When cared for properly, a leather item can last for decades. Synthetic and plant-based leathers aren’t as resilient, but they can also be kept looking fresh for a number of years with the right treatment.
So, what’s the most suitable way to clean dirty leather? Can you put it in the washing machine? Read on to find out.
Can You Put Leather in the Washing Machine?
You can’t put leather of any type in the washing machine, as it’s affected by prolonged water exposure.
Whereas most clothes are made from woven fabric (cotton, polyester, etc.), leather is made from animal hide. As such, it reacts differently to water, so it isn’t suitable for machine washing.
Real leather (and to a lesser extent, plant-based leather) needs oil to remain supple. While it might not be as obvious with something like suede, it’s still true for any animal hide-based product.
When leather gets wet, the natural oils in it bind to water molecules. As the water evaporates, it draws the oil out of the leather. The result is that the leather itself dries out and goes brittle, which leads to cracking.
Depending on the extent of the damage, it’s possible to fix water-damaged leather. However, a pair of leather shoes that have gone through the washing machine will likely be beyond saving because it’s simply too much water exposure.
What Is the Best Way to Wash Leather?
The steps below focus on real, finished leather. They’re not suitable for suede or synthetic and plant-based leathers.
However, the latter products can easily be cleaned with a small amount of soap and water, so it shouldn’t take much effort to do so.
To clean actual leather – whether it’s shoes, jackets, or something else – you’ll need:
- Leather cleaner (such as Autoglym Leather Cleaner)
- Leather conditioner (such as Leather Honey Conditioner)
- Several clean cloths
Note, you can use warm water and washing up liquid to clean leather, but it’s not ideal.
Any kind of grease-removing cleaner will affect leather, but it’s okay to use a small amount if you need to remove a mark and don’t have any specialist products.
It’s not really necessary to go over the steps for how to clean leather, as they’re fairly simple.
If you buy a leather cleaner, follow the instructions on the product, which are usually as simple as spray on and wipe off.
After cleaning leather (or after it gets wet and then dries), make sure you use some leather conditioner. It’s designed to replace any lost oil, which helps to keep the leather supple.
For items where you might use polish, such as shoes or bike leathers, most solid polishes will contain wax or some other nourishing product.
Leather requires a bit more care than fabric-based items. While all cleaning must be done by hand, it can actually be quite a relaxing job.
Considering leather items are often quite expensive, you’ll want to provide the best care possible to get your money’s worth out of your purchase!
Jacob is a freelance writer based in Wales, where he lives with his partner and two dogs. All his work is fuelled by extensive research and buckets of coffee.