Close up of a black leather jacket

How To Clean Your Leather Jacket – The Complete Guide

A leather jacket is an investment and, quite possibly, one of the most stylish items of clothing which you will own. When you buy a leather jacket, you are purchasing it for life. That means that you should be able to take care of it at home.

The first step in taking care of your stylish leather jacket is cleaning it. Keep the jacket clean, and you give it a long and happy life (which means a stylish and fashionable life for you).

Understanding how to care for your leather jacket is easy. Let’s look at the basics and how to keep your leather fresh and clean forever.

Types Of Leather

Before you start cleaning, you need to know what you are cleaning. If you use the wrong cleaner, you can do more damage than you do good. Knowing about the material you are cleaning will help you to take the best care of your leather jacket.

Suede can be tricky to take care of, and that is because it is crafted from the soft underside of split-grain animal hide. It is a material which is easily stained, so it is essential to keep it clean but to also clean stains quickly. You can apply the same techniques to your suede furniture and accessories as you would to your suede jacket.

brown suede leather texture
Suede leather texture

Nubuck looks and feels like suede, but instead of the soft underside, it utilizes the top of the hide which is then sanded and finely buffed to create the soft and velvety finish. The care of nubuck is very similar to sued, though it can be harder to get stains out.

brown nubuck leather texture
Nubuck leather texture

Aniline is crafted from full-grain leather which has been treated with the chemical aniline. This is one of the most commonly used materials for leather jackets and is the easiest to clean.

Brown aniline texture

Nappa is full-grain leather which is not treated with chemicals. It is incredibly soft, supple, and smooth. It is harder to keep clean due to it being untreated but is one of the most beautiful materials which you can wear.

brown nappa leather texture
Nappa leather texture

Before First Use

Now, when it comes to thinking about cleaning your leather, you may be thinking about the aftercare. Why clean your leather jacket before it is even dirty?

Related: How Long Does Real Leather Last?

Well, a little care before wearing your leather jacket for the first time can go a long way to protecting it against dirt, grime, and stains.

Treating your leather jacket with a leather protector will help to repel water and protect against stains. Spray or massage it onto the leather before you wear it for the first time and then repeat every year.

While you are wearing your leather jacket, there are also steps which you can take to protect the leather from harm.

  • Keeping your pockets clutter-free will stop the leather from stretching and tearing over time.
  • Alcohol can dry out and stain leather. Avoiding beer spills is great, but also look out for hairspray, cologne, and perfumes.
  • Don’t pin or stick anything to the jacket.
  • Have a professional attach any emblems and embroidery or correct stitching.

How To Clean Your Leather Jacket

Leather is not a material that you want to mess around with. Cleaning a leather jacket is relatively easy to do, but doing it wrong can extinguish the beauty of your leather before its time and leave you with a useless piece of clothing.

Related: How To Clean Leather Shoes & Boots: The Complete Guide

With a soft polishing cloth and some soapy water, most stains can be gently removed. Add in some buffing and waxing, and it is actually effortless to clean your leather jacket. Let’s take a closer look.

Leather Jacket Cleaning Basics

It is almost impossible not to get dirt on your leather jacket, unless you never leave the comfort of your own home but, how are you going to show off your coolest piece of attire?

Follow these simple tips to clean most stains from your leather jacket like a pro.

  1. Using a clean and soft sponge, apply soapy water to any dirty or stained areas. This will help to clean off dust, dirt, and other light stains.
  2. The collars and cuffs are usually problem areas, so treat them often with your soft sponge.
  3. For more significant dirt patches, dab the sponge to add more soapy water, and rub in gentle circles.
  4. Try not to add more water to the jacket as necessary as this can do more harm than good.
  5. Once the mark is removed, wipe the area with a dry and clean cloth to remove excess water.
  6. Let the leather dry in a cool, dry place to remove the last of the moisture.
  7. If needed, use a small amount of leather spray, wax, or polish to breathe new life into your jacket.

The key to this cleaning method is not to add too much moisture and not rub too hard. You want to remove the stain gently. If the stain is stubborn, or big, then scroll down to our section for dealing with tough stains.

Spot cleaning a brown leather jacket

Our pro-tip is to use this cleaning method once a month to remove any dust and surface dirt.

Wring out the sponge until it is almost dry before wiping your jacket and make sure to let it dry full before wearing it.

How To Clean The Outside

The outside is on show for everyone to see, so you will want to make sure that your jacket always looks pristine and beautiful. If you wear your jacket a lot, then you can create a weekly cleaning schedule, but monthly will usually suffice for casual use.

Remember, this is not a lengthy chore. Wiping down the outside of your jacket should only take a minute or two, and doing it at night is best as you can let it hang and dry overnight (remember not to add too much moisture).

close up of a black leather jacket with zippers

If you do not want to bring out the sponge and soapy water (especially if your jacket is not too dirty), you can use a damp cloth to wipe off any dust and surface dirt. Check the jacket after cleaning and add some wax or polish if your jacket is looking dull.

How To Clean The Inside

The inside of your leather jacket may not be on show, but it can be offensive to other senses, namely your sense of smell. With sweaty armpits, and other places, odors can often build up and, if you are not careful, you can suffer from nose blindness.

young woman on a motorcycle wearing a t-shirt

Nose blindness is when you become accustomed to a smell and no longer smell it (thank you brain). Not only can bad smells be offensive to other people, but the sweat in the interior of your jacket can break down the lining and then the leather.

Thankfully, cleaning the inside of the jacket is as easy as cleaning the outside of the jacket. Follow these simple steps:

  1. First, turn the jacket fully inside out and hang it on a hanger.
  2. Using the same soapy water and soft sponge which you would use for the outside, clean the inside of the jacket.
  3. Pay particular attention to the cuffs and under the arms.
  4. Let the jacket air-dry in a cool, dry place.
  5. Use a light spritz of air freshener as needed to add a pleasant scent to the jacket.

Again, like cleaning the outside of the jacket, this should only take you a minute or two. If you need to deal with tough stains, scroll down to our tough stain section or check out how to tackle the lining in more detail.

How To Clean A Leather Jacket Lining

Cleaning the leather on the exterior of your jacket is one thing but cleaning the lining is another completely. Being made of a different material, you have to attack the process of cleaning it in an entirely different way.

Cleaning the lining of your jacket is inexpensive and will not take up too much of your time; it is a task which you can definitely complete at home and by yourself.

When stains (or smells) begin to build up, a little action can keep them at bay. Follow our step-by-step process to keep your jacket lining as clean as on the day you bought it.

  1. Use a mix of warm water with a small amount of mild detergent. Dish detergent will work, but laundry detergent specifically designed for delicate fabrics will work better.
  2. Turn the jacket inside out and hang the jacket on a hanger.
  3. Use a soft cloth.
  4. Dip the cloth in the detergent water and wring out so that the cloth is only slightly damp.
  5. Wipe the jacket with the cloth, focusing on the problem areas; such as the cuffs, armpits, and collars; anywhere where dirt and sweat are likely to accumulate.
  6. Once the jacket has been cleaned all over, soak the cloth in warm water, and wring out thoroughly.
  7. Wipe the jacket with the damp cloth to remove the last of the soap.
  8. Let the jacket hang and dry in a cool, dry place.
  9. Turn the jacket back the right way and wear as usual.

How To Wash Off Tough Stains

Keeping your leather jacket clean is easy, but, somewhere down the line, you are going to get a tough stain. It could be a stain you did not see at first, a large dollop of ketchup at a BBQ, or a bird dropping from above. Tough stains are precisely that: tough.

So what can you do about them?

The quicker you can get to a stain, the better, but that is not always possible.

Follow our tips no matter how long the stain has been there, and see results. If the stain is too stubborn to come out, then you may have to take it to a professional.

Liquid Stains

The fresher the stains, the easier they are to remove. Use a mixture of soap and water, and a soft, clean sponge. Wipe in a circular motion with the sponge and then dab with a dry cloth. Repeat the method, alternating between the sponge and cloth until the stain is (hopefully) removed.

Ink

There are few stains more troublesome than ink, and they are a pretty common experience. Saddle soap was created to remove tough stains from saddles, and often works with ink. Use it sparingly to remove tough stains. If that does not work, then professional consultation is needed.

Oils & Grease

Oil and grease are pretty standard on leather jackets. You can use baby powder or cornstarch to dry out the stain before cleaning. Simply sprinkle some on the stain, let it absorb, and brush it off. Then, use soapy water to clean any residue.

Hand Washing Your Leather Jacket

You will mostly hand wash your jacket when it comes time to clean it, and you will use a combination of the above methods, depending on what needs to be cleaned and how frequently you are washing your leather jacket.

However, there will come a time when you need to fully hand wash your leather jacket, and you should plan to do this regularly. Every six months to a year should suffice. You need to be careful when you are hand washing your jacket as the jacket will be fully submerged.

Here are our simple steps for full hand washing.

  1. Fill a large sink or container with soapy water. Use detergent sparingly, a little goes a long way when you are cleaning leather. Delicate detergent is better than regular.
  2. Submerge the entire jacket in the soapy water, getting everything wet.
  3. Squeeze the solution through the jacket so that it soaks into everything, especially the lining.
  4. Let the jacket soak for ten minutes.
  5. If there are stains on the jacket, use a soft-bristled brush to attack them.
  6. Remove the jacket from the solution and squeeze (don’t wring) out the soapy water.
  7. Fill your sink or container with fresh, clean water, removing all of the soap from your container.
  8. Submerge the jacket in the clean water to remove all of the soapy solution.
  9. Squeeze out the water again, being as gentle as possible.
  10. Hang the jacket to dry, using a wooden or padded hanger so that you do not misshape the jacket.
  11. Let the jacket hang for up to three days; until the jacket is completely dry.
  12. Use a leather conditioner once the jacket is dry to maintain the softness and suppleness.
  13. Wear the jacket like the elegant and stylish person that you are.
An instructional video from “Leather-Clean” for hand washing leather jackets.

Machine Washing Your Leather Jacket

I should warn you, washing your leather jacket in a washing machine can be a bit of a gamble. Hand washing is definitely the way to go, as you can be extremely gentle when you are washing it. Washing machines do not take the same care.

Saying that, if all else fails, then a washing machine may be your only option. To keep your jacket safe and get the most out of your appliance, follow out simple tips.

  • Wash the jacket inside out, doing up any zippers and buttons, if you can.
  • Check the instructions on the tag of your leather jacket and follow them.
  • Place the jacket in a laundry bag to further protect it.
  • Wash the jacket by itself.
  • Use a delicate or gentle cycle, cold temperature, and small load settings.
  • Do not use the spin cycle if possible.
  • Use detergent sparingly.
  • Once the jacket has been through the cycle, hang the jacket to dry for two or three days.

How To Remove Mold and Mildew From A Leather Jacket

If you have not been wearing your jacket for a long time, then mold and mildew can be a danger. Even if you have been wearing the jacket, mold and mildew can still appear. Regular cleaning and airing out of your jacket can keep the two at bay but what do you do if mold and mildew appear?

The first thing to do is to hang your jacket outside. If you have mold and mildew, you do not want the spores inside of your home. Clean the jacket outside so that the spores are released outside and are not a danger.

Use a scrub brush to visibly remove any signs of mold and mildew from your leather jacket. Mix a cup of rubbing alcohol or white vinegar with a cup of water to create a mold-busting solution (be sure to spot test the mixture on your jacket before applying it to a larger area; a hidden area is recommended). Use a cloth to rub the mixture onto the patches of mold and mildew, and allow the areas to dry completely.

If any stains are remaining, use soapy water and a clean sponge to clean the areas, once more letting the jacket fully dry before wearing it.

How To Treat and Condition Your Leather Jacket

Once you have cleaned a jacket, it is good practice to condition it too, especially after a full clean. This will help to keep the leather soft and supple and prevent it from drying out. With newer jackets, you do not have to do this as frequently, but vintage jackets will benefit from regular conditioning.

Use a leather conditioner, suited for your type of leather, and always clean the jacket (and let it dry) before applying conditioner. There is nothing extra which you can do apart from following the instructions supplied with the conditioner.

Our pro tip is to apply the conditioner first to an inconspicuous area just in case the solution has a ruction with the leather.

A step-by-step guide for conditioning your leather jacket (by Cal Rider).

How To Store Your Leather Jacket

If you are not going to be wearing your jacket for some time, then it is vital to store the jacket correctly so that it does not get damaged. Correctly storing the jacket keeps it out of direct heat, avoids it getting dirty, and stops mold and mildew from appearing.

The jacket should be hung on a broad hanger so that the jacket does not become misshapen. You should also store it in a cool, dry place so that mold and mildew do not have a chance to grow. Keeping the jacket out of direct sunlight will protect the leather from discoloration.

If you are not going to be wearing the jacket for a month or more, then we would also recommend storing the jacket in a garment bag. A breathable bag will protect the jacket and limit the appearance of odors.

Always ensure that your jacket is thoroughly dry before storing it, and your jacket will live a long and healthy life.

All you need to know about storing your leather jacket.

Can You Dry Clean Leather Jackets?

If you have been paying attention to our cleaning advice, then you know that limiting the moisture on your jacket can be a good thing, so it would make sense that dry cleaning would be beneficial to your leather jacket, right? Well, in all of our examples, water is always used. With dry cleaning, you are cleaning without water. This can actually be detrimental to the condition of your leather.

Leather needs hydration during cleaning, or the leather can dry out and lose its suppleness, cracking over time. Dry cleaners also often use chemicals in the dry-cleaning process, which can damage leather.

If you need professional help, we recommend that you avoid dry cleaners entirely and look for someone who specializes in cleaning leather.



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Andrea

Andrea is passionate about sustainable living and co-founder of DM.

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