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How to care for leather clothing properly

Leather never goes out of style. From cavemen to the catwalk, leather has stood the test of time.

But leather takes a little more upkeep than most fabrics, and it would be a poor custodian of a fine leather garment who would put a handbag through the wash, for instance.

But how do you take care of leather, and when is the best time to get the professionals involved? Our guide explains how.

The best start to keeping your leather clothing and shoes clean is storing them properly.

Like any natural substance, leather is susceptible to decay and deterioration.

If possible, store it in a well-ventilated area, protected from heat and sunlight. Do not hang it in plastic covers as they can cause the leather to dry out.

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If the item is seasonable –winter boots, for example – and you are putting them in storage, they should be cleaned, gently stuffed with acid-free paper and stored in cardboard boxes. Once again, not plastic! Always hang garments where possible. Folding leather items can lead to permanent damage and early ageing.

If you are going down the professional cleaning route, it’s important to send items to a service you can trust as improperly cleaned garments are at risk of drying out and cracking or being too stiff to wear. Or the process could strip the colour or finishes.

And make sure you point out any stains or soiling to the cleaner for particular attention.

If the item regularly becomes damp – say an overcoat you often wear in bad weather – or is dirty, have it cleaned more often, because stains in leather become harder to remove if they are left and allowed to set.

If you feel confident enough to clean an item yourself, first check the label for guidance. There are different types of cleaners for different types of leather – you wouldn’t use suede cleaner on leather, for instance – so it pays to make sure you are using the correct product.

For smooth leather, not suede or nubuck, before applying any product, give the item the once-over with a soft cloth or brush to remove any surface dirt and dust.

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If you have found a cleaning product you are happy with, you should test a small inconspicuous patch first and leave it on for 24 hours before proceeding with the rest of the garment or accessory.

Almost every leather item of clothing usually represents a considerable financial investment. Don’t ruin it by going gung-ho and madly swiping all over, only to find out next day that you have a streaky-looking mess on your hands.

If the patch looks okay after 24 hours, apply the leather conditioner to the whole garment using a soft cloth. Flannelette is perfect. Buff using another clean, soft cloth.

For suede or nubuck, first give the item a brush with a specialist suede brush, or just use a soft toothbrush. This provides the double whammy of removing dirt and raising the nap. But go gently. Too much enthusiasm and you will wear it away.

The best cleaning method for suede is prevention. Spray it with a specialist leather protection before you wear it. And remember, two thin coats of protector are better than one thick one.

For both suede and leather, often lightly soiled stains can be removed with an everyday eraser.

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And avoid the temptation of using shoe polish on your leather clothing. Yes, shoe polish is ideal for leather shoes, but leather shoes and leather clothing are totally different things.

Apart from anything, shoe polish very often contains dye. Unless the item you are going to clean is an exact match for the polish it will leave an obvious mark and the colour may even rub off on to other items of clothing.

Shoe polishes often also contain a high level of solvent that will dry out your clothing or handbags, making them prone to cracking.

In summary, it’s bad, don’t do it.

Did we miss anything? How do you take care of your leather garments? Why not share your tips in the comments section below?

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Jan Fisher
Jan Fisherhttp://www.yourlifechoices.com.au/author/JanFisher
Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.
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