Leather care tips!

A leather or suede garment is usually a major investment, and it is important to choose it carefully and care for it wisely. In selecting a leather garment. Buy from a reputable store. Look for careful matching of colors and textures. Avoid a snug fit. Hides are stretched during tanning and some relaxation shrinkage can be expected in use and cleaning. Read and save any accompanying care information. Light colors are less likely to fade in cleaning than are deep colors.  Heavy buckles or trim could cause tears in the leather in wear or cleaning.  Suede and leather are natural materials.  They will never be completely uniform, but that is part of their desirability.

There are several things to consider when cleaning leather garments. Remember, suede is the underside of the leather, buffed to a uniform nap and used as the outside of the garment. Frequent brushing with a soft brush will help to remove surface soils. In smooth leather, the outside of the skin is the outside of the garment. Wipe smooth leather with a damp cloth to remove surface soils.

Remember these care tips to keep your garment in top condition. The tips apply to both suede and smooth leathers.

  • Wear a scarf to protect the collar area from perspiration and body oils.
  • If the garment gets wet, let it air dry away from heat.
  • Store leather garments in a cool, ventilated area. Leather is subject to drying out if exposed to dry heat and to mildew if stored in a hot, humid environment.
  • Do not store leather in a plastic bag.
  • If staining occurs, take the garment to a professional suede and leather cleaner as soon as possible.  DO NOT TRY TO REMOVE SPOTS AT HOME.

When it is time to take leather clothing to the cleaners, remember:

  • Have all matching pieces cleaned at the same time.
  • Give your cleaner any care information that came with the garment.
  • Point out any stains. Old, set stains cannot always be removed safely.
  • Don’t be surprised if your cleaner asks you to sign a consent form before cleaning. This will occur only if there is some question about clean-ability.
  • Many cleaners send leathers to a specialty leather cleaner.  After you get your clothing back from the cleaners, realize that leather garments are made up of skins taken from various portions of the animal and usually from several different animals. The manufacturer tries to match the skins so that your garment is as uniform as possible, but even with the best matching, there will be some variance in texture, weight, and color uniformity. These variations may be accentuated after cleaning.  Be prepared to see a slight variance in the depth of color after cleaning. In manufacture, the tanner immersed the skin in a dye bath to obtain a uniform color, but skins from various parts of the animal may vary in colorfastness. The cleaner can correct some color variance, but must rely on spray dyeing, which will not dye the suede or leather to the same degree as the original immersion process.
  • During tanning, leathers are impregnated with oils to keep them supple. Some of these oils used in the tanning process are lost in cleaning. Even though the professional leather cleaner has special additives to restore suppleness, there could be some change in the feel or hand of the garment.

Some imperfections may become more apparent after cleaning:

SCAR TISSUE: The animal’s skin may have been injured while it was alive by briars, barbed wire, diseases, or in fights with other animals. The resulting scar tissue does not dye evenly, so it is covered with fillers before dyeing. These fillers are removed in cleaning, and the original scar tissue will become more apparent, usually as a light area.

VEIN MARKS: Some thick skins are split, revealing the veins in the skin as irregular, wavy lines. These are also masked with fillers and reappear after cleaning.

WRINKLES: Skins taken from the loose neck or belly portion of an animal are normally wrinkled. The skins are stretched out to some degree when the garment is made up and the wrinkles are hardly visible. As the skins relax with age, the wrinkles reappear. The agitation that occurs in cleaning can cause greater relaxation of the leather, accentuating the wrinkles.

TEXTURE CHANGE: The manufacturer tries to select skins of uniform texture for a garment, but sometimes smoother skin is combined with a skin or portion of skin with a coarser texture. Cleaning may make this variance more apparent.

SHRINKAGE: Some shrinkage will likely occur in your garment over time as the skins relax. This may be accentuated in cleaning. As you wear a leather garment it tends to conform comfortably to your body. After cleaning, the leather is pressed, so it may feel a little uncomfortable or snug when you first put it on. As you wear it this feeling will dissipate. Sometimes skins are overstretched in manufacture and relax permanently. This problem cannot be anticipated by the cleaner.

THIN SKINS: Some skins are extremely thin and really too fragile for use in apparel. These skins tend to wear through exceptionally fast even with normal usage. The agitation of cleaning may cause separation of very thin skins.

STAINS: Leather is very absorbent. Stains sink right into the texture of the skin. Because leather is an animal skin, the structure can be damaged by stain removal techniques that would be safe for textiles. Another limitation is the dyes used on leather. Stain removal can also mean dye removal. Particularly on garments worn next to the skin, perspiration can cause color loss. This may be masked by body oils until after cleaning. Leathers are also susceptible to rings caused by the migration of dye if a liquid is spilled on them. This is difficult or impossible to remedy. Given all the potential problems, prompt attention to stains is the best hope for their removal.

OXIDATION: Dyes can oxidize from exposure to light and to gases in the atmosphere. This is a slow, progressive condition that develops as the item is worn. It may become more noticeable after cleaning, but protected areas, such as under the color, will retain more of the original color. Once this type of fading has occurred, it cannot be corrected.

COLOR SHADING FROM ADHESIVES: Adhesives are sometimes used to glue seams, hems, and other areas during construction. These glues or adhesives may not be solvent resistant. The adhesive may be removed during cleaning, causing hems to open and necessitating regluing by the cleaner. Sometimes the glues don’t dissolve completely, but leach through the leather and cause shaded areas. This cannot always be corrected by additional cleaning.

SHADED LEATHER: The texture of skins varies, and some skins tend to absorb more of the fat liquors and cleaning additives in cleaning and come out a little darker in some areas than others. Sometimes this shading can be seen on the garment before cleaning, but cleaning will accentuate it. Many people consider such shading a desirable characteristics. In any case, it is a natural phenomenon that is beyond the control of the dry-cleaner.

It is very important to check the care label on an imitation leather or suede. Some of these fabrics are quite fragile and will not withstand dry cleaning. The most common problem is failure of a film coating or of an adhesive. This results in self-sticking of the fabric or in blistering or puckering of the coating. On flocked items, the flocked coating may be lost in wear areas such as collars and cuffs. Cleaning may aggravate this condition. Nonwoven structures usually withstand dry cleaning very well.

You have made an investment in quality. Therefore, take good care of your leather garment to add to its life and appearance.

Liz Meimann

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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