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How to Clean Leather

One of the first fabrics that man fashioned to wear or use, leather has been a popular material from its beginnings. Leather is a beautiful, longwearing, breathable, natural fabric that has multiple uses, i., clothing, shoes, furniture, luggage, and vehicle interiors. This valuable fabric is an investment that will last for years if it is treated with care. Owners want to know how to correctly clean leather products because leather can be quickly ruined if handled incorrectly.

Leather hides can be categorized as belonging to several types, depending on the process to preserve the hides. The piece of leather can be smooth, suede, dyed in a variety of ways, coated, or tanned naturally. The dye used to color the fabric can be of different types that demand different handling. A product that works beautifully on one type of leather can permanently stain a different type. It is important to read any manufacturer’s instructions to understand what type of finish was used to create the item.

There are general rules for how to clean leather, however. These rules apply to how to clean car upholstery, belts, purses, jackets or other clothing, as well as furniture, luggage, and leather shoes. All leather needs an environment that is not too wet, not too dry, not too hot, or not too cold. Any extremes in the atmosphere can cause irreparable harm to the hides. Because leather is a natural fabric, it needs to breathe. Store leather in a cool area where it can have air circulating around it. Its color can also fade if it is kept in full sun. Furniture should be placed carefully in a room to avoid exposure to direct sunlight. Cars with leather seats need to be stored in a garage to preserve the color and to avoid permanent marks from the sun shining through the windows in the same pattern daily. Leather can also dry out over time.

Exposure to heat or direct sun can hasten this drying process. Moisture can and should be restored to the leather by rubbing in conditioners on a regular basis. This conditioning also helps leather repel some substances that might soak into a dried-out piece. Removing stains can be a challenge on leather goods. Only use products that are specially formulated for safe use on leather. Always test the product on an inconspicuous spot to see if its use will change the color of the item. If the garment is one of a set (for instance, one of a pair of gloves) treat both items to maintain a color match. Small spots may respond to careful application of alcohol, corn starch, or cuticle remover applied with a cotton swab. This last suggestion will work by removing a thin layer of the leather, so be careful to test in an inconspicuous spot on dyed items. A water-stained garment may be saved by wetting the entire garment to attempt to match the “new” color.

An expert may need to be consulted to discover how to clean car upholstery that has unusual or extensive stains. Following a regular maintenance schedule and wiping up any spills immediately should keep the interior of the car attractive and comfortable. Certain natural leather finishes can be permanently stained or turn a different color if exposed to too much water or other liquids. One key rule is to clean the piece immediately, before a substance has a chance to soak in or dry onto the hide. Homeowners should not panic or look the other way when their leather furniture is spilled on or marked because they are unsure how to clean it. Leather, because it is a natural fabric, should be maintained by washing at least twice a year. This washing should be done gently, by hand. Use a mild soap or a saddle soap. Create suds in a bowl and apply the suds to the leather surface with a soft cloth or sponge. Do not use the soapy water.

Be careful to keep the cloth barely damp -- not wet. After washing, buff the leather item dry with a second soft cloth. Do not try to dry the leather item near heat, as this will cause the leather to become brittle and possibly shrink. After washing and drying the item is complete, rub a good leather conditioner into the fabric. This conditioner serves to protect the leather from spills or stains, and helps keep it soft and supple. If unsure about using a leather conditioner, the manufacturer’s directions will explain how. Clean leather by hand, gently, with the proper products, and this fabric will last for years.


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