We have a lot of new leather bags for the Makers Market fall season. They arrive at our store lovingly swaddled in protective packaging. Each bag is a work of art and the product of a maker’s hard work and dedication to their craft.
We have a lot of customers purchase a gorgeous bag and ask for advice on how to care for the leather for years to come. One of our original makers Jennifer Conner of Pennyroyal Handbags is a leather master and the following advice is courtesy of her years of experience.
When leather is finished a topical pigment coat (dye) is applied to the leather’s surface. This creates a firmer surface that makes the leather more durable and protected from fading, staining, and general wear.
For finished leather Jennifer suggests cleaning with a Saddle Soap. Fiebing’s and Otter Wax both make wonderful Saddle Soaps and they are both made in America.
Dampen a clean, soft cloth with water and rub surface of soap to create lather. Lightly rub the soap into the leather evenly in a circular motion. Try not to get the leather too wet in the process. Wipe away any excess. Allow to dry completely and finish up by treating your bag with a leather conditioner like Fiebing’s Aussie Conditioner or Leather Salve made by Otter Wax. Allow to sit for a while before buffing to a lovely shine with a clean, soft rag. A little conditioner goes a long way–be sure not to over-condition.
Despite the name, oil tanned leather is not actually tanned with oil. It is normally chrome-tanned leather (tanned using chromium sulfate and other chromium salts) that has been then treated with oil to make it more weather resistant.
For Oil Tan, she suggests using Saddle Soap by either Fiebing’s or Otter Wax. Make sure to use the white Saddle Soap so as not to change the color of your oil tan leather. Use the same technique as for the finished leather – dampen a clean, soft cloth with water and rub surface of soap to create lather. Lightly rub the soap into the leather evenly in a circular motion. Try not to get the leather too wet in the process. Wipe away any excess. Allow to dry completely and finish-up by treating your bag with a leather conditioner. I like to use Fiebing’s Leather Balm. You can also use the Leather Salve from Otter Wax. Do not use Fiebing’s Aussie Conditioner or any other product that is too rich in natural oils. They can leave a slightly sticky finish on your bag. Whichever product you use, allow to set in for a while and buff with a clean, soft rag to a lovely satiny gloss.
Vegetable-tanned leather is as it sounds. It is tanned using vegetable matter and tannin. This type of leather is often used in purses and journals as it is suited for forming.
With a damp cloth, make a rich lather with a Saddle Soap. Rub the saddle soap into the leather in a circular motion, working it into a light lather. Wipe away the lather and air-dry the leather completely. Finish by oiling with a preservative such as mink oil, Fiebing’s Aussie Conditioner, or Otter Wax’s Leather Oil. This process will darken the leather to a lovely golden color.