We get a lot of questions regarding the proper care of leather equipment. This is understandable; quality leather is an investment and can last a lifetime if maintained.
What Damages Leather?
Both moisture and dryness damage leather. This might seem strange until you consider what keeps leather pliable and resilient: oil. Tanned leather contains oils (both natural and additives) that allow it to flex without cracking. When water is allowed to penetrate the leather, it can wash out these oils. Over time, the repeated cycle of getting wet and having the water evaporate off can leave the leather brittle and dry. This in turn leads to cracking and eventually total failure as the fibers breakdown (also known as dry rot.) If you add in the heat that is trapped under your gear and the salt from your sweat, the effect is accelerated. All leather will fail this way if not cared for.
What Do We Do to Prevent Damage?
The equipment we make has some built in protections against losing its oils. First, we only use top quality, full-grain leather. Cheaper grades of leather or leather that has been sanded down for cosmetic reasons loses its oils faster. Before the tanned hides are even shipped to us, they are treated with natural greases, oils, and tallow that is pressed deep into the leather. This is time consuming (and therefore expensive) for the tannery to do but it gives you a very durable, pliable, and long lasting piece of leather from the start. After it gets to us, we do a few things that help build on this foundation. All edges are burnished and treated with bee’s wax. This helps seal the edge fibers from exposure to the elements. Next, we give the item a coat of Neatsfoot oil to protect its surfaces. Lastly, we use a different type of wax to treat both the front (the grain side) and the back (the flesh side.) These combined treatments give the item very solid resistance to moisture and dryness. That said, even the best quality, most thoroughly treated piece of leather will eventually become damaged if neglected.
What Can I Do?
Some very basic maintenance every few months will keep your leather in top condition. Here’s a few indicators that its time to clean and oil your leather:
- Does it feel rough or dry to the touch? The grain of the leather should feel smooth and slick.
- Does it have sweat stains on it? The flesh side is especially vulnerable to salts from your skin.
- Is it excessively dirty? Some grime is to be expected but excessive amounts require cleaning.
So, what do we recommend for keeping everything in good condition?
- For routine care, we recommend rubbing the leather with Neatsfoot oil or Mink oil. Both are inexpensive and readily available. They do not need to be applied in excess, just rub the surfaces with a clean rag.
- Alternatively, you can use a bee’s wax-based conditioner such as Fiebing’s Aussie or Carnuba Cream. These are also inexpensive and do a great job.
- If the leather requires thorough cleaning, you can use a mild soap and water (there are special formulations made just for leather.) While soaps help remove dirt, they’ll also remove essential oils. You don’t need to go overboard with cleaning and if you do use soap, be sure to apply oil or conditioner afterwards.
That’s it. Leather care is not complicated or time consuming, you merely need to look it over periodically, oil it every now and then, and keep it free of excess dirt and contaminates. If you take these simple steps, your leather will last your career and beyond. As always, if you have any questions or concerns about maintenance or leather care products, just contact us and we’ll assist you.