Leather Care and Maintenance: Part 3
(Part 3 of 3)
Welcome to final installment of our blog on leather care and maintenance. In this blog we will get down in the nitty-gritty of leather cleaning – how often, the order of applications and the how to’s of maintenance.
We are often asked “How often do I treat the leather?”
Our answer is typically “Well that depends!”
Treat your leather as often as it needs it. If you are working in them and walking 30 miles a week the boots may require a weekly treatment. If you wear your boots during fair season and it was beautiful weather for 8 weekends, maybe once during the season. If it rained and was muddy 7 of the 8 weeks, more frequent treatment. Treatment of leather is 100% based on circumstance, conditions and use.
If you feel like the leather is not soft and supple or as fine as it was the day you bought it, a treatment is well past overdue. There is no reason for your boots to feel stiff or dry. The same is true of any garment. A light touch of care products will restore the softness to the hide, and add years of wear.
Care and maintenance of leather is a simple four step process – Clean – Color Revitalize – Condition – Weather protect.
Step 1 – Cleaning
The first step to any treatment process is a cleaning. Leather should be cleaned with the least abrasive manner necessary for its condition. If it’s slightly dusty, wipe it with a damp rag. If it is caked in mud, brush the mud off and use mild natural leather cleaner to remove biological elements. If you have been on a farm and walking through horse manure you may want to use a more abrasive cleaner like a saddle soap. Do not use saddle soap for a mild cleaning – it is a bit overkill and is tougher on the leather.
Brush off any dirt or larger particles you can remove with a rag. Apply cleaners directly onto the leather and work with a clean rag or soft brush in small circular patterns. Your goal is to remove dirt from the leather and use only the pressure that is necessary to get that out. The circumstances dictate the level of cleaning needed.
When you are done cleaning, the boots will look and feel a bit drier. The leather pores will be exposed and most of the oil will be stripped from the hide.
Step 2 – Color Revitalizing
After a deep cleaning, you will have stripped away the conditioners that preserve the leather. Before continuing to the next step, it is ESSENTIAL to wait and allow the leather to completely
dry. Oil is less dense than water and will float on its surface. Oils, dyes and conditioners cannot penetrate deep into the pores of a hide if it is wet. Allow the leather to dry. Allow the leather to dry. (Don’t make me say it a third time)
After a deep cleaning there is the opportunity to use a revitalizing paste or dye to bring out the colors in the leather. Do not use shoe polish on this type of hide. Shoe polish is a topical paint, and it will cover the open pores of the leather and inhibit it from breathing properly. You want a penetrating dye; you are looking for a material that will pigment the leather and offer some minimal first level of conditioning.
Apply the dye in small circular patterns with a brush or rag. Be cautious when using dyes around other colors. Black dye will stain other trim colors. Only apply a black dye to a black leather. Work the material in small circular patterns to get a thin layer of colorizer into the pores of the leather. A thin coat works better than a thick coat. A second layer can be applied after giving the first layer sufficient time to dry.
Tip: always use the same rag for revitalizers- The color will penetrate into the material and will be very useful in the future
Step 3 – Conditioning
After cleaning and revitalizing it is essential that you recondition the leather with an oil and/or paste! The revitalizers have a small element of conditioner in them, but you need to apply a deeper oil to protect the leather. You absolutely MUST wait until the leather is clean AND dry before applying a conditioner. Oil will not penetrate into the pores of the hides if the leather is wet. (That’s three times! And important enough to repeat).
Conditioning can be done with an oil or paste – Or ideally both. Oils offer a deeper penetrating solution because they are a liquid and better able to get into the pores of the hides. Paste is a thicker composition and heartier formula and offers longer lasting protection. Oil gives you a deeper penetrating conditioning, while paste offers a longer lasting application. Some people prefer to use oil followed by paste to get the benefits of both.
When applying conditioner, use a rag in small circular motions working the oils into the pores and seams of the leather. If you have a square toe boot, get into the toe stitches as well and allow that stitching to soak up the oil and paste. If you see the oil being absorbed quickly into the hide you may want to consider a second or even a third coat. You will know when it has had enough; the
hide will not absorb any more product. The leather should be saturated with the oil but not coated or dripping.
Tip: use a specific rag for oils and re-use that rag – The rag will absorb a lot of the oil and will make it easier to apply the materials in the future
Step 4 – Weatherproofing
Most conditioners will have a sealant mixed into the composition and so your conditioning process is often also a weatherproofing process. A better sealer will use a natural resin which is air permeable and water repellent. Avoid weatherproofers that use silicon unless you are in very extreme wet weather conditions.
Apply the weather-proofing cream to a cleaned and dry leather. Use a small amount on a third rag and work it into the leather in small circular motions. If you have already applied the liquid oil, a bit of paste will go a very long way. Work it into the leather and seams ensuring you have a nice and even topical coating. If you have a square toe boot, get into the toe stitches as well and allow that stitching to soak up the oil and paste. Do not leave splats and insure a nice smooth thinner application.
Now that the boots are properly cared for, check your hardware. Make sure any buttons are screwed on tightly, laces are in place and nothing has gone missing.
Now that you have cared for your leather wares, where to store them? No, not in the tupper under the shelf in the garage!
Leather needs to be stored in a dry and well ventilated area. Leather may be susceptible to molding in improper storage. You can hang the boots in a closet or anywhere there is air flow.
When in storage, condition your boots every 3-6 months.
Thank you for taking the time to read our blog and we hope that this has been helpful. Feel free to comment here with any questions. Or you can email or post about topics that you would like to read about in coming articles.
Thank you very much for this, it’s very helpful indeed!
You mentioned that you can use a colour revitalizer to bring out the boots’ hue. Is there such a thing as using a different colour revitalizer on black leather, to give it an interesting and subtle sheen? Or, is this a terrible midnight idea, too tricky to get it even?
This is an interesting question. And I want to preface this by saying that I would not try this at home if you want your blacks to stay black!!! So yes, this is a terribly wonderful midnight idea.
There is a lot you can do with leather dye to bring out subtle undertones in colors. No dyed black is truly a black. It is built on some sort of base color, typically blue. You can pull out some beautiful purple, navy, green and sometimes even a muddy burgundy hints if you apply some colored dyes on top of the finished coat. You can even add a metallic sheen with a clear opal. It wont last forever and will need re-application over time, but so does the black.
These techniques will actually actually work with any leather color. We use a lot of techniques in our custom work to bring out other tones, distress leather to make it look older, add metallic sheen and artfully make color changes or enhancements.
Understanding what needs to be done to maintain a purchase is quite helpful in the purchase-making process.
My husband has some leather cowboy boots he really likes, and I wanted to help him take care of them properly. Your article had great tips regarding this, and I liked how you said to clean the boots and wait for them to fully dry before putting on oil to condition the leather pores. Thanks; I’ll share this with my husband to help him care for his boots.