I have been studying, practicing and teaching leather care and restoration for seven years. Today I spent some time on a presentation that I did a couple years ago for our technicians. I was updating some pictures and I was scouring the internet for comparable images.

I am always taken aback by the advice that I have seen people posting about how to take care of leather – the junk and misinformation available online is scary for most professionals! The posts I was reading reminded me of a call that we got a couple of weeks ago from a customer who had an ink mark on her sofa. People often call to ask us about what they read online. I am so grateful when they call us before they try anything, rather than after it is too late.

Leather needs to be cleaned and conditioned every 12 months for normal wear and every six months for pieces that have sun exposure or heavy use. Leather is made from the tanned skin of animals – so if left alone it will start to decay – not something we really want to think about but we can reference our own skin as a comparison. As we get older, our skin starts to lose its natural moisture and elasticity. We must clean, moisturize and protect to keep it looking soft and young!! Same goes for your leather furniture.

Almost all household cleaning products are alkaline, while leather is acidic, so using any household cleaner on your leather furniture will cause a chemical reaction in the fibrous structure and break down the leather. It will also strip the top coat (the protective clear coat) which is accelerating the demise of the piece. All that said, it is important to use a pH balanced cleaner that won’t harm the leather.

Now the problem with cleaning is that not all leather is cleanable. If you have an unfinished leather piece (with the exception of oil-tanned leather) it cannot be cleaned with a cleanser which can stain. You must use a barely damp cloth (dampened with distilled water.) The look and feel of an unfinished leather is incomparable, but it is not very practical as it is porous and prone to fading, staining and soiling so much more than a finished piece. It does, however, still need to be conditioned.

The purpose of conditioning, simply put, is to restore lost moisture and improve overall vitality, prolonging the life of the leather. It is the MOST IMPORTANT maintenance you can do.

Leather has around a 25% moisture content when new. The moisture content is what keeps it soft and supple, but over time it begins to evaporate away. If you neglect your furniture, the leather starts to shrink and stiffen. Left long enough and it starts to peel and crack, eventually tearing. With the right conditioner, you can increase the moisture content and enrich the color and feel. If the moisture content is already too low, and the leather is starting to feel like cardboard, then conditioning it will turn it to mush – it is just too late and too far gone, so be careful! Products to stay away from – Saddle Soap, Oils, Murphy’s Oil Soap and other products designed for outdoor applications.

All leather needs to be conditioned, and most of the time conditioning will enhance the feel and look, but in a few types of leather you should be exceptionally careful – suede, nubuck, lamb and calf leathers can stain if not conditioned carefully. Generally we recommend calling a professional for any unfinished leathers, but those specifically can be asthetically damaged if you condition them without a lot of experience. All unfinished leathers can darken with conditioning – so it is important to know this before you begin, and test a hidden area to ensure you like the result. Usually it is a good change!

Please call us whenever you have questions about how to proceed with your leather product. We are here to help!

Happy Cleaning (&Conditioning!)