3 Common Leather Cleaning Mistakes You Need to Avoid

man holding Popov Leather Scrub

As one of the earliest and most valuable discoveries of man, there are multiple reasons why leather has managed to stand the test of time. It is highly durable, versatile, and timeless, just to name a few.

Quality leather products are a valuable investment, whether it's a tote bag, journal cover, or an everyday carry item such as a wallet or a belt.

Having worked with leather and produced top-of-the-line leather products for ten years now, I can assure you that properly caring for your leather product is one of the best ways to ensure its longevity.

With proper care and maintenance, your leather products will last for many years—sometimes for decades—and still look good enough to pass as a family heirloom to the next generation.

But not only that:

  • Cleaning your leather products will prevent the buildup of dirt, dust, and oils on their surface. Such buildups can cause discoloration, damage, and even unpleasant odors.

  • Much like our own skin, leather can crack and dry up if neglected, making it less comfortable and unattractive over time. Cleaning it with the right cleansers and conditioners will ensure it feels supple and comfortable to the touch.

  • Cleaning your leather product will also ensure it maintains its original color and overall look, ensuring it remains in pristine condition as it develops a rich leather patina

However, there are some leather cleaning mistakes we make that can cause damage. Yet, these mistakes can be avoided. 

Take, for instance, tossing your wallet into the washing machine. If you don’t take the wallet out quickly, the damage done to the wallet (or any other leather product) may be irreversible. 

The washing process and harsh chemicals in the washing machine leach the natural oils from your wallet, leaving it dry or causing it to crack or warp. 

But this is just one of the many cleaning mistakes we make with our leather products. 

As you will soon find out, cleaning a leather product is not as simple as using water and soap; leather is a delicate material that requires specific care and attention.

Today, I’ll take you through three common leather cleaning errors you may be making knowingly or unknowingly, and how to avoid them.

You’ll also get to learn the common leather cleaning dos and don'ts in this Popov Leather care guide.

1 - Not Understanding the Leather Type of Your Leather Product

When it comes to cleaning leather items, one of the leather cleaning tips we tend to overlook is knowing the type of leather we’re dealing with. 

Understanding your leather product's specific attributes before grabbing any cleaning product and a rag is the key to preserving leather quality and will help you avoid leather damage.

All leathers are not created equal, and each type requires a different cleaning method.

For instance, aniline leather is one of the most delicate leathers to clean since it’s soft, naturally dyed, and lacks a pigment surface coating. Because it lacks a top coat, it is highly absorbent and can stain easily.

To clean your aniline leather products, follow the steps below: 

  1. Pour your leather cleaner onto a lightly damped soft cloth to your aniline leather product one section at a time.

  2. Working gently but quickly, agitate the cleaner into the leather grain using a brush. Don't rub the leather with the brush as this can remove dyes and coatings or cause indentations and grain loss.

  3. Wipe the aniline leather product clean with a soft and dry microfiber cloth.

  4. Leave the product to air dry in a cool and dry place.

  5. Once dried, treat the leather with a leather conditioner or massage oil to replenish the oils that were leached from the leather during the cleaning process.

Expert Tip: Avoid spraying your leather cleaner directly onto your aniline leather products because it's super absorbent and doing so will only soak the cleaner into the leather. 

Instead, turn the cleaner into a foam by pouring it into a foaming bottle and use a brush to gently wipe the leather product. This way, aniline leather won't completely soak up the cleaner.

Full-grain leather, on the other hand, is easier to clean due to its smooth and durable surface that naturally repels dirt and oils. 

When it comes to cleaning your full-grain leather, the key is a light touch and gentle cleaning products, as I have outlined in the following steps: 

  1. Dip a soft microfiber cloth into warm soapy water and wring it out so it’s slightly damp, not saturated.

  2. Gently run the cloth on your full-grain leather product to remove any dirt and oil buildup. 

  3. Gently wipe the leather with a soft microfiber cloth and leave it out to dry in the shape you want your product to remain in. For instance, if it’s a trifold wallet, let it dry in a folded position.

  4. Let the product dry naturally in a cool and dry place. Using heaters or dryers can fade or warp the leather. 

  5. Once dry, use a leather balm or conditioner to keep the leather soft and waterproof.

Using the wrong cleaning products for specific leather types can leave stains, discolorations or even cause the leather to crack or peel.

That’s why you need to invest in quality cleaning products that are designed specifically for leather products, such as our Popov Leather Care cleaning products.

These products include a leather scrub, leather balm, and a leather boot cleaning kit that contains the necessary clean tools for your leather shoes, such as a shoe rag and a horsehair brush.

Our cleaning products are formulated to handle dirt, stains, and other contaminants. They ensure that your leather items receive the ultimate protection they deserve.

2 - Using Harsh Cleaning Products

The temptation to use a strong cleaner or disinfectant may be high when it comes to removing dirt or stains from your leather, but these products are not ideal for proper leather maintenance. 

Harsh chemicals like alcohol and acetone can damage and dry out your leather products, causing them to crack, fade, or lose their texture.

One of the mistakes to avoid when cleaning leather is using harsh cleaning products. Stay away from leather cleaning products that contain bleach, ammonia, or other strong chemicals that are too harsh for most leather types. 

Harsh chemicals can strip the natural oils from the leather, making it brittle and prone to cracking over time, while bleach and ammonia can cause discoloration. Some leather products may even react negatively to certain chemicals, causing further damage.

Instead of using harsh chemicals, opt for organic and natural alternatives. Natural oils such as coconut oil, olive oil or jojoba oil can be massaged into the leather to help restore its natural oils and condition it. 

Popov Leather cleaning products are made by hand and only use all-natural ingredients to ensure they’re gentle on all leather finishes. 

Our leather cleaning spray is made using plant-based ingredients and is pH balanced to avoid drying out your leather products and help to maintain their pH balance.

“I’m very pleased with the leather scrub and balm from Popov. I was looking for an all-natural replacement for my mink oil with silicone, and this set definitely fits the bill.”

Timothy Peterson, Verified Customer

We also have a conditioning leather balm that is ideal for vegetable tan leather, oil tans, and other leather types exposed to harsh elements, such as aniline. 

The balm is made from triple-filtered beeswax, a special formulation of seed oil and naturally occurring lipids, and can be easily applied by hand or cloth on any leather product for long-lasting protection.

Here is a table that lists common cleaning products that should be avoided when cleaning leather products and suggests alternative cleaning products that are safe for leather:

Cleaning Product Harmful Effects On Leather Alternative Safe Product Why It's Safe
Bleach Dries and discolors leather Leather cleaner and conditioner Leather-specific products are pH-balanced and gentle
Ammonia Strips natural oils from leather, causing it to dry out and crack Mild soap and water Soap is gentle and won't strip oils
Vinegar Acidic pH can damage leather Leather cleaner and conditioner Leather-specific products are pH-balanced and gentle

3 - Using Too Much Water

Exposing leather to water for prolonged periods of time can cause the water to penetrate deeply into the leather fibers and temporarily bond with the oils that keep the leather lubricated. 

When this happens, as the water evaporates, the oil will float to the surface with the water, making the leather weak, warped, discolored, and prone to rotting. 

In addition, water can cause staining and move the dyes in the leather, resulting in unsightly spots and streaks.

To avoid using too much water, always use a damp cloth rather than immersing or spraying leather with water.

microfiber shoe rag by Popov Leather
Popov Leather microfiber​​ shoe rag

Make sure the cloth is thoroughly wrung out to ensure it is only slightly damp before gently applying it to the leather in a circular motion. Avoid using excessive force that could push water deeper into the leather.

If water is used on a leather item, it's best to allow it to air dry naturally, but not in direct sunlight or near direct heat as this may change the leather’s shape. 

If your leather product accidentally gets immersed in water (as in the case of tossing a wallet into a washing machine), remember that speed is everything. Always act right away before the water gets a chance to sit.

But for already water-stained leather, follow these steps to dry it completely:

  1. Clean your hands dry, especially if you’re handling totes or wallets, as they can easily absorb oil and grease.

  2. Next, let the leather product dry naturally. Dab off any liquid from the surface and inside, as this will allow what is soaked in the material to evaporate by itself. Never use a heater or air dryer, as this may shrink the leather and make it become dry and stiff in the process.

  3. Once the leather is dry, apply a reasonable amount of the Popov Leather Balm to help replenish the leather’s natural oils that were lost as the water evaporated. Massage the conditioner onto the leather surface and let it dry overnight.

  4. Once dry, buff the entire surface of the leather product. 

Instead of using a lot of water on your leather products, opt for a quality conditioner made specifically for leather. 

A conditioner provides the necessary nutrients leather needs to keep its protein bonds healthy and strong, which water cannot provide. 

The conditioner also helps restore the moisture and oils that may have been lost during the cleaning process. 

However, avoid silicone-based leather conditioners, as they can leave a sticky residue on your leather, making it look greasy and unappealing. 

Instead, opt for a natural and organic conditioner, which is gentle on your leather and will restore its natural oils while maintaining its appearance.

Expert Tip: To apply your Popov Leather conditioner, rub it onto your leather in a circular motion with a clean cloth, ensuring that you cover every corner. Next, allow the conditioner to soak in for at least an hour before buffing the surface with another clean cloth.

Keep Your Leather Products Looking New Even After Years of Use

Leather care for longevity involves proper cleaning and maintenance practices to ensure it remains looking its best for years to come. 

However, common leather cleaning mistakes such as not knowing your leather type, using harsh cleaning products, and using too much water can significantly reduce the lifespan of your leather products. 

As an expert in making the highest quality leather products, my goal is to ensure that these products remain functional, elegant, and durable for as long as possible.

This calls for an understanding of the best practices for leather cleaning to ensure proper care and maintenance of your leather products.

Popov Leather Balm & Scrub
Popov Leather Scrub & Balm

Popov Leather offers a range of leather cleaning products that guarantee longevity and ultimate protection of your leather products. 

Our leather scrub and conditioning balm will add years of life to any leather product if cleaned and conditioned regularly.

“I have used balms in the past which were decent, but nothing incredible. This balm, however, brought my wallet back to life! It had dulled over time and had scratches all over...but this leather balm restored my wallet to almost like new condition.”

Randall Beaton, Verified Customer, USA

Our leather cleaning products are made by hand with the help of experienced local leather artisans using all-natural ingredients and will help clean and restore your leather goods to their best look.

And for all our Leather Shoes lovers, we’ve got a Boot Cleaning Kit for you. The kit contains all you need to clean, condition, and waterproof your boots. 

Here is a quick tutorial on how to clean your leather boots.

Each boot cleaning kit includes:

  • A small circular horsehair brush

  • A tin of Popov Leather Balm

  • A spray bottle of Popov Leather Scrub

  • A microfiber shoe rag

  • A large horsehair brush

Even if you don’t have a pair of leather boots yet, you can still use this kit to clean your other leather items such as wallets, journal covers, and mouse pads.

If you follow these simple Popov Leather cleaning methods and use our all-natural leather cleaning products, you’ll realize that protecting leather goods doesn’t need to be challenging. 

All your leather items need is high-quality leather care using reliable cleaning products that are safe for the environment and can be used on all leather finishes.

Why This Matters: Investing in quality cleaning products extends the lifespan of your leather products. 

I hope that this Popov Leather care guide provides you with valuable tips you need to effectively clean your leather products.

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.

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