Getting a stain on a leather item is particularly frustrating because leather is both expensive and difficult to clean. Yet, to not clean it means that you lose some of its beauty, the whole reason you bought it in the first place. Leather itself will last for a long time, so you have every reason to keep it looking nice. The three basic types of leather are natural leather, synthetic (such as patent leather) and rawhide (suede and chamois). Natural leather is smooth and shiny and soft, synthetic tends to be rather stiff, and rawhide is rough and untreated. Of the three, synthetic leather is the most stain resistant and easy to clean, while rawhide is the most difficult.
- Common types of leather stains include water, especially dirty water such as in puddles; mold and mildew (some types of fungi will destroy leather); dirty and general grime; and grease. Any of these can get into the pores of leather, opening them wider to let in more dirt. Grease dries up leather, while mildew can cause it to crack.
- Treat natural leather first with a coat of leather polish or wax, choosing a shade that’s close to the color of the leather. This both protects it and removes surface stains. For a deeper clean, use a leather conditioner about every six months. These are designed to lift dirt and stains out of the pores, keeping it fresh looking. Once you have clean leather, treat it with a moisture protection spray to keep it that way.
- Spot cleaning on particularly difficult stains can be done with a water-based hairspray or white vinegar. Don’t use a petroleum-based hairspray because that will damage the leather. For the white vinegar, mix it half and half with water, wet a cloth and dab at the stain. Vinegar is especially good for mold and mildew stains.
- If you do find that your patent leather shoes or purse is becoming stained (this tends to happen to older products), there are cleaners and conditioner especially for synthetic leather. Treat according to the directions, wipe the item with a slightly moist cloth, and buff into a shine using flannel or a bit of cotton blanket.
- Rawhide lacks the smooth and shiny surface of other leather products. Because it’s not treated, it’s the most likely to get stained, and it’s also the hardest to clean. First, if it’s wet let it dry completely, but someplace that’s cool and dark, as hot sunshine is harmful. Purchase a rawhide cleaning comb to remove dirt from it, and use a special nubuck or suede conditioning spray to refresh it. Whatever you do, don’t try to clean it with water. That really will ruin it.
If you’re going to invest in leather then it only makes sense to purchase the products you need to take care of it. Most stains and dirt will be taken care of with specialized leather products. Just remember to keep rawhide leather away from moisture.