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.
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.