Leather gloves can range from study, thick work gloves to sports gloves to help improve your performance to stylish leather accessories to match your ensemble. Eventually, all types of gloves get dirty from perspiration and contact with surfaces and will need to be cleaned. Leather can be damaged by excessive contact with water, so cleaning must be done carefully with special soap designed to protect the leather. Most important, the final stage of cleaning is to condition the leather so it will remain supple and resistant to water and dirt.
Most types of smooth leather (known as analine and nappa leather) will respond well to the cleaning process described below. But suede and nubuck leather, both of which have a rough, nappy finish, require a different method for cleaning.
Equipment / Tools
- Microfiber cloths
- Small bowl or mixing cup
- Absorbent towels
- Soft-bristled brush
- Saddle or Castile soap
- Distilled white vinegar
- Leather conditioner
- Isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol
- Cotton swabs
- Baking soda
|Detergent||Saddle soap or Castile soap|
|Cycle Type||Hand-wash only|
|Drying Cycle||Air-dry only|
|Special Treatments||Use leather conditioner after washing|
|How Often to Clean||At least once a year; or when visibly soiled|
How to Clean Leather Gloves
Pretreat Heavy Soil
In a small bowl or measuring cup, stir together equal amounts of warm water and distilled white vinegar. Dampen a microfiber cloth with the mixture and gently wipe the stained areas. Keep moving to a clean area of the cloth as the soil is transferred.
If the gloves have mud splatters, allow the mud to dry before attempting to clean it away. Use a soft-bristled brush to brush it away and then treat any remaining stains.
Remove Ink Stains
To remove ink stains from leather, dip a cotton swab in isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol. Start at one end of the ink stain and gently rub it with the swab. Do not scrub because that can damage the leather. As the ink is transferred, throw away the swab and use a fresh one. Work slowly to prevent the ink stain from spreading.
Prepare a Cleaning Solution
In a small bowl, create a sudsy solution of warm water and a mild liquid soap, such as Castile or saddle soap. If you are using a bar or gel soap in a tin, wet a microfiber cloth and rub it across the bar to create a lather on the cloth.
Clean the Exterior of the Gloves
Lay the gloves flat on an absorbent towel. Use the soapy cloth to wipe away grime from the gloves starting at the wrist and working toward each fingertip. Be sure to clean well between each finger. Do not saturate the leather, but focus on cleaning the surface.
Rinse the cloth often as the soil is transferred and reapply soap as needed. Turn the gloves over and repeat on the other side.
Clean the Interior of the Gloves
If possible, turn the gloves inside out and repeat the cleaning steps. If the gloves are lined in faux fur or shearling, wipe down the interior with a cloth dampened with a 50:50 mixture of distilled white vinegar and water to help control bacteria and odor.
Rinse the Gloves
Use a clean, damp microfiber cloth to "rinse" the gloves on both sides. Wipe away any sudsy residue paying careful attention to the seams and areas between the fingers. Rinse the cloth and wring well to prevent excess moisture as you work.
Air-Dry the Gloves
Place the gloves, right side out, on a clean, absorbent towel to air-dry. Never place leather gloves in direct sunlight or near a heat source to speed drying. Check on them after an hour and put them on your hands to help shape and stretch the leather. If the inside feels exceptionally damp, turn them inside out. Wait another hour, turn them right side out, and put them on again to help them dry smoothly. Most gloves dry completely in less than eight hours.
Condition the Leather
To keep the leather soft and supple, use a commercial leather conditioner on the exterior of the gloves once they are completely dry. Follow the application instructions on the label.
What Are the Different Types of Leather Gloves?
Leather gloves are fabricated from the skins of various hooved animals. Most gloves use cattle skin, but gloves made of pigskin, goatskin, sheepskin, and deerskin are also readily available. Whatever type of skin is used, gloves can be made in different finishes, weights, and qualities of leather:
- Aniline: Aniline leather is full-grain leather that has been treated with the chemical aniline. This is the most common type of leather used for winter, work, and sports gloves.
- Nappa: The highest grade leather, Nappa leather is very soft, and supple; it is usually made from full-grain sheep or lamb hide.
Two other types of leather have rough, nappy finishes that must be cleaned using special techniques:
- Suede: Natural suede leather is created from the soft underside of a split-grain animal hide. It has a nappy finish that is easily stained.
- Nubuck: 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.
Treating Stains on Leather Gloves
Most stains on leather gloves come off fairly easily by rubbing with a mixture of water and white vinegar. With ink and other oily stains, rubbing with a cloth moistened with rubbing alcohol usually does the trick.
Leather Glove Care and Repair
If your dress gloves have a ripped seam, take them to a shoe repair shop for repairs. Most attempts at home repair are not very successful and can cause additional damage to fine leather. For utilitarian work gloves where appearance isn't important, a variety of leather-repair kits are available that provide the materials for applying self-adhesive patching material to holes, or for restitching torn seams.
Storing Leather Gloves
When not in use, leather gloves should be completely dry before storing. Place them in a breathable cotton bag to protect them from dust but with enough air circulation to prevent mildew from forming. Storage in a plastic bin can cause white leather gloves to yellow. It's a good idea to condition your leather gloves before storing them for a long period.
How Often to Clean Leather Gloves
Even leather dress gloves that see infrequent use should be cleaned and conditioned once or twice a year to keep the leather supple. It's a good idea to clean and condition winter gloves just before putting them away for seasonal storage.
Gloves that see frequent use should be thoroughly cleaned whenever they become visibly soiled, but make sure they get this treatment only when necessary, as leather doesn't like to be subjected to water too often. Leather work gloves can be damp-wiped after every use, using a vinegar/water solution, but should be fully cleaned and conditioned every couple of months.
Tips for Cleaning Leather Gloves
- To help control odor in fur-lined gloves between cleanings, clip the gloves to a clothes hanger with the fingers down. Sprinkle the inside of the gloves with dry baking soda and allow them to hang for 24 hours. Turn the gloves inside out and brush out the baking soda before wearing them again.
- While your gloves are drying, periodically put them on your hands to stretch the leather and ensure they don't shrink.
- Allow damp gloves to dry slowly, as this will prevent the leather from stiffening and cracking. Never dry wet gloves with a blow-dryer or put them on a radiator or other heat source to dry.
- Cleaning your gloves may be easier if you wear one glove while wiping it down with the other hand using a water/saddle soap solution.
Should I waterproof my leather gloves?
Waterproofing is usually not necessary if you regularly condition the leather. Occasional exposure to rain or snow will not harm them. But if your gloves are frequently exposed to wet conditions, you can waterproof them with a product such as Nikwax, formulated to keep leather waterproof.
How can I rejuvenate an old pair of leather gloves?
Old gloves that haven't been worn in a long time can get dry and stiff. Rubbing them thoroughly with lanolin or leather conditioner while wearing the gloves will soften them and help them reform to your hands. Once they are supple again, you can turn them inside out to clean the insides.
How do I get oil stains out of leather gloves?
Blot up as much of the oil as you can with dry paper towels. Then, sprinkle baby powder or cornstarch on the stained area and let the gloves sit overnight. The powder will absorb more oil and can be brushed off. Follow this by cleaning the gloves as usual.