Maybe it is the smell or the feel, or just the way it looks, but there is nothing quite like new leather. The only thing better than a new car scent is a new car scent with leather interior and that sentiment can be applied to new shoes, handbags, jackets – practically any article for which alternatives to leather exist. Despite spikes in its price over the past few years, the love and lure of leather has resulted in continued increase in demand for articles made from it, along with corresponding increases in the demand for quality leather cleaning products.
Leather is timeless and is linked to so many defining periods in history. Leather sandals and boots can be traced back to many notable historic and pre-historic characters. What would today’s rock music be without the defining leather jacket? Or what would the Wild, Wild West be like back in the day without spurred leather boots and leather gun belts? Even Jesus wore leather sandals.
Nowadays, for those who are en vogue, leather as a fashion trend is a must have. Whether it is that distinctive new smell or the classiness that only aged leather can provide, items made from it are desired by both young and old. However, as popular and versatile as it is, leather needs to be treated right in order for it to maintain that distinct edge its consumers crave.
The first thing to know about leather, is that they are all not the same. From croc to cattle, the types vary considerably in appearance and durability. Once treated properly, however, almost all leather pieces can become near indestructible. Hence, the key to caring for your leather is to know which type you have and to find out how to take care of it. There are three main types of leather. These are: aniline, semi-aniline and pigmented leather.
Aniline, also referred to as naked leather, is the most natural looking leather. Its natural look is preserved because only dye is applied, allowing the natural grain to be visible. This naturalness is desirable to some people due to its luxurious look and softness but because of the minimal surface treatment, it is highly susceptible to stains, dirt and scuff marks. Caring for aniline leather is recommended to begin when the leather item is still new and not after it starts to get soiled. A protective leather cream is the way to go as this prevents liquid and dirt from soaking into its exposed nap. Once it is protected, it can then be cleaned normally, although the protective cream will still need to be applied periodically to maintain surface protection. There are many protective leather cleaners and creams available on the market and it is always advisable to do some research to ensure the right type is bought. Also, some leather care products may alter the appearance of aniline leather due to its absorbent nature, so the small area test should always be done before cleaning the entire item.
Semi-aniline Leather is different to aniline in that it is treated with a surface coating and some pigmentation. The amount of pigmentation is not to the extent where it completely blocks out the grain of the leather, however, so it does maintain a level of naturalness. The surface treatment is intended to obscure some blemishes that might show up in aniline leather, while providing a level of protection from moisture and dirt. This does not mean that semi-aniline leather needs any less care. The protective coating on this type of leather allows it be cleaned sparingly with soap and water but the water should not be allowed to sit on the surface too long as it may eventually seep through the protective layer and into the fibers of the leather. Harsh cleaners are not recommended as these will remove the surface coating and make it susceptible to the weaknesses of aniline leather. Use of prescribed leather creams and cleaners is recommended to promote longevity but may eventually alter the appearance of the leather. Testing an inconspicuous area before cleaning the entire item is also encouraged.
Pigmented Leather, or protected leather, is the most durable leather for the simple fact that its surface has been given the total surface treatment. In other words, the leather has a thick, often polymer coating which totally covers the natural grain of the leather. This prevents moisture, dirt and stains from easily getting into the material and makes pigmented leather easier to keep clean. Again, this does not mean that it should be cared for any less. Pigmented leather will gather and display dust easier, especially if it has a glossy finish (as in shoes), so dusting with a soft cloth is needed from time to time. Polishing with pigmented waxes (like shoes again) is often necessary to maintain the original finish and luster. Soap and water can be used on protected leather but allowing the water to sit too long on the surface is not recommended as it can eventually seep through. Using household chemicals may ruin the surface finish of pigmented leather. Instead, a suitable leather cleaner should be used to remove any excess oil and dirt and protective leather creams may be used, but should not be oily as this oil will just sit on the surface. As with other type of leathers, leather cleaners, conditioners and creams may alter the appearance of pigmented leather, so testing an inconspicuous area is the way to go before cleaning the entire item.
Other types of leather include Nubuck, Suede and Pull-up.
Nubuck is like aniline leather as it has no protective coating, except that the surface has been abraded to give it a slightly ruffled look (like velvet). Like aniline leather, it is easily soiled and so, most of the cleaning practices used for aniline is fine for Nubuck. However, Nubuck cleaners are often sold in aerosol cans which help to protect it from moisture and dirt. Like all cleaners, it may change the appearance of the leather, so testing on an inconspicuous area is encouraged.
Suede is leather made from the middle or bottom layer of raw hide, which are essentially its softest layers. Like Nubuck, the surface is lightly abraded but is softer than Nubuck. The main problem with suede is that scuffing can often make it look not-so suede anymore as the nap might wear away. However, this can be restored by using suede brushes designed to do just that. Many leather cleaners are not recommended for use on suede because it is softer and therefore may not tolerate the chemicals that they contain. Like Nubuck, suede cleaners are often sold in aerosol cans or other applications. Even though it has been mentioned many times throughout this article, always test cleaners/protectors on an inconspicuous area before cleaning entire item.
Pull-up leather is natural leather that has the surface infused with oils or waxes instead of being coated with a protective layer. It is quite flexible and lightens when stretched to show the natural grain of the leather. Because of this treatment, it ages more naturally than other leathers as the grains are subtly revealed without it cracking, peeling etc. Taking care of this leather is not very different from how other natural leathers are treated but it may need re-oiling/waxing, so a recommended cleaner or oiling (waxing) substance may be necessary to maintain its integrity over time. Testing on an inconspicuous area is encouraged.
Regardless of whether it is a small clutch for social engagements or something large-scale such as a plush living room suite, leather items, if only for their price, should be viewed as investments. As such, the requisite leather maintenance products should also be invested in, to maintain its grandeur as the item ages gracefully.