Best way to care for leather jackets

The leather jacket is an iconic American symbol and has been for quite some time – they can be cool, tough, rough or sophisticated…or all at the same time. Taken care of properly, it can last a lifetime and even be passed down through generations.  The longevity of your leather jacket will depend heavily on a number of factors such as the type of leather it is made of, the craftsmanship and expertise of the maker of the jacket and, of course, how well it is cared for.

To properly care for your leather jacket, the first step is to read the label = know what kind leather you are dealing with and follow the directions provided there.  At times, though, the label may be gone or you may be looking for additional information…that’s where we come in.

It is critical to understand what kind of leather you’re working with. There are several that are commonly used for jackets: analine, nappa, suede and nubuck.

leather analine jacketHow to clean an analine jacket

Analine: This is the most commonly used leather for true leather jackets as it is tough, breathable, beautiful and can last a very long time.  You can see more about Analine here.  Analine is full grain leather that typically has no protectant – this means that it will absorb water or other liquids so that’s always a consideration…be careful with liquids around your analine leather jacket.

It’s important to protect your analine leather jacket from the beginning as it’s difficult to remove stains or discolorations later on.  Upon purchasing your jacket, you should treat it immediately with conditioner and/or water proofing.

Cleaning analine leather is best done with simple distilled water. Not tap water. Tap water has minerals that will get caught in the fabric of the leather so it’s best to used pure distilled water to avoid that.

Analine leather will absorb liquids quickly, so just as you see water soak into it, so will other liquids.  To remove stains, your first effort should be to gently blot anything that is spilled quickly.  If too late, you can use corn flour or talcum powder.  Sprinkle some of the stained area and let it sit for awhile – preferably at least overnight.  This can pull the stain out of the leather.

If you must work a bit harder on the stain, you can use a diluted mixture of leather cleaner and distilled water.  Afterwards, allow ample drying time for the leather – do not use forced heat air but rather let it dry naturally.

How to clean a nappa jacket

Nappa: This is the highest quality of leather you will find for leather jackets and, accordingly, you’ll also usually find the highest price tags. Like Analine, Nappa is a full grain leather but is often harvested from sheep or lamb, the result being a very tough yet soft and supple full grain leather.  From a cleaning perspective, it is the most delicate of the leathers so proceed carefully.

Your first step should be to protect your nappa jacket as soon as you get it by applying a water and stain protectant.  Nappa is easily damaged by water and other stains so protecting it should be a very high priority.  Lanolin based products are recommended for nappa leather and depending on the use, the recommended treatment can be as often as monthly to keep your nappa jacket looking it’s best.

Nappa leather should be cleaned regularly using a gum or rubber based shoe polish that is carefully selected for color match. Do not use wax based cleaners as these can damage the delicate nappa fibers.

You can actually buy a nappa leather care kit.  As you might expect from any kit, this will include the brush, cleaner and conditioner you can use that is specific to the care and ongoing maintenance of nappa leather.

leather suede jacketHow to clean a suede jacket

Suede: We’re all familiar with suede, that oddly napped leather that has the distinctive look and feel.  If you have a suede jacket then you want to proceed with caution and with a bit of a different approach than other leathers.   It’s helpful to understand that suede is the result of splittle layers of leather and then using the layer that was pulled apart as the surface layer – that’s where the naps come from.  Due to how it is harvested, it tends to stain easier than other leathers and trying to clean a stain can actually result in the stain spreading if not done very carefully.  For this reason, it’s not a bad idea to take your suede jacket to a reputable cleaner.  Be sure to  check references from customers that have had suede cleaned there in the past.

Rain and suede are not a good mixture.  If the weather calls for rain, you’re better off choosing a different jacket.  If you are caught in the rain, it’s not out of the question to remove the suede jacket and tough it out – rain can be that bad for your suede jacket.

You can (and should!) treat your suede jacket with a top of the line suede protector but even this won’t make it waterproof and you still should not wear it in the rain. Accidents happen though, and when your suede jacket does get rained on, you’ll want to let it dry naturally in a well ventilated space.  Do not use any forced air or artificial heat as these can harden the leather.

First thing – get a suede brush.  Yep, it’s a thing. A suede brush is for cleaning suede and you should use it as the first step of the suede cleaning process…brush with the grain, not against it.  This will allow you to get a lot of the dust and grime off and, importantly, allow you to get into the fabric of the leather later.

After brushing with the suede brush, you may consider using water.  Proceed with caution here as water and suede can be a bad mixture, causing the stain you are trying to remove to spread instead.  The important thing to remember when using water to clean suede is to clean the entire item, not try to spot clean.  Spot cleaning usually results in spots of discolored leather so it’s recommended that when using water to clean suede, clean the entire jacket.

To test stain removal on a jacket, you can try to treat the area with corn flour and leave it on there for an extended period of time – overnight is good.  The corn flour will often lift the stain out of the suede.  You can then use the trusty suede brush to remove the corn flour.

For more severe stains, you may need to resort to using an over the counter suede cleaner.  Follow the directions closely – they’ll probably recommend you test it in a small area first (inside the sleeve cuff is a good place) and then to use it on the entire jacket.  They are not trying to make you use more so you’ll buy more, you really do need to use it on the entire jacket so the final result will be a jacket of consistent color and shade of suede.

Saphir offers a top of the line product that can purchased here.

How to clean a nubuck jacket

Nubuck: This leather is like suede with the important difference that it is the top layer of split leather whereas suede is the bottom layer. Nubuck jackets are very soft and supple but can stain easily and care should be taken when cleaning them.

Nubuck is created much like suede in that it is the result of splitting layers of leather but whereas suede is taken from the bottom layer, nubuck is taken from the top layer.  Since the top layer of leather is tougher, nubuck jackets tend to last longer than suede jackets.

As with suede, wearing a nubuck jacket in the rain is not advisable as the water will cause spots of discoloration. If your nubuck jacket does get wet, you’ll want to let it dry naturally, with no forced heat source as this can cause the leather to harden.

Cleaning a nubuck jacket is very similar to a suede jacket.  Start with a good brush – typically called a crepe brush which has gentler bristles than you’ll find on a suede brush. Brush with the grain, not against it – this removes much of the dirt and grime and ensures you can get to the underlying fabric of the leather itself.  If further cleaning is needed, do not try to spot clean with water as that will discolor the leather in that spot. Instead, you’ll want to clean the entire jacket.  If the stains persist, use an over the counter cleaner made specifically for nubuck leather, and follow the directions closely.  Mostly like it will recommend cleaning the entire jacket – this is to prevent specific areas from becoming discolored.

We highly recommend the Saphir products for cleaning and protecting your nubuck jacket.  The image to the left is the Saphir Crepe Brush, made especially for cleaning Nubuck leather.