Many antiques dealers, collectors, and even publications targeting people who love everything old, tout the wonders of Howard Leather Conditioner. But if you’re like most folks, you want to know exactly how it works and whether it’s worth the money before plunking down a pretty penny on an 8 oz. bottle (about $1.59 an ounce when purchased for this review).
If you go by the description on the bottle, this product should restore and revive smooth leather goods such as couches, shoes, purses, tack, saddles, and auto interiors as it “penetrates, preserves and protects.” After testing it on leather furniture and both newer and older handbags, here’s what you need to know.
Should You Use a Product Like This on Antiques and Collectibles?
It's always wise to think twice before doing any cleaning or restoration to an antique or collectible. Thoroughly research whether or not changing the condition in any way or removing patina from a piece will ruin the item or hurt the value. For more information on this topic, consider reading these articles before you begin a leather cleaning project:
With that said, when leather cleaning is appropriate, this is an excellent product to use to tackle the job. Follow the use suggestions below and you should be fine in most instances.
Does It Clean, Condition and Protect?
As a creamy concoction made of naval orange oil, mild soap, lanolin, aloe vera, coconut oil, carnauba wax and beeswax, Howard Leather Conditioner is meant to clean as well as condition using some of the same ingredients you might find in your favorite bath and body products.
Leather is skin, after all, so this shouldn't be too surprising. What may surprise you though, is how well it actually works.
When tested on several pieces of brown leather furniture, it indeed conditioned the dry, cracked areas on cushions that had seen their fair share of use. It also cleaned far more dirt than expected from these pieces.
They looked great immediately after being wiped down with this product. A few days later some of the cracking reemerged as the cream dried up, just as expected. But the good news is that the cushions continued to look far better than the original condition months later, so it indeed protected them just as promised.
The next test case was a newer purse that had been subjected to another cleaning product previously. That prior cleaning foray ended in disappointment when the cleaner not only removed the grime from the bag, but the stain on the leather as well. The flap was now clean, but left with a different color than the rest of the handbag. When the Howard product was applied to the remainder of the bag, none of the color was removed. It also conditioned the leather nicely.
Using the Howard cream to clean and condition an early 1900s baby alligator handbag, also worked very well. All surface grime was removed without damaging the hide or changing the color. The bag was left feeling more subtle than prior to applying the conditioner even after it was left to dry for several weeks.
How to Use It
The directions for use on the bottle are as follows:
“Apply cream with a soft cloth, massaging into the leather.
Allow to penetrate before buffing with a clean, soft cloth. Test on an inconspicuous spot for color-fastness. Use sparingly, but often.”
To avoid a situation involving color removal that may hurt an object's value, as with the handbag mentioned above, it is a good idea to test this product as suggested. Make sure you’re comfortable with the result before cleaning the entire leather surface by trying it in an out of the way area. If only surface dirt is removed and you like the way the leather looks as the oils in the cream are absorbed over the following few days, you should be fine cleaning the entire surface with the product.
One word of warning is to shake the bottle well prior to applying the cream directly on to your leather surfaces. The oils in the cream tend to separate when it sits, and that first squirt will result in an unsightly oil stain if you don’t shake well.
The good news is that the stain will eventually fade as the leather absorbs the oil, but it’s better to avoid this in the first place. You’ll also want to work on small areas for the same reason. If you apply the cream and don’t rub it in fairly quickly, you’ll see a bit of an oil stain that will eventually fade away.
You can also try putting the cream on your cloth, and then rubbing it on the leather which avoids the temporary oil staining for the most part. But, you’ll use far more product to clean the same surface area when applying it in this way. If economy is important to you, try applying it to the leather in small areas and quickly rub it in for best results.
You’ll also want to be aware that it’s not for use on suede, nubuck or aniline leather products, as noted on the product label. Stick to smooth leather when using this product.
Is It Worth the Money?
There’s no doubt that Howard Leather Conditioner is an expensive product, but it does work. As they say, your results may vary, but you can expect to thoroughly clean a suite of leather furniture such as a sofa, loveseat, chair and ottoman, along with several smaller leather products like handbags or shoes, with one bottle.
Even several months after using it initially, leather furniture still looks better than it did prior to applying the product. It’s also gentle, not greasy or sticky after applied, and it has a pleasant light citrus fragrance. All in all this is a good product for reviving leather and worth the price it commands.