The look of a brand-new leather item is always impressive. Whether it’s a leather handbag or a pair of leather shoes, well-maintained leather is classy, sophisticated, and professional-looking. Yet like all fabrics, it’s almost impossible to keep leather looking just as good as the day you bought it. Over time, leather items get stained with everything from fungi to dirt to grease. While leather is very durable, stained leather does not have the same beauty and natural look of brand-new leather.
Getting rid of leather stains does not have to be expensive or time-consuming. With the right cleaning and stain removal technique for the right kind of leather, you can preserve the natural look of the leather for years to come.
Types of Leather
To properly remove a particular leather stain, you have to know the type of leather that you’re cleaning. Not all leather items can be cleaned or polished with the same kind of cleaning and conditioning ingredient or tool. Here are three types of leather most commonly used for leather items:
- Natural leather, or tanned leather, is used for many shoes, handbags, and belts. Natural leather is made by aging, tanning, and strengthening the leather to create a smooth, silky finish. Items made with natural leather need to be moisturized and protected from the elements.
- Synthetic or patent leather is made with plastics or petroleum derivatives. Synthetic leather does not have the pores found in natural leather, and is stain-resistant. The problem is that some layers of synthetic leather will dry out and flake away over time.
- Rawhide is natural leather that is not aged or tanned to a smooth finish. The outer part of rawhide is typically brushed, combed, or worked to give its characteristic rough, natural look. Examples of rawhide include chamois, suede and nubuck.
Common Leather Stains
Almost any substance that stains cloths and other textiles can stain leather, although there are some stains that can ruin leather items faster than others. Here are some of the common leather stains that can damage and ruin leather items no matter what kind of leather they are made of:
- Water is important to moisturize leather and keep it soft and pliable, although too much water (especially dirty water like that from puddles or storms) can open up the pores too wide and introduce stains, dirt, and grime.
- Mold and mildew can grow and build up on leather items if they’re not stored properly. Some types of fungi can also eat through the leather, and cause pits and cracks. (For mold and mildew removal, read how to get rid of white mold and how to get rid of mildew)
- Dirt, dust and grime are easy to remove with a bit of cleaning and polishing, but the smallest particle of dust or dirt can open up pores, and allow dirt and dust to build up and ruin the leather’s finish.
- Greaseis a very common stain for working boots, handbags, and leather aprons. Cooking oils and metal lubricants can dry up leather items quickly, and cause pores to open up and introduce more stains to the material. (Learn how to get rid of grease stains)
Removing Stains from Natural Leather
Depending on the quality of the tanning, natural leather is very stain-resistant. When natural leather does get stained, you need to pay special care and attention to prevent damage to the delicate material:
- Most surface stains on natural leather can be removed with leather polish or waxes. When using shoe polish or wax, make sure that the color of the polish or wax closely matches the leather to avoid further stains from dyes.
- Leather conditioners contain oils that penetrate the pores and lift away stains found deep within the pores of natural leather. Treat your natural leather items with leather conditioner every six months to get rid of stains and dirt particles that have lodged themselves in the pores of the leather.
- Most natural leather items are already treated with special substances that protect the pores and the surface of the leather from water marks and stains. If your leather item is not treated when you bought it, you need to treat it with a moisture protection spray. While the spray will harden the leather a bit, it will protect the leather from water and moisture damage. Do not use the protective spray on a stained leather item.
- Water-based hair spray is also helpful in spot-removing leather stains. Do not use petroleum-based hair sprays, because the harsh chemicals can damage the leather. Use a hair spray with a mild hold to prevent the leather from hardening up in the long run.
- White vinegar is a useful cleaning ingredient to help spot-clean natural leather items. Mix one part of white vinegar to one part of water, and use a piece of cloth to draw out the stain with the acidic solution. Vinegar and water is also very helpful in removing mold and mildew.
Removing Stains from Synthetic Leather
Unlike natural leather, synthetic leather does not have pores that allow the textile to breathe. Synthetic leather is designed to be cleaned easily; the high gloss finish of many patent leather items allows stains to be simply wiped off. Over time, the stain-resistant properties of synthetic leather do wear off. Here are some tips to help you remove stains from synthetic leather.
- Many special cleaning products meant to clean and condition synthetic leather are available on the market. Use one that suits the leather item best.
- After using a synthetic leather item, wipe it thoroughly with a lightly moistened piece of cloth, like a tea towel or a handkerchief.
- Buffing a synthetic leather item with flannel or an old cotton blanket can help bring back the smooth, glossy finish of synthetic or patent leather.
Removing Stains from Rawhide
Stained rawhide items often need to be professionally cleaned. Rawhide is not tanned or treated, which means that it is much more prone to stains and water damage. There are some ways that you can remove mild surface stains from suede or nubuck items:
- Always allow a rawhide item to dry thoroughly in a cool, dry place before cleaning it. Do not expose wet rawhide leather items to the heat of the Sun.
- Use a suede or nubuck conditioning spray to freshen up the flattened or matted fibers of the rawhide item.
- Special combs designed to clean rawhide can be used to remove dry particles of dust or mud. Do not use polish or wipe the rawhide with water, because you’ll end up tightening the rawhide and ruining it. Once rawhide is ruined, you’re better off buying a new one because the fabric cannot be repaired or restored.
Cleaning and removing stains from leather items does not have to be difficult or time-consuming. With these tips to help you remove stains and restore leather, that brand-new look of your leather items will be something you’re proud to show off.
* Stains on leather can be easily dealt with with these tips, but what if the problem is on your furniture, and it’s more than just a stain? Don’t fret. Here are the basics of how to repair leather furniture.
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