How to Clean Leather




It's best to think of leather as skin even though it is detached from its host body. Leather needs to be cleaned so that the pores can "breath" and it also needs to be conditioned so that it does not dry out. In this demo, I am cleaning a leash but the same techniques can be used on saddles, coats, leather furniture and more. As long as it is finished leather (smooth surface) and not suede or unfinished leather.

Note- Cleaning and conditioning leather will inevitably darken the color over time. If you have a very light leather and want it to stay that way, there are specific products available. Check with your local shoe shop or tack store.

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Step 1: Gather Tools

You will need:
Glycerin soap or a mild, moisturizing soap such as Dove
Oil for conditioning, see note below*
Rags and/or sponge
A soft bristle brush if the leather has a lot of dirt/debris on it

*Note-The oil you use can be linseed oil, 3-in-1 oil, olive oil or a prepared leather conditioner. The 3-in-1 oil I use in the demo is petroleum based. Never use a petroleum based product on leather that has been stitched as it can degrade the thread. Instead, use a vegetable-based oil. This leash has no stitching so it is safe to use in this case.

Step 2: Brush Excess Dirt/debris Off

With your bristle brush, remove dirt from cracks, crevices and seams. This is often necessary with saddle parts and shoes but probably not an issue with a couch. :)

Step 3: Clean Leather

Now we focus on really cleaning the leather. This may take a bit of time and elbow grease. Wet a rag and add a small amount of soap. Work on one section of the leather at a time, rubbing the soap into the leather until it lathers. Our goal is to remove any dirt from within the pores of the leather.

Wipe the lather off with a damp rag or sponge. Repeat this process until the lather no longer turns grey and continue on to another portion of the leather.

Step 4: Condition the Leather

Once you have cleaned the entire article, let it dry completely.

Then apply a little oil to a rag and wipe it onto the leather in a small circular motion. If you are working on a belt of leash, drag the rag along the length of the item. Make sure you get the edges as well as the flat areas of leather. Do not apply too much oil. The leather should "drink up" the oil and any excess will be left on the surface. Wipe this off with a clean rag. Excess oil left on the article will attract dirt, the exact opposite of our intention!

Step 5: Care of Stains

If your leather has stains, there are certain things that can help but probably not totally eliminate the stain. Always try the general cleaning instructions first before applying other products to leather. After each of these ideas, recondition the leather. Here are some ideas:

Ink-Try spraying the affected area with hairspray and then wiping off. Or dip a cotton swab in rubbing alcohol and rub the stain. Dry with a blow dryer. Or apply a thick coat of nongel, nonoily cuticle remover, leave on overnight, and wipe off with a damp cloth.

Road salt- Mix equal part water and vinegar and apply with a rag.

Dark stains on light leather- Mix a paste of 1 part lemon juice and 1 part cream of tartar. Rub the paste on the stain and leave for 10 minutes. Rub paste into the stain and remove with a damp rag/sponge.

Grease- Remove excess grease. Sprinkle talcum powder or cornstarch on the stain and let sit overnight. Wipe off with dry cloth.

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    10 Discussions


    1 year ago

    I have a black leather jacket that is 16 years old or maybe older and it looks brand new.I put water protection on it and wiping it off if needed. The problem I have is these white dried out looking spots It is not brite white spots,it is like a white glaze.I have 4 leather jackets and they are as old as this one and they don't have that white glaze problem.Ihate to see my jacket this way,i look after my jackets and I hate it when they look like crap.I was hoping some one can help me out.Thank you and I hope every has a great Christmas and all the best in the new year.


    2 years ago

    I was looking for some information about saving the leather. Good stuff! I liked the tools that you used. Actually I created an infographic about saving the leather in 3 easy steps. You can check it here. I tried to be explanatory.

    Shortly: Best way to save it, regularly maintaining it :)


    4 years ago

    I recently found a used, brown suede leather jacket at a second hand store. It's a great jacket but the collar has that dark brown, grimey look to it; any way to get it back to looking a little newer?


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Yay I have alot more leather to clean than you do.(I have horses so there is ALOT)


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for the info.  I put all my leather coats through the regular washing machine and let them hang dry.  They get the nice worn out look and there is no damage.  Do this at your own risk, from my experience there are no problems.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    No, suede is completely different. If at all possible, you should refrain from wetting suede or using soaps. It is best to get t the stain while it's still wet and hasn't soaked in. Wet stains should be soaked up using dry towels to absorb the moisture. Some dry stains can be brushed off with a toothbrush or rubbed out with a pencil eraser.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Hey thanks! I pay about a hundred dollars a year to have my coat cleaned.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    the best cleaner is glycerin soap,a bar will last years!!.also you should use olive oil to oil your leather .after oiling set the leather in the sun to absorb otherwise you will find oil on other things in your closet!I had to care for the tack in a racehorse barn some of witch was over 80 years old but looked new due to proper care.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Excellent guide. I have been planning to clean my coat for a while. It is a rather large brown trench coat, about 5 foot long. It shall take longer than a leash I imagine!