Leather is a durable material used for furniture, clothing, and accessories from gloves to hats to shoes. One of the most important aspects of maintaining leather is conditioning the piece to replace natural oils that are stripped away during daily use, cleaning, or exposure to the elements. Regular conditioning helps the leather look better and last longer.
Learn how to properly condition leather to prevent cracking and to keep it soft and supple.
How Often to Condition Leather
How often you need to condition leather depends on how often it is used and under what conditions. Leather should be conditioned after every thorough cleaning. For leather furniture, conditioning should be done once or twice a year.
Here are some signs that it is time to condition your leather:
- It begins to lighten in color indicating that moisture is being lost from the material.
- It becomes less flexible and feels stiff.
- Small cracks begin to appear on the surface.
Types of Leather Conditioners
There are three main types of commercial leather conditioners: oil, cream, and wax. Commercial oils can be natural or synthetic. Creams are usually lighter in consistency than oils and often contain waterproofing agents. Waxes don't penetrate the leather surface but add protection like waterproofing and are applied after the use of an oil or cream.
While most furniture makers recommend using commercial products to condition leather, homemade conditioners can be made from ingredients like lemon oil and beeswax.
Before You Begin
It's important to know what type and grade of leather you are working with to condition it properly. Leather furniture comes with a care tag to help guide you in cleaning and conditioning. The tag is usually found under a cushion or attached to the bottom of the piece.
- Aniline: Aniline leather is a full-grained hide that has been treated with the chemical aniline. It is prized for the ability to see the pores and imperfections on the hide. Aniline leather is exceptionally soft, but it does not have a protective coating preventing the finish from being stained.
- Semi-aniline: Processed with a thicker protective coating than aniline, semi-aniline is more resistant to stains, more durable, and less expensive than aniline.
- Pigmented or Protected: The natural leather is coated with a polymer that contains dye pigments to create the most durable, scuff-resistant, and least susceptible to stains type of leather for furniture.
Leather furniture can also be created from suede or nubuck. Natural suede leather is created from the soft underside of a split-grain animal hide. It has a nappy finish that is easily stained. Similar to suede in appearance, nubuck uses the top of the animal hide which is finely sanded and buffed to produce the softest, velvety leather finish. While these types of leather do require care and there are specific cleaning steps, any conditioning should be done by a professional in leather care.
Equipment / Tools
- 1 microfiber cloth
- 1 double boiler
- 1 small metal or glass sealable container
- 1 container commercial leather conditioner
- 3 tablespoons beeswax pellets
- 1/4 cup sweet almond oil, coconut oil, or olive oil
- 3 tablespoons shea or cocoa butter
- 30 drops essential lemon oil
Clean the Leather
Use a damp microfiber cloth to wipe down the leather to remove dust, surface soil, and smudges. If the leather is heavily soiled, use a solution of mild leather soap (Castile, saddle soap) and warm water.
Use a Commercial Leather Conditioner
Once the leather is clean, follow the label directions and apply a commercial leather conditioner. Use a lint-free microfiber cloth and start at the top of the leather piece. Work in a grid so that you condition the entire surface.
Buff the surface with a soft cloth to a polished finish.
Make a Homemade Leather Conditioner
Use beeswax and oils to make homemade leather conditioner. Use a small amount on a soft cloth to rub into the leather and buff it to a shine.
In the top of a double boiler, combine
- 3 tablespoons beeswax pellets
- 1/4 cup coconut oil, sweet almond, or olive oil
- 3 Tablespoons shea butter or cocoa butter
Melt the mixture over water on medium heat, stirring constantly, until it is completely melted. Remove the pan from the heat and add 30 drops of lemon essential oil to the mixture, stirring well to combine. Pour the leather conditioner into a container. Let the mixture cool completely before using or sealing the container.
Tips to Keep Leather Home Goods Looking Great
- Clean up spills or stains as soon as they happen.
- Vacuum away dust and grit weekly.
- Keep leather items out of direct sunlight to help prevent fading or cracking.
- Protect leather furniture from sweaty bodies or greasy cosmetic products. Body oils can be absorbed by the leather and cause stains and discoloration.