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How Do I Care for Tooled Leather?

By Maggie J. Hall
Updated May 16, 2024
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Caring for tooled leather generally involves preventive maintenance, dust and soil removal, conditioning, and proper storage. Different types of leather require specific cleansers and conditioners, and leather item retailers usually carry the products necessary for proper cleaning and maintenance. Store personnel can typically suggest products that are appropriate for particular items. The manufacturer’s care instructions accompany many leather items.

Leather care experts highly recommend applying a leather fabric guard onto tooled leather products as soon as possible after purchasing. The porous nature of leather means that it can quickly absorb spills, which may produce staining. Even a liquid as harmless as clear water may permanently stain leather. A fabric guard product provides a moisture repellant barrier that prevents absorption from occurring.

When a spill occurs, blot the leather immediately with a dry cloth. While there are many home remedy treatments available for eliminating stains on leather, consulting the manufacturer or a leather care expert may save an expensive item from further damage or possible ruin. Used weekly, the dust brush attachment on a vacuum cleaner easily removes dust and dirt from tooled leather furniture. A damp cloth can also be used. Items treated with fabric guard generally do not require deep cleaning.

The age-old method of cleaning tooled leather involved using saddle soap and water. While some stand by this time honored tradition, others claim saddle soap does not effectively clean, but actually pushes soil deeper into leather pores. Following soaping and buffing, leather required additional oiling and buffing to replace what was lost in the process. Modern leather care products are generally specially designed to correlate the with modern techniques used in leather processing.

Exercise caution when choosing cleaning products if tooled leather is pigmented and untreated. The leather may absorb and stain with some products, while other products may remove pigmentation. Many modern leather products still use a two-step process. Instructions generally require applying the cleaner with a dry, soft cloth and removing the product with another cloth. Conditioning leather also generally requires applying and removing the product with clean cloths.

Heat and humidity are hazardous environments for leather in general. Under these conditions, drying and cracking commonly occur. Humidity can also encourages mildew growth. Avoid positioning tooled leather furniture near heat vents or in direct sunlight. Extensive sun exposure typically causes the original color of the leather to fade.

Before storing tooled leather purses, fill the interior with tissue paper to maintain shape. Avoid storing tooled leather items in plastic. Leather manufacturers usually recommend using fabric instead. Porous leather requires air to breathe and may dry and crack in an airtight container.

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