Given a choice between metal, cloth, silicone, rubber, or a leather Apple watch strap, I’ll always choose leather.
Leather straps are classy, formal, and they come in different colors and styles. Leather also adapts to fit your hand more comfortably over time, and with proper care and maintenance, your watch strap can last for decades.
Proper care and maintenance means knowing the answers to these questions:
- What’s the best way to clean your leather?
- How often should you clean your leather watch straps?
- How often should you condition your watch straps?
- How much conditioner does your leather need?
Since leather is a natural material, it’s sensitive to elements like moisture, sunlight, and humidity. Having said that, it's not as hard to care for your Apple watch straps as you might imagine—all you need is patience, consistency, and some of my Popov Leather Balm.
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Step 1 - Avoid Soaking Your Straps in Liquids
Generally speaking, it's okay to use some water when cleaning leather watch straps. What you want to avoid is soaking them, especially if they have a liner.
When your watch straps come into contact with water, rubbing alcohol, or any other liquid, the natural oil in the leather will wash off and evaporate with the liquid. Since this oil is what keeps your leather straps supple and flexible, losing it will leave your straps brittle and prone to cracks.
Keep in mind that some types of leather, like Horween Derby, respond better to water and are easier to clean than others, like suede.
When cleaning nubuck and suede leather, I recommend that you avoid water completely, and use a suede brush or eraser instead. For full-grain leather watch straps (like Horween Derby leather), use a slightly damp cloth and gentle soap when cleaning.
Follow these steps:
1. Remove your leather straps from your Apple watch.
If you purchased your leather straps from me, they’ll be installed with a sliding keeper that you can easily release. Otherwise, simply press and hold the band release button on the back of your Apple watch while sliding the watch strap to the side to remove it.
2. Wipe the surface of your watch straps with a dry, nonabrasive, and lint-free cloth.
This will help remove any dust and grime from the surface. Use a microfiber or jewelry polishing cloth to avoid scratching your leather.
3. Clean the straps using a nonabrasive, damp cloth and soap.
Use a slightly damp piece of cloth and a gentle soap to clean your watch straps in a circular motion. If there's an area with a stain, use a soft bristle toothbrush, some soapy water, and very light pressure to scrub the area.
If you accidentally get your leather watch straps wet, gently wipe away the water. Then, use a nonabrasive, soft cloth to pat the leather, and let it air-dry.
4. Gently wipe the leather using another damp cloth to remove all the soap and dirt residue.
Lay the straps on a cool, dry surface and let them air-dry completely. Don't try to speed up the drying process with a hair dryer or any other source of heat as this can dry, crack, and bleach your leather, causing it to wilt and age prematurely.
Heat can also dislocate vital natural oils that prevent your leather from decomposing. Once depleted, these oils cannot be replenished and there’s not much you can do to save your watch straps, besides patching them.
Your leather straps will last longer if you clean them once every other week. However, you can clean them more or less often depending on what they endure.
If you exercise regularly while wearing your Apple watch, then your straps might need more cleaning to wash off all the sweat and grime. If you only wear your watch to the office, then your straps might need less cleaning.
Expert Tip: Depending on what they endure, switch your Apple watch straps every few months as day-to-day use can lead to considerable wear and tear.
Step 2 - Condition Your Apple Watch Straps Regularly
After cleaning your leather with a damp cloth and allowing it to dry, it will have lost some of its natural oil. A high-quality leather balm can help:
- Maintain the quality of your watch straps
- Make your leather watch straps soft and supple
- Prevent your straps from cracking and splitting
Remember, less is more when it comes to conditioning your leather watch straps.
Apply only as much conditioner as your leather can naturally absorb. If too much conditioner is used at once, it can block the leather’s natural pores entirely and prevent any more conditioner from being absorbed.
Use thin even layers and always wait for your conditioner to completely dry before applying another layer. Keep in mind that some leathers, like Horween Derby, absorb conditioner much quicker than other leathers, such as Genuine leather and suede.
While it’s standard to condition your watch straps every other week, I recommend that you get to know your own unique leather accessory, and develop a routine that works for you.
Some leather conditioners can also darken the color of your watch straps with time. For this, I recommend using my semi-thick wax leather conditioner which offers your Apple watch straps maximum protection from the elements, without darkening the leather. You can use it to clean, protect, and restore your watch straps back to life.
Popov Leather manufactures leather balm by hand, using only natural ingredients, and my customers can attest to the superior quality of this product.
“Very good leather balm. Works well without darkening the leather.”
You only need to apply a dab of Popov Leather Balm onto a lint-free cloth when conditioning your leather.
As with cleaning, rub the balm on your watch straps in a circular motion and allow it to cure for 24 hours. You can apply more than one coat of the balm if your leather is still looking dull after the first treatment.
Apart from offering protection from heat, moisture, and humidity, my superior leather balm is also:
- Easy to apply to your watch straps
- Designed to leave a beautiful shine on your leather
- Capable of restoring your straps to a smooth and supple state
Step 3 - Be Gentle in Your Everyday Use
Keep in mind that natural, vegetable tanned leather, without any pigments or dye, develops the best patina over time. Lesser grades of leather, like corrected and split-grain leather, will not develop patina in a good way. You can learn more about different grades of leather in the table below:
Here are some tips to protect your leather, whatever the type, from cracking and stretching over time:
- Don't bend and pull your leather straps more than necessary when putting on or taking off your watch.
- Be careful not to use too much force when securing your watch to the tang buckle.
- When storing your watch, even if it's inside a case, ensure the straps are both laying flat.
- Take off your Apple watch every night to let the leather straps breathe and air out.
- Swap out your Apple watch straps regularly to allow the leather to breathe and to prevent it from building up an unpleasant odor.
- Always take off your watch before washing your hands or getting in the shower to avoid getting the leather wet.
In the same way liquids wash out the oil in leather, heat and humidity can dry the oil out and leave your watch straps hard and cracked. Exposing your leather straps to direct sunlight for a long time can also discolor the material.
Of course, it's impossible to protect your Apple watch straps from the elements at all times.
The best thing you can do is follow these simple tips and maintain a regular cleaning and conditioning routine.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I stop my Apple watch straps from developing a bad odor?
Since leather is porous, it can trap moisture, bacteria and odor over time. To stop your straps from developing a bad odor, you'll need to:
- Clean your watch straps every other week.
- Condition your straps to reduce the amount of moisture that gets in.
- Allow your straps to completely dry before wearing them.
- Swap out your straps every other week to allow them to breathe.
Why do my leather Apple watch straps stretch over time?
Leather is a natural material, so it's bound to stretch a little over time.
The warmth of your wrist, as well as oils in your skin, can all make your straps stretch to fit you more comfortably. You can, however, avoid overstretching by:
- Conditioning your straps once every other week
- Laying your watch straps flat during storage
- Always handling your straps gently
Are leather watch straps waterproof?
Leather is porous and can never be completely waterproof. However, applying a coat of Popov Leather Balm to your watch straps will create a protective film and protect them from water damage, dirt, and discoloration caused by heat.
Article by Ryan Popoff
Ryan Popoff is the CEO and Co-Founder of Popov Leather. He has absolutely no business background, in fact, he graduated in 2012 with a bachelor's degree in fine arts. Ryan's leather goods business was born from a hobby at the dining room table and a passion for technology (ecommerce in particular). Ryan calls Nelson BC his home where he's raising his family and enjoys spending the odd afternoon at a local craft brewery.