You can’t go wrong with a leather jacket. Stylish, versatile and oh-so-durable, a leather jacket is an essential that looks cool while keeping you warm. These jackets can last for decades, but if you’ve had a leather jacket in your closet for a while, you may feel unsure about how to clean it. Sure, you can bring it to a dry cleaner, but a professional cleaning will run you between $35 and $100. It may surprise you to learn that you can actually clean your trusty leather jacket at home. It’s easier than you might think, and you don’t even have to do it often. Here are pro tips for the best way to clean a leather jacket.
For a basic leather cleaning: Use saddle soap
While you can’t put leather in the washing machine or dryer, you can still clean a leather jacket at home, provided it’s not too dramatically stained or damaged, assures David Edricks, who’s owned Edricks Fine Drycleaning in Farmington, Connecticut, for nearly 40 years. “The first thing you want to do is use saddle soap,” he explains. Originally made for horse saddles, saddle soap works on pretty much any leather product — even if you’re not a cowgirl!
Once you have your saddle soap (Buy from Amazon, $9.99), simply take a soft cloth, dampen it and put some soap on it. Make sure to test it on a small area of the leather first, though Edricks notes that saddle soap is “very neutral” and therefore “unlikely to bother the leather.” The soap will get a little foamy, then you can rub it lightly on your jacket. After you’ve used the saddle soap, use another soft cloth to dry it off. Then, “Hang it to dry and leave it a few hours and you should be in good shape,” says Edricks. He adds that a mix of dish soap and water can also work well for spot cleaning.
For damaged leather: Use conditioner
Leather is durable, but over time it can develop cracks as its natural oils dry up. The solution? Leather conditioner. Turns out conditioner isn’t just for your hair. Edricks explains that leather conditioner (Buy from Amazon, $19.99) “puts more oils into the leather and helps it freshen up,” and is ideal to use on an older leather jacket after you’ve done your basic clean with saddle soap or dish soap. All you need to do it apply the conditioner to the jacket, let it soak in for a few hours and hang it to dry.
For faded leather: Try a recoloring balm
“There tends to be a lot of dye in leather jackets, and sometimes some of it will come off,” says Edricks. “If a little bit comes off, that’s okay — it’s just excess dye,” he notes, but over time the dye may fade, and your black leather jacket can start looking gray. Leather recoloring balm (Buy from Amazon, $25.99) makes it easy to restore your leather to its former glory. Apply the balm to any faded areas of the jacket, let sit to absorb into the material and you’ll find that it takes on a rich color that looks like new. Leather balm comes in a variety of colors, so it’s easy to choose the one that will serve your jacket best.
Leather balm can even work on the oldest and most precious of leather jackets. In fact, Edricks said he even saw amazing results using it on an heirloom bomber jacket from World War I.
How often to clean a leather jacket
When it comes to cleaning your beloved leather jacket, “Less is better,” says Edricks. Depending on how often you wear your jacket, you can get away with cleaning it just once a year. If you don’t wear your jacket a lot, you may even be able to clean it even less frequently. “The only caveat is if you spill something on it or get caught in a downpour,” says Edricks, but leather jackets don’t need to be cleaned nearly as often as your other clothes.
If you’re only cleaning a leather jacket once a year, you may be skeptical about buying leather-only cleaning products. However, Edricks says it’s best to use specialized products if possible. “You’re trying to keep the natural oils in the leather rather than pulling them out,” he says. Luckily, leather cleaning products work on all leather goods, from couches to car seats to shoes, so you’ll likely find yourself reaching for them more than once if you buy them.
Whether you have a fabulously worn-in leather jacket or a stiff and spiffy new one, you can rest easy knowing that cleaning it at home isn’t nearly as difficult as you might have thought. With these pro tips, your leather jacket will look better than ever, and you’ll be sure to look extra stylish.
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