Leather jackets are timelessly stylish and can last for decades, but they require proper care and maintenance to keep them looking their best. Like your own skin, leather needs to be hydrated and cleaned on a regular basis in order to maximize its beauty and longevity — but fortunately, not as often as your face.
For this article we visited the most celebrated leather jacket company in the United States, Schott NYC, and met with the founder’s great grandson Jason Schott. He’s going to walk you through absolutely everything you need to know about caring for your jacket to keep it looking soft, supple, and free of dirt and stains. From the tools you’ll need to the techniques for removing grime and restoring the leather’s natural oils, we’ve got you covered.
So, grab your leather jacket, and let’s get started!
How to Clean a Leather Jacket
Cleaning a leather jacket is a simple process that involves removing dirt and grime. We will take you through the step-by-step process of cleaning your leather jacket. Whether you’re looking to freshen up an old one or simply want to keep your current one in tip-top shape, read on to find out how to properly clean your leather jacket.
What You’ll Need
- Dry, clean and soft-bristle brush
- Saddle Soap if there’s a really tough stain
- Baby Powder if there’s an oil stain
- Warm water
It’s important to note that you probably don’t really need to clean your jacket if it’s just been subjected to regular city wear. But if it’s had a lot of fun outdoors, there’s probably at least some dirt caked into the seams, which should be worked out if you want to keep the stitching from deteriorating.
“If you’re worried about the amount of dirt on your jacket, brush down the seams a bit with the brush,” says Schott. “Use a bit of saddle soap with some warm water. That’ll help lift that out. If you happen to get an oil stain on your jacket we use baby powder. It’s very simple, but very liberally throwing baby powder on there is gonna help to bring any oil stain out of the leather.”
[Further reading: How Schott Became the Most Iconic Leather Jacket Brand]
Steps for Cleaning a Leather Jacket
Here are the steps for cleaning any leather jacket:
- First, remove any dust or debris by gently brushing the jacket with a soft-bristled brush.
- Mix a small amount of mild detergent, such as a leather cleaner or a mild, PH-balanced soap, with warm water in a bowl. Dip a clean, soft cloth into the mixture and wring it out so it is damp, but not saturated.
- Gently clean the jacket with the damp cloth, paying special attention to any areas that are particularly dirty or stained. Avoid using too much water and avoid saturating the leather.
- Once you’ve cleaned the jacket, wipe it down with a clean, dry cloth to remove any remaining soap or water.
- Allow the jacket to air dry, at room temperature, away from direct heat or sunlight.
It is best to avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive materials when cleaning a leather jacket.
For your all-in-one leather care needs, this kit provides waterproofing wax, moisturizing conditioner, and saddle soap for the extra tough stains.
Although we’re cleaning boot leather, the steps in the video above for using Saddle Soap apply to jackets as well.
How To Clean Leather Jacket With Saddle Soap
If there are stubborn stains that need some help leaving your leather, you will need a few supplies:
- damp cloth
- small amount of Saddle soap
- dry cloth, ideally a lint-free microfiber
First, use the damp cloth to gently wipe down the entire jacket to remove any dirt or debris.
Next, rub the wet cloth into the saddle soap until it foams slightly and you can work a lather into the leather in small, circular motions.
Once you have worked the soap into the leather, use the dry cloth to wipe off any excess soap and buff the leather to a shine with the brush. Dry your jacket completely before wearing it.
[Want more detail? How to Use Saddle Soap to Clean Leather]
How To Remove An Oil Stain On A Leather Jacket
To remove an oil stain from a leather jacket, you can try the following steps:
- Blot the stain with a clean, white cloth to remove as much of the excess oil as possible.
- Sprinkle a generous amount of baby powder on top of the stain, making sure to cover it completely.
- Let the powder sit on the stain for at least an hour, or overnight if possible.
- Use a clean, dry cloth to brush off the powder, being careful not to rub the stain.
- If the stain is still visible, repeat steps 2-4.
- Once the stain is removed, wipe the area with a damp cloth to remove any remaining powder.
Is the stain old? Not coming out? Then be sure to use plenty of conditioner on it in the next step and the color of your jacket will be more uniform.
Best Products For Conditioning Leather Jackets
What you use can depend on how elaborate you want to get. Most guys should just grab a regular conditioner and use that, but Schott likes to apply some Carnauba wax before conditioning so that you’re both increasing the water resistance and longevity of the leather. They recommend Otter Wax’s Leather Salve, though you can buy pure Carnauba wax on Amazon if you’re comfortable with the rigamarole of heating and softening this very hard wax. Otter Wax’s is softer and easier to work with from the get go because it’s blended with shea and some other ingredients.
But again, it’s fine if you just want to clean it and apply conditioner to keep things simpler.
Conditioning Products We Recommend:
- Lexol leather conditioner: Best known for its use on car seats, this is the cheapest, but perfectly usable.
- Otter Wax’s Leather Oil: With added safflower and Vitamin E, this is a high end product coveted across the industry.
- Neatsfoot oil: Made from the rendered shin and feet bones of cattle, this all natural product is best known for saddlery but is a great lightweight conditioner.
- Bickmore’s Bick 4: This lightweight conditioner doesn’t moisturize as deeply as some, but it’s perfect if you want to preserve the color of your jacket.
How to Condition Your Leather Jacket
The main event is… pretty simple. Once you’ve given your jacket a clean (if it even needs it), follow these steps.
- Before applying the conditioner to the entire jacket, test it on a small, inconspicuous area to ensure it doesn’t cause any discoloration or damage.
- Once you’ve confirmed that the conditioner is safe to use, apply it evenly to the entire surface of the jacket using a soft cloth or sponge. Use a generous amount of oil; the leather will soak it up.
- Be sure to work it into all the creases and seams, which accrue a lot of wear.
- Allow the conditioner to sit on the leather for around 10-15 minutes before wiping off any excess.
- Use a soft cloth or brush to buff the leather, which will help to bring out the natural shine and improve the overall appearance.
Why Should You Condition a Leather Jacket?
- Hydrated leather ensures longevity
- Lowers risk of leather cracking and tearing
- Increases water and stain resistance
- Renews appearance
“If you think about your skin and you think about that daily regimen everyone has or should have to moisturize your skin, leather needs to be moisturized as well,” says Schott. “You need to restore those natural oils. When it’s tanned, the leather starts with a good amount of those oils, waxes, and resins that are in there to make it last, but you do want to restore that stuff.”
Conditioning a leather jacket is important for several reasons:
- Leather is a natural material that can dry out over time, causing it to become brittle and crack. Conditioning helps to moisturize the leather and keep it supple.
- It also helps to protect the leather from damage caused by exposure to rain, sunlight, and other elements.
- Next, conditioners can also help to restore the color and shine of the leather, making it look like new again.
- Regular conditioning also helps to prevent stains, dust, and dirt from getting embedded into the leather, making it easier to clean and maintain.
- Last but probably most important, it helps to extend the life of the jacket by keeping it in good condition.
It is important to use a leather conditioner that is specifically formulated for use on leather jackets, as some conditioners can be too harsh and damage the leather.
Will Conditioning Darken My Leather Jacket?
You’ll notice after conditioning that the leather will be darker.
Don’t worry: within days and weeks of wear, the jacket will lighten back up. It won’t go right back to the “worn in” color because that’s the color of worn out leather, but you’ll regain the leather’s highs and lows and it’ll develop a deeper, healthier patina as it ages.
We recommend Bick 4 if color change is a real concern for you, but the other conditioners we suggested won’t darken it to a comical degree, as long as they are applied correctly and in the recommended amount. Basically, just don’t leave a pool of conditioner sitting on the jacket overnight.
It’s recommended to test the conditioner on a small, inconspicuous area of the jacket before applying it to the rest of it. By doing this, you can check if the jacket will change the color.
“It won’t go back quite to the color that it was before you conditioned it because, the fact is, you’ve really moisturized it and that’s gonna make the leather a little bit darker,” says Schott. “But it will continue to develop patina and it will continue to change the way it looks as it ages. It’s going to be more durable. It’s gonna stand up better against the rain in the future, and it’s going to be less prone to tears. And that’s really the main reason why we’re doing this!”
How Often Should You Condition a Leather Jacket?
It depends on several factors, such as the type of leather and how often the jacket is worn. However, as a general rule, it is recommended to condition a leather jacket every year or two, or whenever the leather starts to feel dry or stiff.
If you live in a dry climate or if you wear your jacket frequently, you may need to condition it more frequently, such as every six months. If you live in a humid climate or you don’t wear your jacket very often, you may be able to condition it every few years.
If your jacket is cracking, looking dry, or losing its shine, it is a good indication that it needs to be conditioned.
It’s important to note that conditioning is not a replacement for cleaning. If the jacket is visibly dirty, it is recommended to clean it before conditioning.
A brand with over 100 years of experience, Schott NYC make America's most beloved leather jackets — and this Cafe Racer will hold up for decades.
What if You Get Your Leather Jacket Wet?
If your leather jacket gets wet, it is best to take swift action. Here are some steps you can take:
- Wipe off any excess water with a clean, dry cloth.
- Allow the jacket to dry naturally, away from direct heat sources such as radiators or sunny windows, as this can cause the leather to crack or shrink.
- Once the jacket is dry, apply a leather conditioner to restore the leather’s natural oils and keep it supple.
- Keep in mind that a wet leather jacket will have a darker color than a dry one and will return to its original color as it dries.
“If you get caught in the rain, you don’t want to put your jacket in the heat to let it dry,” Schott warns. “It needs to dry at room temperature. Don’t put any kind of plastic on it or anything. Just allow it to dry. And then you definitely should go for some kind of leather oil or something to help restore those natural oils. Got it?”
Now that your jacket is conditioned and you know how to care for it, it’s also important to store it properly. Keep it away from extreme heat or moisture, and it can be a good idea to hang it on a padded hanger. Remember, leather molds to the body, and also hangers, so you may want to avoid any sharp edges when hanging your jacket up for the season.
There you have it: absolutely everything you need to know about caring for your leather jacket! Remember, if you mostly wear it around the city, you probably don’t have to clean and condition it for a few years — but no matter how hard it’s worn, your jacket will eventually need some care. Treat it right, and you can wear it on your deathbed!
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