looking "lovingly used", you'll probably be very happy. If you want "showroom new" look, ... probably not.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:42 AM on September 12, 2014

I usually clean my leather goods with saddle soap then season them with some mink oil. Both can be easily found in the shoe section of most stores.
posted by Ferreous at 9:58 AM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

My protocol has always been to gently clean it using a damp rag with a bit of mild, oily soap (not detergent) on it; I normally use Dr. Bronner's Baby Mild, which is the unscented version. Wipe, don't rub, and take your time. If the leather starts to absorb the water and get wet then I stop and let it fully dry before continuing, so as not to damage the finish--you may have to do this a few times.

After it's clean I let it dry overnight (don't use heat or leave it out in the sun or anything; it shouldn't be wet enough for that to be necessary anyway) and then oil it. The soap will have removed some of the leather's natural oil along with the grime, so you need to replace it. I usually oil the whole piece rather than just where I cleaned, unless I really don't care how it looks; doing the whole jacket will make it look much more even.

I usually use flax oil or boiled linseed oil (the hardware store, non-edible version of the same thing) for this, though you should ideally use a specialty leather oil, probably. I just use flax because it's a drying oil (meaning that it will self-oxidize into a semi-solid state when left out, a property that has made it a favorite for wood and fabric treatment since time immemorial) and I have it around the house already; it seems to work fine.

This works better on shinier leathers rather than more suede-like ones. If your jacket has more of a matte or suede finish then you should get a suede brush or something functionally similar so that you can restore the finish, and you should be more careful in the cleaning. You also should not expect perfect results; suede is really, really delicate and hard to fix if you let it get messed up. Really the only viable strategy with suede is to clean it immediately whenever anything happens to it, and to give it a gentle wipe and brush after each use. Suede is a total prima-donna and I don't buy it because I don't have time for that crap.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 10:14 AM on September 12, 2014

If you are anywhere near a feed store or a tractor supple or something like that, that store will have a wall of leather-care products.

Saddles and bridles are still made of leather.

Tried to link to the Dover Saddlery page on leather care, but phone refuses.

If this is a heavy jacket, you can use anything . For glove - leather weight you'll need to be more careful.

I have an ancient leather jacket that's only just now beginning to crackle at the elbows and I use it for rain. Cleaned and oiled every year or two.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:16 AM on September 12, 2014

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