HAND-CRAFTED LEATHER GOODS
Leather items can get dirty, wrinkled and maybe even stained. You may be wondering about preventative measures and may even be wondering what you should do to your new special leather item to preserve it. I also cover the cleaning of finished leather in some detail on page 15. See Cleaning.
If you want it to stay looking just like it did when you took it out of the box ... put it back in the box. Whatever you do to leather will change its appearance in some way. This, as well as normal use, will make the item uniquely yours.
If leather stays dry it will give you years of use. What really destroys leather is mould growing on the leather. It feeds on the fibres. Eventually the leather goes dry and powdery, similar to dry rot in wood. Just putting on oil will not repair the leather.
Generally speaking people like leather because it is easy to care for. It is not, however, indestructible. In general, the more heavily finished a leather surface is, the more resistant it is to spills and stains. Untreated leather absorbs, and is easily stained, by oils. It can also be harmed by abrasive cleaners, and organic solvents. Soap and water is good for routine cleaning, but commercially available leather cleaners also work. The latter often contain lubricating materials which are intended to keep leather supple. Really dirty leather may require the use of a mild detergent solution but care should be taken, because some detergent solutions may not be pH balanced, containing compounds that could harm the leather. Always follow the manufacturer's cleaning instructions and test any cleaner on an inconspicuous area first. It is also a good idea to damp-wipe rather than soaking the leather with water.
Dirt can usually be wiped off leather and exotic-skin bags and personal accessories with a clean, barely moist cloth. Saddle soap is not recommended, as it may remove the natural oils. A leather cream used sparingly enriches and if it's a transparent cream, there's no danger of it rubbing off on clothes.
A brush raises the nap and removes dust from suede items. New suedes are subject to "crocking", which means suede dust may rub off on hands and clothes. Crocking can be minimized by rubbing any new suede bag or accessory vigorously with a terry towel.
If suede or leather gets wet or rain spotted, stuff it with tissue paper and let it dry at room temperature. After suede has dried, brushing it with a terry towel will restore its appearance.
For spills: Wipe up excess liquid immediately with a clean cloth or sponge. If necessary use clean lukewarm water and let the leather air-dry.
For spots and stains: Apply a mild, non-detergent soap solution with a clean, wet sponge. Rinse well and let air-dry. Especially stubborn dirt may require a detergent solution, but care should be taken.
For butter, oil or grease: Wipe excess butter, oil or grease off the leather with a clean, dry cloth, then leave it alone as the spot should dissipate into the leather in a short period of time. Do not apply water to try to wash a butter, oil or grease mark.
Do not place your furniture too near a radiator or similar source of heat. Make sure that there is a minimum of 20-30 cm between your furniture and your heat source.
Protect your leather furniture from direct sunlight.
Keep the leather pores free from dust particles.
With minimal care, your leather furniture can last decades. A monthly wiping with a warm and damp clean cloth will prevent your body oils and dust from creating a build up. As easy as it sounds, this maintenance is key to prolonging the life of your leather furniture.General leather care tips
* Always hang leather coats on wide, padded hangers. Use shoe-trees in shoes and boots. Stuff empty handbags with tissue-paper to retain their shape.
* Do not store leather goods in plastic bags or other non-porous coverings. If clothing must be stored in a garment bag, keep it open for ventilation.
* Allow wet or damp leather to air-dry naturally away from any source of heat. Apply a little conditioner when the leather is nearly dry, to restore flexibility. Follow this with a full conditioning treatment when the leather is completely dried.
* In winter promptly remove any salt deposits from shoes and boots by sponging with clear water; then follow with the treatment recommended above for wet or damp leather.
* To prevent mildew, protect leather from excessive humidity. In a dry environment, to prevent it from drying out and cracking, regularly condition it.
* Do not use waxes, silicon products or other leather preparations that impair the ability of the leather to "breathe"
* Never use caustic household chemicals to clean leather. Avoid leather preparations that contain alcohol or petroleum distillates, such as turpentine and mineral spirits.
* The use of mink oil or other animal fats will darken leather. Animal fat will turn rancid, causing the stitching and the leather to rot.
To retain its beauty and other qualities, leather requires frequent conditioning to replace the natural lubricants lost during normal use. With proper care, leather can be protected from excessive dryness that causes it to crack, and from moisture that may cause it to swell or mildew.
Because unprotected leather is susceptible to spotting from water and other liquids, a newly purchased leather item should be treated immediately to help prevent this from occurring.
The use of too much oil or wax however can clog the pores, causing the leather to lose its ability to allow air in and moisture out. For the best protection, I recommend Lexol, a light cleaner and conditioner that is highly effective, readily available, and very easy to use.
It cleans without stripping natural oils, conditions without clogging pores, and provides water resistance without sealing the leather surface. It prevents the leather from drying out and cracking, and protects against staining and the discolouration that can occur from contact with water, body oil and other soiling agents.
You can use Lexol for all smooth leather, and even delicate exotics such as eel and snakeskin.
Because it contains no petroleum distillates (e.g. turpentine or mineral spirits), it will not "pull" colour and is safe for even bright and light fashion tones.
Never use preparations made for smooth leather on suede or rough out leather.
Tack cleaning and maintenance
The leather used for tack and saddles is a wonderful product. It can last for many years, with some care and maintenance. It has to be cleaned regularly and occasionally conditioned. This prevents mould, mildew, dry-out, and cracking which can make your tack fail and possibly injure horse or rider. Many barns/stables are damp, musty, and warm, making mould a great threat to leather. Mould is spread by airborne spores that attach themselves to sticky surfaces. It will spread. You must remember that leather is an organic, natural product, and can decompose. Mould feeds on organic residues, such as oil, sweat and saliva on the leather surface. It then breaks down the protein bonds between the fibres thus weakening the leather. If this happens it is irreversible and the item will need to be replaced. Another problem following a mould attack is mildew, which is recognisable by its odour.
Tack needs to be maintained religiously. Synthetic tack can be hosed down or put in the washing machine. It's lighter in weight, easy to care for, and less expensive than leather. Leather needs much more care. Inspect it carefully every time you clean it. Wash it every time you use it. Oil the leather parts several times a year.
Until recently leather, and only leather, was used. But today, just about every piece of horse equipment available in leather is also offered in a synthetic material, including saddles, bridles, halters, and breast collars. But keep in mind that it is considered in poor taste at many horse shows to use synthetic tack.
All tack needs to be stored. You should buy a tack box, with compartments for all the stuff. Or you can keep your tack in the corner of the barn or in the horse trailer. Just be sure the place you choose is out of the elements.
Leather needs to be kept in breathable, warm, dry conditions, and never ever stored in plastic bags.
A tack room should be clean, dry, and have its door closed to avoid mould spores entering from any damp areas of the barn/stable. Avoid, if possible, having windows where entering sunlight can raise the temperature higher than is good for the leather.
If there is any cracking in leather it will only get deeper and deeper, eventually breaking, sooner rather than later. This can endanger both horse and rider. Preventative methods that keep your tack in good condition will avoid this.
Leather care products
There are three categories of leather care products: soaps and cleaners, conditioners, and a combination of the two.
Soaps and cleaners:- Natural oils in new leather and those added to maintain strength and suppleness attract dirt, mould and mildew. Dirt works its way into the leather and abrades the fibres causing it to crack. A leather cleaner will remove both dirt and oils, but it has to be specifically for leather because of its organic composition.
Household cleaners will dry out and damage leather.
The chief purpose of a leather cleaner is to remove the salts, sweat and dirt accumulated from riding. Use neutral pH-balanced leather cleaner. A pH of 7 is considered to be neutral.
Lower than that itís acidic and higher still alkaline, so try to avoid using these levels and stick with neutral.
Saddle soap is one of the oldest and most basic of cleaners, having additives such as glycerine and moisturisers. It is also widely misunderstood and misused. It was originally used to carry oils and conditioning agents into leather during tanning. It was called soap because it was basically a fat liquor and it pushed the tanning agents into the leather. So it is mainly a conditioner, and not a cleaner, though rubbing it onto a saddle will remove surface dirt. So, when using saddle soap or any leather cleaner, make sure you rinse off all the residue and wipe dry before using any conditioner.
Conditioners:- These lubricate the fibres and help prevent cracking and splitting. Recently companies have come up with sophisticated conditioners as alternatives to the old standbys of Neatsfoot oil, mink oil, lanolin and other natural oils that can darken leather each time you use them. Though they are certainly the best for softening and preserving leather if not over-used. Synthetic conditioners such as Lexol are like a mayonnaise-type fat liquor as they bond with the fibres and are absorbed. They do not darken the leather or change its colour.
But Neatsfoot oil, mink oil and lanolin are best for softening and preserving leather if not over used. One thing to remember when conditioning is to not to overdo it.
"Neat" is an archaic name for hoofed animals (i.e. cows, pigs, sheep). Neatsfoot oil is oil rendered from the feet of cattle or hoofed animals. In the slaughterhouse, the feet would be cut off the animal, split, put into a large vat and boiled. The oils that rose to the top would be skimmed off and sold as "Neatsfoot Oil." Today, thanks to the US military, there is no actual Neatsfoot oil in Neatsfoot Oil!
Back in the 1930s the US Army wrote a Military Specification that defined the properties of Neatsfoot Oil. Merchants bidding for government contracts quickly discovered other, less expensive, oils would meet their specification. Today, Neatsfoot Oil is any oil, regardless of where it comes from, that meets this US Government Military Specification. Neatsfoot Oil now is mostly derived from pigs. Lard is pressed and the resulting liquid, which can be supplemented with mineral oil and/or reclaimed motor oil, is sold as "Neatsfoot Oil".
More is not generally better, with conditioning. Think of your leather as a sponge, it can only absorb so much. Should you use too much conditioner and find it getting on your clothes just wash it off with leather cleaner. That will remove the excess. Leather needs to be cleaned more than conditioned.
Combination products:- There are many products on the market for leather care but you canít pick one out and say itís the best for all leathers. The two basic types of leather are vegetable-tanned and chrome-tanned. Vegetable-tanned is used mainly in Western saddles. Chrome-tanned more so for English saddles.
Once mould and mildew spores get into leather fibres, it is almost impossible to
totally destroy them without destroying the leather too. Inhibiting their
growth involves painstaking care using the right products. If mould and mildew invade
your tack room, take these steps to limit its damage:
Remove mouldy leather from the tack room and clean it out doors. You'll avoid filling the air in the tack room with mould spores that will simply contaminate other items within the confined space.
Have a supply of old rags that you're willing to throw away. Begin by wiping off any surface mould with a wet rag, capturing as much of the mould as you can in the process. Then throw the rag away. Don't rinse and re-use your rags. That only spreads the mould spores. Use an old toothbrush for cleaning lines of stitching and crevices.
Leather needs to be stored in breathable, warm, dry conditions, and never put in plastic bags.
A tack room should be clean and dry, with its door closed, to avoid mould spores entering from any damp areas of the building. Try to avoid having windows where entering sunlight can raise the temperature higher than is good for the leather.
Natural oils like Neatsfoot are good for vegetable-tanned leather but for chrome-tanned it is better to use Lexol.