Wearing and Caring For Your Leather Jacket
A real leather jacket or coat is usually an expensive investment and can take a while for you to source or purchase depending on your tastes. Your leather jacket can last for many, many years if given proper care though. In many cases, you can wash a leather jacket at home if you follow the correct methods.
Know your leathers. It is important to understand the type of leather you are purchasing and to be sure that it is real leather. Many synthetic products can look very similar or in some cases, just like real leather, but the type of cleaning and care will be very different.
Types of Leather Jackets and Coats
Leather jackets (and leather in general) come in several grades and finishes and that makes a difference in how they are cleaned. There are the four most commonly sold types of leather and here they are:
Suede: Natural suede leather is created from the soft underside of a split grain animal hide. It has a gentle, nappy finish that is easily stained. There are always very specific care and cleaning steps for suede jackets. This is also true for accessories and furniture.
Nubuck: Nubuck leather is similar to suede in appearance, but it uses the top of the animal hide which is finely sanded and buffed to produce the very softest, velvety leather finish. The care techniques for Nubuck leather are similar to suede. The stain removal process often requires treatment by a professional.
Aniline: Aniline leather is a full grain leather that has been treated with the chemical aniline. This is the most common type of leather used for jackets and can be very durable.
Nappa: This is the cadillac or highest grade leather. Nappa leather is ultra soft and supple. It uses a full grain sheep or lamb hide.
Before You Wear Your Leather Jacket
If you want to keep your jacket looking its best for the long haul, be sure that the leather is properly treated with a leather protector. You can purchase leather protector products in both liquid or spray-on formulas. The protector helps repel water and prevents stains on the leather surface from water spotting and soil. You should really apply protector products on an annual basis. If you use and abuse your leather and wear it often, then a more frequent treatment may be necessary. Then again if you like that tattered “vintage” look as the fads would have it - then by all means beat it up! But if you’d like it to last, then follow a few simple guidelines.
There are several things you should avoid when wearing your leather coat:
Full Pockets. You don’t want to stretch your leather out and have it be forever unshapely. So a word of advice is not to cram your pockets full of "stuff" or carry heavy items.
Sprays and Perfumes. No good. Do not apply hairspray, perfume, or cologne while wearing your leather coat. You will dry the jacket right out from the alcohol in these products. If you must give an extra spritz before hitting the town, do it while sans leather jacket and wait for it to dry before putting it on.
Pins and Accoutrements. As you can imagine, your favorite Elk’s Club pin will leave a permanent hole in your leather jacket - unlike your cotton or blended sport coat. Never attach badges, pins, tape, or stick-on labels to leather.
Alterations. It goes without saying - have a professional do any size alterations or attach any emblems or embroidery to the leather surface. Holes caused by incorrect stitching or poking will be almost impossible to remove. Let’s call it impossible :-).
How to Clean Your Leather Jacket
Generally speaking, you can wipe away most soil with a clean, damp cloth if your jacket has been properly treated and protected. Some stains like ink from a pen or even mildew require specific treatments though.
You might find one fall, when pulling your leather jacket out of the closet, that the inner lining is soiled with body oil or perspiration. What to do? If the coat is expensive or brand new you may want to head to a professional leather cleaning expert. Not every cleaner has the credentials however to clean leather jackets. Check them out first so it doesn’t get destroyed. If the inner lining is made from a washable fabric, you may be able to simply clean it at home. The product will likely clue you in.
You should never wash suede or nubuck garments yourself though. Hand-washing is only appropriate for aniline leather finishes only. Before doing this, test the color-fastness of the leather using a clean, white, wet cloth on an interior spot of the leather. If color transfers to the cloth, the dye is not stable on the leather and you should not proceed.
If you decide to DIY wash your leather jacket at home, you will need to be prepared to devote several days to the process. Afterwards you’ll need to properly condition the leather to bring the luster and life back into it. Leather is much like your own skin. If you dry it out with harsh soaps, it will crack and feel stiff.
Hand Washing Your Leather Jacket
Empty all pockets (common sense right?) of the jacket and turn it completely inside out. Fill a large sink or plastic container with lukewarm water. Add a small amount of a gentle liquid detergent recommended for hand washing delicate items (Woolite is a good example). Swish it up and make it soapy.
Submerge the leather jacket completely and swish through to be sure the lining is wet through and through. Squeeze the solution through the lining and allow it to soak for ten minutes or so. If there are stubborn stains present, use a soft bristled brush to help lift those away.
When it is time to rinse the jacket, lift the jacket out of the soapy solution. Simply squeeze out the excess moisture - you don’t want to wring it. Fill the sink with clean water and rinse it out thoroughly. You may have to change the water several times to remove all of the soap and soil.
Once you’re done washing the jacket (or coat), turn it back right-side out and hang over something to air dry. Make sure to use a sturdy wooden or padded hanger to prevent creases in the shoulders. Obviously you don’t want to hang it in direct sunlight or neat a furnace or heater. It will probably take a couple of days for your leather jacket to dry completely.
The next step is to completely condition the garment until it is once again soft and supple. Be sure that you use a good quality leather conditioner.
How to Store Leather Jackets
Storing your coat properly will prevent many leather problems. Pull out that same sturdy hanger and store it in a cool, dry area away from direct sunlight. Avoid any location that has excessive moisture-even a closet near a bathroom where steam may be present. If you are concerned about dust, cover the coat with a cloth garment bag or cotton sheet. Do not store your leather jacket or coat in a plastic bag that could trap moisture and promote mildew.
I wouldn’t iron if I were you…
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