Concerning the care of natural vegetable tanned leather goods – Part II
Here in part II, let me share with you some basic maintenance methods.
For simplicity, I like to differentiate between leather cleaning and leather conditioning.
Let’s start with cleaning…
Regular cleaning is essential to the health and appearance of your leather, and at it’s most basic is really a quick & easy process!
Basic cleaning is done fairly regularly – with every wear for items such as shoes, or with every couple of weeks of wear for items such as belts and wallets.
It really is an easy process: simply brush over the item with your horsehair brush, and wipe it down with a damp (not wet) cloth.
^ The leather on footwear is happiest if brushed before and after every wear!
The stroke of the brush is firm and smooth – the point is not to polish, but to remove dust & debris. The wiping with the damp cloth, on the other hand, is done very gently to avoid excess moisture soaking into the grain.
Leather soap and similar cleaning agents are used sparingly and only when necessary, keeping in mind that part of wearing natural vegetable tanned leathers involves the leather reacting to stains, dyes, etc. A bit of indigo staining on your wallet or belt doesn’t warrant scrubbing with cleaning agents…being too obsessive-compulsive or having too much of a perfectionist trait will make your life very difficult if you pursue this hobby
With practice, the weekly cleaning of your leathers will take no more than a few minutes!
The feeding of leather, though, is much more time consuming if done properly.
Before any conditioning is to occur, you must first make sure the leather is clean!
This ensures better penetration of nourishing oils, as well as helping to prevent clogging of the pores.
It is preferable if the room temperature (or the leather at least) is relatively warm…this is no problem on a Summer day here in Australia, but use a blow-dryer if the temperature is too low.
If required, gently heat up the leather and/or conditioner with the blow-dryer – be very gentle, and remember the leather just needs to be mildly warm.
Then, using the applicator/brush, gently cover the grain with a small amount of conditioner (no more than a pea sized amount) and quickly smooth it over to cover a larger area; be extra careful when using oils, it is probably a better idea to use a wide brush to begin with, painting very thin layers of oil.
When using a pure oil, caution is needed to prevent saturating a particular area of the leather.
When using a cream or wax-based conditioner, you’ll need to work the conditioner into the leather with your thumb using a firm, circular motion.
For hard to reach areas, or where there is stitching/hardware, you’ll need to use a small brush to apply the conditioner and a small metal pick to remove clogged or excess conditioner if necessary.
^ Temporary darkening with the application of oil
Don’t be alarmed if you notice the conditioned areas of the leather becoming darker…this is only a temporary effect which disappears as the oils sink deeper down into the leather.
If the leather is very thick (e.g. on a 15 oz belt) you may need to apply the feeding process to the back-side of the leather as well – though I find this is generally not required after the first feeding unless you’ve neglected the leather for a long period of time.
Of course, the coating of veg. tanned leathers for use in inclement weather or rough-handling is a whole other topic unto itself, but this is more esoteric than practical nowadays.
This is more or less covers the basics of care. There’s no big secret to great looking natural vegetable tanned leather goods - enjoy using & wearing your leathers, take care of them properly, and they will serve you well for years to come, not to mention the develop beautiful patinas along the way.
Keeping vegetable tanned leathers really is a fantastic little hobby, and makes for a very nice side-project as you break in your denims and ducks. I’d strongly recommend every denim-nerd to give it a go