Leather Jacket Care and Maintenance

How to clean a Leather Jacket

First, you need to be clear about what type of leather you are dealing with, if your jacket is suede or nubuck you should take it to a specialist cleaner.  Check the labels to determine the material from which the lining is made. Despite what you may read on the internet, a leather jacket should never be totally immersed in water or placed in a washing machine. Regular conditioning and wiping with a damp cloth will help prevent a build-up of dirt and grease and storing your jacket in dry conditions will prevent mould.  To remove dirt and grease or light staining, use a damp cloth and soapy water.  Blot rather than rub and avoid over-wetting the leather. Dry the leather naturally but do not allow it to remain damp for long.  Polyester or cotton linings can be cleaned using the same method, but silk or rayon should be cleaned by a specialist.  Corn starch or baking powder can be used to assist in the removal of stains but other internet suggestions, such as nail varnish remover should be assiduously avoided.

Can a Leather Jacket be washed in the washing machine?

Leather is a natural organic material and its suppleness derives from the natural oils contained within it.  Washing a leather jacket in a washing machine will remove the natural oils and as the leather dries out it may well crack.  It is possible to replenish the oils, but once washed in a washing machine your jacket will never be the same again.  Never wash a leather jacket in a washing machine.

Where to dry clean your Leather Jacket

Dry cleaning a leather jacket is not the ideal way to clean it and the process should only be resorted to if the jacket is heavily soiled.  Dry cleaning removes the natural oils from leather and therefore these oils need to be replenished at the end of the cleaning process.  Standard dry cleaning is not appropriate for a leather jacket, you should take your garment to a dry cleaner which specialises in the treatment of leather.  Talk to your dry cleaner about their expectations for the results of the treatment before you decide to go ahead.

Will a Leather Jacket shrink in the dryer?

Yes, a leather jacket will shrink if you put it in a dryer.  You will find instructions on the internet how to do this, don’t follow them.  Putting a leather jacket in a dryer will not only shrink it, it will also dry out the natural oils and cause it to shrivel and crack.  Far better to buy a leather jacket in your size.

How to protect a Sheep Leather Jacket

Sheep leather is a very durable material and with care it will last a lifetime.  Whilst a sheep leather jacket is shower resistant, it is not a garment which you should wear in heavy rain.  You should also avoid long exposure to strong sunlight.  Both water and heat will have the effect of drying natural oils from the leather, causing it to crack or wrinkle.  You can enhance the water resistance of your jacket by applying a commercially available spray or wax.  Whilst the spray method is quicker and easier, applying wax with a damp cloth will provide more even coverage and better protection.  A conditioner should be applied to the leather about once a year, depending on how much use the jacket gets.  Look for lanolin-based leather care products. Lanolin is a natural waxy secretion which comes from sheep and it will make your beautifully soft sheep leather jacket even softer.  Always hang your jacket on a padded hanger so that it is not stretched out of shape.  Store your jacket in a cool dry place, out of direct sunlight and never wrap it in plastic as this will cause it to dry out.

How to wash a Sheep Leather Jacket

Leather should never be immersed in water as this will wash out the natural oils and cause cracking, wrinkling or shrinkage.  Leather should only ever be washed with a damp cloth and then dried naturally.  Whether you can wash the lining of a jacket will depend on the material from which it is made.  Washable materials such as cotton or polyester can be sponged with soapy water. Other materials, such as silk, will require specialist cleaning.

Can a Leather Jacket be ironed?

Guidance given on the internet suggests using a low iron to remove wrinkles from leather. This practice is as likely to ruin your jacket as it is to remove wrinkles.  Far better to avoid wrinkles in the first place by using an appropriate clothes hanger.

When to condition a Leather Jacket

How frequently you condition your leather jacket will depend on the type of use it gets.  If your jacket is worn infrequently, then once a year should be sufficient, however, if your jacket is exposed to rain or strong sunlight, the natural oils should be replenished every three months.

How to polish a Leather Jacket

UV light damages leather just as it damages our skin and prolonged exposure to sunlight will dull the shine of a leather jacket.  Though it might seem like an easy solution to apply shoe polish to restore the shine, this is a solution which should be avoided. Shoe polish will clog the surface of your leather jacket, the leather will dry out and may even discolour.  Use a specialist leather balsam to restore your jacket’s shine.

How to soften a Leather Jacket

Do not attempt to soften your leather jacket by putting it in the washing machine, you will irreparably damage the leather and almost certainly shrink the jacket.  Your jacket will soften naturally over time, but you can assist the process by using a leather conditioner with a high lanolin content.

Leather Jacket and mould

Mould and mildew can both appear on leather which is stored in damp or humid conditions.  Mould tends to be green or black and slimy in appearance, whereas mildew is white, grey or yellow and is fluffy and powdery.  Neither of them is something that you want growing on your jacket and when dealing with them it is advisable to wear a face mask and gloves in order prevent potential health problems.  Use a damp cloth soaked in a strong solution of vinegar to remove the mould and then allow the jacket to dry naturally.  In order to prevent mould in the first place, store your jacket in dry conditions with good air circulation.  Never store your jacket wrapped in plastic.

Leather Jacket is dry

The natural oils in leather dry out over time and this process is accelerated if the jacket is exposed to strong sunlight or other heat sources.  Replenish the oils in your leather jacket buy applying a leather conditioner with a soft cloth.

Leather Jacket is peeling

Properly stored, full grain leather should never peel, although the finish or sealant may do so.  Cleaning leather with products which contain solvents will cause peeling, as will the use of baby wipes, the chemicals of which break down the surface of the leather.  With good quality leather an application of conditioner should restore the surface, but bonded leather will always peel eventually and there’s nothing that you can do about it.

Leather Jacket is flaking

Quality leather will not flake although if the surface has been cleaned with solvents the finish coating or sealant may do so, in which case an application of conditioner should resolve the problem.  Bonded leather will always peel or flake eventually.

Leather Jacket is stiff

The more your leather jacket is worn, the more supple it will become, however, if the natural oils in the leather are allowed to dry out, the leather will lose its elasticity.  Apply a leather conditioner to your jacket at least once a year or more frequently if it is regularly exposed to sun and rain.

Leather Jacket is squeaky

A new leather jacket may squeak when it is first worn, especially if it is a heavyweight garment, but the noise should soon disappear once the garment has been worn for a while.  Applying conditioner to the areas which are squeaking should reduce the problem.

Leather Jacket is wrinkled

Avoid wrinkles in the first place by hanging your jacket on an appropriate sturdy hanger with shoulder pads and condition your jacket when necessary.  If your jacket does develop wrinkles you need to be gentle and patient when trying to remove them.  Begin by gently pulling the jacket. If this is unsuccessful, hang your jacket in an area of your shower where it will get steamy but not wet and then take a shower.  After about fifteen minutes dry the jacket with a paper towel and repeat the stretching process. Condition and then wear the jacket for a few hours.  

Leather Jacket is cracking

If leather becomes dry and dirty it will crack and once it has cracked, although a specialist will do their best to repair the leather, the damage is irreparable.  So, the important thing is to ensure that you maintain your leather jacket by storing it on a sturdy hanger in conditions which are not too humid or too dry and that you condition the jacket regularly.

Removing Odours

Leather Jacket smells like chemicals

If the leather jacket which you are intending to buy smells of chemicals, don’t buy it.  A strong chemical smell indicates that the leather has been badly tanned or that it is faux leather.  Chemical smells on leather can cause respiratory problems.  If possible, choose leather which has been vegetable tanned, which is a lengthier tanning process but one which uses far fewer chemicals.  Coating the garment in baking soda and leaving it for twenty-four hours before removing, may help to reduce the smell of chemicals.

Leather Jacket smells like fish

Some manufacturers finish their leather products by using cheap, unfiltered fish oil which breaks down over time and releases an unpleasant fishy smell.  Treating with baking powder is unlikely to be strong enough to remove the odour, so you will need a good commercial leather cleaner.

Leather Jacket smells like smoke

Leather is a natural, permeable material and consequently it will absorb smells.  Since the ban on smoking in bars and restaurants the likelihood of your jacket becoming contaminated is much reduced, although standing near a bonfire on Guy Fawkes night might still present a problem.  Mix equal parts of water and vinegar and apply with a damp sponge, this should remove the smell of smoke from your leather jacket.  Be sure to condition the leather afterwards.

Leather Jacket smells like sweat

If your leather jacket smells of sweat, it is probably the lining which is the problem rather than the leather.  Do not put your jacket in the washing machine, it will ruin the leather and probably shrink the jacket.  Read the washing instructions for the lining, silk or rayon will need to be cleaned by a specialist but a cotton lining can be washed by hand.  Wash the affected areas with a hand wash detergent but be careful to avoid soaking the leather.  Dry the lining with warmth, rather than strong heat.

Leather Jacket smells like mildew

If there is mildew on your jacket it is because the jacket has been stored somewhere which is damp or humid.  The mildew and its smell can be removed using a fifty/fifty solution of vinegar and water.  Apply the solution with a soft cloth but do not over-wet the leather.  Allow the leather to dry naturally and apply conditioner.

Leather Jacket smells like cigarettes

Put your jacket on a sturdy hanger and hang it on the washing line on a warm, dry day.  If this is not sufficient, wipe the jacket over with a fifty/fifty solution of water and vinegar and then apply conditioner.

Can a Leather Jacket be dyed?

There are plenty of leather colourant kits available which will enable you to dye a jacket, but the results are not 100% guaranteed. If you wish to change the colour of your jacket from a light colour to a darker, you are more likely to have a successful result.  Firstly, you will need to apply a leather stripper, in order to remove any coating or sealant and then you will need to apply up to three coats of dye at half hour intervals. After several hours, when the dye has dried, you should buff the leather, apply a sealant and rebuff.  The best results will always be obtained by taking your jacket to a specialist rather than by attempting to do it yourself.

Can a Leather Jacket be re-dyed?

If you have an old leather jacket on which the colour has faded, you can reinvigorate it by re-dying the leather the same colour.  This is a much less risky process than attempting to change the colour of your jacket and with care you should achieve good results.

Can a Leather Jacket be altered or tailored?

Leather jackets can be altered, but not easily and you need an expert in leather craft to undertake the work.  Leather is a much more difficult material to work with than cotton, for example.  The complexity of the jacket’s design will also be a factor, cross body zips, flaps and pockets could all complicate the procedure.  The difficulty of the process will also be dependant on the type of alteration required: the shortening of the arms is relatively straightforward, the moving of the armholes, much more complex.

Can Leather Jacket sleeves be lengthened or shortened?

Shortening the sleeves of a leather jacket is obviously far easier than lengthening them, though both procedures are certainly possible.  Lengthening the sleeves of a leather jacket requires the incorporation of additional leather and the quality of the final appearance will depend on the skill of the craftsperson.

Leather Jacket, can’t raise arms

You need to decide before you buy whether this is a problem or not.  Tight fitting motorcycle jackets may well make it difficult to raise your arms above your head but in all other respects they may well be a perfect fit.  It really all depends on the style of leather jacket and the leather from which it is made.  Cow hide or buffalo hide are thick leathers and on a fitted jacket they are likely to restrict movement.  Lighter leathers, such as sheep leather will allow for greater freedom of movement, even with a body-hugging style.

Leather Jacket is too tight

Your leather jacket will stretch and mould to your body shape as you wear it in.  The extent to which it will do so will depend on the type of leather and its thickness.  The best solution is to buy a leather jacket which is a comfortable fit at the outset.

Can a Leather Jacket be repaired?

A good quality leather jacket can and should be repaired but be sure to use an experienced specialist.  Broken stitching can be re-sewn, tears or holes in the leather are more problematic and will require a patch which will change the appearance of the jacket.  Broken zips or stud fasteners are also a common repair.

Where to repair your Leather Jacket

You really do need to find a specialist, your local dry cleaner simply won’t do.  Consult the manufacturer of the jacket for their advice.  Stockists of leather motorcycle jackets or other leather specialist outlets should be able to undertake the work, depending on the nature of the repair. If you live in rural community, a saddler might well undertake stitching work.

How to shrink your Leather Jacket without ruining it

Methods for shrinking leather jackets involve soaking in hot or cold water and then drying for a short period in a tumble drier.  This may not ruin your leather jacket, but it does go against all advice concerning how leather should be treated.  If you do attempt to shrink a leather jacket the results are likely to be very hit or miss and the jacket will require considerable conditioning afterwards in order to restore its natural oils.  If you value your jacket, take it to a specialist and get their opinion, because of course all leathers are different.

Can a Leather Jacket be folded?

A leather jacket can be folded but it is best avoided if possible because keeping a leather jacket folded for long periods will cause creases.  If it is necessary to fold your leather jacket in order to transport it, then try to do so with the minimum of folds and where possible make the line of the fold follow a seam.

How to distress a Leather Jacket

Soak the area you wish to distress in rubbing alcohol and use either a wire brush or sandpaper to distress the leather.  Wipe down with a damp cloth to remove the alcohol.  Results will vary depending on the leather. Are you sure that you want to do this?

Why do some Leather Jackets crack?

A good quality leather jacket, properly looked after, will not crack.  If a leather jacket dries out and dirt and grease penetrate the surface, then the leather may crack.  Bonded leather, which is really leather in name only, will always crack, eventually.

What paint to use for Leather Jackets

You should always use an acrylic paint when putting lettering or an image on a leather jacket.  You can use ordinary acrylic paint but for the best results it’s worth paying a little bit extra and buying specialist leather paint.

IMPORTANT: Remember to always test any leather conditioner, cleaner or product on a small inconspicuous area of your leather jacket first to ensure you're happy with the effect it may have on your product. 

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