Leather is one of the most useful and versatile materials used today to make just about anything. The material is used to make everything from shoes to briefcases, and even furniture. When properly taken care of, the understated sheen and handsome look of leather can last for a lifetime.
When you buy a pair of leather shoes, a leather couch, or any leather-covered item for the first time, you may notice that it has a rather strong smell. When a pair of leather shoes becomes wet from the rain, the material can have an earthy, almost spoiled smell. Some people may even be sensitive to the dyes and other chemicals used to treat new leather items. While part of the appeal of leather is its odor, there are people who don’t like the strong odor at all. If you don’t like the strong smell of leather, or if you have a few wet leather items in and around your home, here are some ways to get rid of the musky odor.
Causes of Leather Smells
Natural leather is made from tanned animal hide and animal skin. Tanners and leather-makers use both natural and artificial chemicals to treat and color rawhide and turn it into a durable material for clothes, bound books, furniture, and other uses. New leather items treated with natural tanning and coloring chemicals like vegetable dye and animal oils have a distinctly musky odor. Leather items treated with artificial or metallic compounds have an odor that is quite similar to plastic.
The smell of leather can also depend on the animal where the leather was taken from. Most hides are taken from cows; the odor of cowhide leather is quite mild and doesn’t have a very strong scent. Leather taken from game animals like deer and even sea creatures like stingray have a stronger, unique scent.
Synthetic leather, along with many plastics and industrial polymers, is part of the many products made from petrochemicals. Like some plastic wares, synthetic leather can have a faint smell that’s a lot like gasoline or fuel oil.
Natural leather, and some kinds of synthetic leather, have small microscopic pores that allow the material to “breathe.” When these pores get clogged or water seeps through them, the natural leather can release unpleasant odors.
Let the Leather Age
Leather smells go away in time. As the leather ages, the leather closes up and the odors disappear. The more you use the leather item, the faster the smell wears away. If you apply perfume or other odor-masking agents on the leather, it may take longer for the odor to pass.
Part of the appeal of wearing leather is its odor. You may want to use a new leather item (like leather shoes or a leather jacket) more often to expose more of the pores. In time, the leather will take on a more understated, naturally-aged odor that’s more appealing to the senses than brand-new leather.
Pack ‘Em in Paper
Old newspapers or packing paper are more porous than leather, which makes them excellent at absorbing odors. If you want to get rid of those odors from brand-new leather items quickly, you can pack them in newspapers or packing paper. The fibers of the paper act as wicks that lift the odors from the leather, and are also an excellent way of preserving the untreated reverse surfaces of leather items.
Make sure that the leather item is completely dry, and that you’re using dry newspapers. Newspapers are more effective than office paper, because the fibers are looser and that the paper itself is softer than other kinds of paper you may have around the house. Pack the leather items in paper overnight to draw out most of the odors.
Dry Wet Leather Quickly
Wet leather smells like a wet animal. If you wear leather items in the rain, the smell of the wet leather can combine with sweat and pollution. You’ll end up having a pair of shoes or a leather jacket that smells like rancid butter. To prevent this from happening, you should dry out leather items as quickly as possible. Here are some ideas:
- Dry them out in the sun. When sun-drying wet leather items, make sure that they’re not in direct contact with harsh sunlight. Too much exposure to heat and sunlight can make natural leather crack, chip, and wear out more easily.
- Use a blow-dryer. A blow-dryer set on a low heat setting can hasten evaporation and prevent the water molecules from enlarging the pores of the leather. Make sure that you don’t bring the blow-dryer too close to the leather, because the material may crack.
- Wipe the leather dry. A clean dry cloth is usually enough to dry wet leather items like shoes, jackets, and attaché cases. Don’t apply alcohol or any odor-masking agents on the cloth or on the leather; the chemicals can seep into the pores of the leather, which clogs the material and prevents it from breathing.
- Dry leather items at the back of the refrigerator. The condenser rack at the back of a medium-sized refrigerator is perfect for drying out leather items, especially shoes. A few hours at the back of the condenser rack can dry out leather items without chipping or cracking.
Condition the Leather
If you own a leather item that’s particularly smelly, you need to condition it. Leather conditioning removes the rancid odor, and it also helps to preserve the leather’s color and sheen. It is also the most effective way to clean leather items. Here are some ingredients you can use to clean and condition your leather.
- Leather conditioner can be bought from any household supply store. The product is usually sprayed onto the surface of the leather. The chemical then seeps in and works through the pores of the leather, removing the odors and bringing back the original sheen of the material.
- Linseed oil is a very useful ingredient that you can use to clean and condition leather clothing and other leather items. Use high quality linseed oil to condition your leather; cheap linseed oil alternatives simply don’t work. Massage the linseed oil into the fabric, making sure to get the oils into the leather.
- Shoe polish. Nothing beats an old reliable product like shoe polish for conditioning and cleaning leather products. Liquid shoe polish works well not only for shoes, but also for thick leather jackets and even briefcases. For boots and shoes, canned shoe polish works great. Look for products that contain carnauba wax and natural ingredients when you’re cleaning natural leather.
Vinegar, Ammonia, and Baking Soda Treatments
Here are other ways that you can use to remove the smell from leather items:
- Soak the leather in a weak solution of water and distilled white vinegar.
- Mix together household ammonia and water to make a weak ammonia solution, and soak the leather item in it.
- Place a liberal amount of baking soda inside a pillowcase or zip-lock bag big enough for your leather item to fit. Allow the leather to sit in there overnight.
- Make sure that after you use these odor-removal treatments, you clean and condition the leather. (Tips on how to clean leather)
Leather is near the top of many people’s lists for furniture material, shoes, or jackets. While leather is popular and durable, there are times that it will smell quite rancid and putrid. You don’t have to wear leather items that stink; with these tips and tricks to clean and condition your leather items and leather clothes, you can wear some of those good skins without worrying about the smell. If you learn from reading this article, you’ll surely learn more in reading how to protect leather.