How to Clean a Leather Jacket

If you’ve ever gotten caught in a rain shower wearing your favorite leather jacket, you know all too well how leather reacts when it gets wet. It’s a hide, after all, and most leather clothing is built to last, so a few splashes or a light rain usually bead up instantly. But a sopping downpour is a different problem. Soaked leather becomes brittle and can tear easily. Because of this, cleaning a leather jacket at home can be risky and must be done with care.

“Whether or not you’ve spent a lot of money on your leather jacket, it’s best to leave major cleanings to a leather care professional,” suggests Carolyn Forte, executive director of the Good Housekeeping Institute Home Care and Cleaning Laboratory. “Professional cleaners who specialize in leather know how to clean both the leather case and the fabric lining without damaging either.” Not all dry cleaners treat leather, so make sure the one you choose does it successfully does. Check online reviews and ask friends and neighbors for the names of reputable leather conditioners they’ve used.

What you can do at home is give your jacket a makeover to remove surface dirt and grime — especially noticeable on light-colored leather — and quickly clean problem areas. Follow these leather cleaning tips and be careful with leather cleaning after consulting the care label for specific recommendations.

As with any at-home method, test in a hidden spot (like in a pocket, cuff, or the bottom of your lapel) to ensure your cleaning products and technique won’t damage the leather. Some leathers lose color easily, especially when wet. “One of the biggest mistakes people make when cleaning leather clothing is getting it too wet and then rubbing the material too hard,” says Forte. If you see any bleeding or fading, stop immediately and take your leather jacket to a professional.

Can I wash my leather jacket in the washing machine?

We don’t recommend it. You should never completely submerge a leather jacket in water as this – along with typical detergents – will strip away the natural oils in the skin. Also, all that tumbling and moving of the machine can ruin the structure of the jacket. If the inner lining needs a refresh, take it to a professional who can clean it without affecting the quality and health of the leather exterior.

How to hand clean the outside of a leather jacket

Leather can dry out easily, which can lead to irreparable tears, so you should never fully immerse it in water, which can remove the natural oils. Instead, clean surfaces and stains at home with these simple steps.

  1. Apply leather cleaner to a sponge or cloth and press to create a lather. (Forte recommends this Furniture Clinic leather care kit, which also includes a barrier cream to help prevent future stains.) Nothing handy? Fill a small bowl with warm water and, with the water running, mix in a drop or two of mild dish soap or neutral soap, then dip in the corner of a clean, soft cloth.
  2. Gently rub the foam sponge (or soapy cloth) over the leather in a circular motion to loosen the dirt from the surface.
  3. Gently wipe off the excess cleaner with a damp, well-wrung cloth and repeat these steps as needed, being careful not to rub too hard. Rotate the sponge or cloth and rinse while it picks up dirt to prevent dirt from redepositing onto the leather.
  4. Pat the leather dry with a clean towel and then allow to air dry completely. Place the leather jacket on a padded or wooden hanger to avoid dents in the shoulder area and always hang it away from sunlight and heat as this can cause the leather to dry out and crack.
  5. After drying, apply a leather conditioner to restore moisture and suppleness.
leather care set
FurnitureClinic leather care set
Credit: Furniture Clinic
Free & clear dish soap
Free and clear seventh generation dishwashing detergent
Credit: Seventh Generation
Microfiber cloth for leather
FurnitureClinic microfiber cloth for leather
Credit: Furniture Clinic
Wooden hangers
TOPIA HANGER Wooden clothes hanger
Photo credit: Topia Hanger

How to clean the inside or lining of a leather jacket

  1. Fill a small bowl with warm water and mix in a drop or two of mild dish soap or neutral soap, and then dip it in the corner of a clean, soft cloth.
  2. Wipe or blot the inside with the clothPay special attention to the arm area.
  3. Remove excess soap by dipping a clean, soft cloth in water onlyand then wipe the inside again.
  4. Hang the jacket on a hanger in a well-ventilated area to air dry.

    How do I protect my leather jacket from stains?

    It’s a good idea to regularly apply a leather protection product that will repel or at least help remove water droplets, dirt and stains more easily. Apply generously when your jacket is new and ideally before wearing it for the first time. Reapply when you or a professional clean the leather jacket and whenever you notice that water has stopped beading and is beading easily.

    How do I remove oil stains from a leather jacket?

    The goal here is speed, so act quickly to prevent as much oil from being absorbed into the leather as possible.

    1. Dab on as much fresh oil if possible with an absorbent cloth.
    2. For any remaining stains, sprinkle an absorbent powder, such as baking soda or cornstarch, apply generously to the stain and gently pat in with a cloth.
    3. Let it rest for a few hours Then use a dry, soft towel to gently wipe off the powder.
    4. Spot clean the area using the steps aboveor take it to a professional who can treat the oil stain with professional cleaners.

    Preview How to hand wash clothes in your sink

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