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how to clean leather

We all have luxurious leather and suede in our closets: skirts, vests, jackets - or shoes, belts and handbags. 

While we love the leather items that keep us warm and toasty, sometimes the mere thought of a spill, drip or drop on our leather duds can send such a chill through us, that that hot new jacket or handbag never makes it out of the closet, lest it gets soiled.

After all, how would we clean it? For many of us, cleaning leather garments is still one of life's mysteries. So here's a guide on how to clean leather - mystery solved. 

Clean Leather Safely By Type

How to clean leather garments

There are four main types of leather, and different cleaning methods for each:

  • Protected leather: These are the most robust and most practical leathers. The leather is finished with pigments on the surface. You can restore the color on scratches.
  • Aniline leather: This type of leather (also called natural, naked, or unprotected) is colored with a transparent dye so that the grain shows through. It has no protective coating though you can spray it with a leather water repellant.
  • Nubuck leather: This is an aniline leather (also called distressed or bomber leather) that has been brushed to create a soft velvety surface. It's very absorbent and will stain easily, although some Nubucks, such as distressed or bomber, have waxed surfaces that offer some protection.
  • Suede: Suede is the flesh side of a piece of leather. But it looks like Nubuck and needs similar care. You can also protect suedes and Nubucks with a water repellant spray, but it may darken the color.

Clean Leather by Type

Always clean leather following the item's label instructions - if the laundry label is still legible. If not, these guidelines can help.

Finished Leather:

Remove surface dirt and stains by rubbing with a damp sponge. If that doesn't work, apply a little saddle soap or liquid detergent and rub again.

Unfinished Leather:

Unfinished leather garments and shoes will quickly spot if you get them wet. If that happens, rub off the stain with a horsehair suede brush or ultra fine sandpaper.

Leather rarely needs to be professionally cleaned. That's good because professional leather cleaning is expensive and it may fade the color.

If you must send a leather garment to the dry cleaners, find a dry cleaner who specializes in leather. And if you have a two-piece outfit, send both pieces, so the color stays consistent.

Leather Storage Tips

Store leather garments on shaped or padded hangers in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place. Cover with cloth instead of plastic so the garment can breathe; otherwise, it might dry out or mildew.

If the wrinkles in your leather garment don't hang out, try steaming them out. Hang the garment in the bathroom while you shower.

If you still have wrinkles, you can iron the leather using the iron's lowest setting (no steam!). Place brown paper between the iron and the leather garment to protect it.

How to Dry Leather

Avoid getting leather garments wet. If the leather does get wet, blot the excess moisture from it gently with a towel. Then lay flat to dry away from direct heat. Heat will dry out its natural oils and can cause the surface to become hard and cracked.

Leather and Suede No-Nos


  • Use hair sprays or perfumes near leather clothes
  • Wear a leather collar against your skin (protect it with a scarf)
  • Put an adhesive sticker (such as a name badge) on leather.

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› How to Clean Leather