Leather Types, Cleaning and Care

Leather Care. Buck has been working with leather for over 40 years. And is a certified saddle and harness craftsman. This class will cover types of leather and how to clean and condition your leather, from a coat to fetish toys and more. He will also point out what to look for when buying leather to ensure you get a quality product for your money.

Top Grain Leather:
This is from the hair side of the animal. It can be a variety of thicknesses and different tanning processes.

Vegetable tanned.
It is versatile leather that can be shaped and formed, died/stained, etc., to whatever color is needed—used in belts, gun holsters, cases, harnesses, and saddles.

Oil Tanned.
A process of using natural oils after the initial vegetable tanning process. It makes the leather stretchable and highly water resistant. They are used in harness leather, which can also be very waxy.

Chrome-tanned leather.
80 to 90% of the leather in the market is chrome tanned. It uses chemicals, acids, salts (including chromium sulfate), and dyes in leather. They are used in most clothing, pocketbooks, motorcycle gear, etc.

Other animal Hides:
The cow is the most popular and versatile; Buffalo is more formidable and has a pebbly finish. Pig is a skinny leather but extraordinarily strong and used in English saddle seats and suedes. Goats and other small animals are for some garments or wallets etc.

Leather Splits:
Leather from a cow can be about 1/4” to ½” thick; other animals are thinner, some thicker. Once a top grain has been split off for a garment grade, the rest is split into more slices, tanned into suede, or some used in a method I will mention below.

Raw Hide Leather:
You may have heard the term rawhide laces; all leather show laces are Latigo which is Chrome tanned. Nowadays, it is used for parts of saddles that take much wear and some lampshades.
The skin from buffalo, deer, elk, or cattle from which most rawhide originates is prepared by removing all fur, meat, and fat. The hide is then usually stretched over a frame before being dried. The resulting material is hard and translucent. It can be shaped by rewetting and forming before being allowed to thoroughly re-dry. It can be rendered more pliable by ‘working,’ i.e., repeatedly bending in multiple directions, often by rubbing it over a post, and sometimes traditionally by chewing. It may also be oiled or greased for a degree of waterproofing.

Embossed leather:
Embossed leather you will find on lower-cost clothing and furniture. It is taking the abovementioned splits and running them through a process that will make it look like top-grain leather. One way to tell is that the hide will look too perfect with the same pattern over and over. How else can you get an all-leather office chair at Staples for 100.00? After time you will see it starting to wear on the leather, and it starts fuzzing up a little.

Bonded Leather:
This is also called reconstituted or blended leather, used for manufactured upholstery material, including animal hide. It is made as a layered structure of fiber or paper backer. Pulp is made from shredded leather, and a polyurethane coating embossed with a leather-like texture is also used in furniture to keep costs down.

Vegan Leather:
Vegan and faux leather are the same– a fake ‘leather’ material that does not use animal skin. There is a range of materials that can be used to make vegan leather.
Including synthetics like plastic and natural materials such as cork. 

The most used materials for synthetic leathers are polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyurethane (PU), which are plastic-based. Another term for fake leather is “pleather,” which comes from plastic leather.
These two commonly used synthetic materials have raised questions about the safety and dangers of vegan leather to the environment. Few vegan types of leather are made from natural materials, although it is possible to find more eco-friendly products made from materials like cork, kelp, and even pineapple leaves.

Cleaning Leather:
There are many cleaning products out there on the market. Ones like saddle soap, the name sounds like a cleaner. And yes, it will clean off surface dirt, but its primary purpose is conditioning the leather to keep it soft and pliable. So be careful and read the containers. And all the methods I list here work for all leather. If your leather is lined with a material other than leather, that should be hand washed lightly with fabric detergent and water. Just use a damp cloth so as not to soak the leather part.

I like to keep things simple. I use a low PH detergent (Like dish soap) for everyday cleaning and put a cap fill into a gallon of water. Then, soak a rag in the solution, wring it out, and wipe down the leather. This will remove dust, dirt, and light body oils on top-grain leather.

Heavy cleaning of leather, say, smoke damage or horse tack that has not been safely stored, I use liquid glycerin and a brush and scrub it clean, then much water for rinsing, same as you wash in the shower. This will deep clean the leather. Then let the leather dry till it feels damp and add conditioner to restore the oils that were washed out.

Leather that has been taken care of; about every three months, I like to use Leather Therapy wash. A lite spray on a cloth and wipe the leather down in a circular motion; this will clean a little deeper than the damp cloth treatment. But it also puts a conditioner back into the leather simultaneously.

The basic rules for any leather cleaner are to apply to a cloth, not directly to the leather. Leather is like a sponge and will soak it up, and directly spraying on the leather could cause stains.
You can spray Clorox wipes or Clorox cleaner onto a cloth to sanitize leather. But then you will have to put a lite coat of conditioner on the leather as these will dry out the leather. Clorox Clean-up will also remove blood if you can wipe it off before it can soak into the leather if it has been conditioned and not dried out.

People ask, “If the leather gets wet, will it shrink?” If leather is not treated correctly with conditioner in the drying process, it will get hard and tighten up. Shrinking, except for Raw Hide, is designed to shrink and get extremely hard and tight, but even that is only extraordinarily little.

As for suede-type leather, a lovely brass barbeque brush works best. It will restore the soft fuzziness and brush out any dirt. Stains are usually permanent in suede. If the paint is still wet, wash it with soap, water, or blood with Clorox wipes. Then, as the leather dries out, brush it down with brass.

Cleaners VS Conditioners:
Leather is like a sponge; it can only soak up so much conditioner. So, a cleaner must remove excess conditioners, dirt, and body oils. But after a good cleaning, you must add conditioner to the leather to keep it soft and supple.

Some repairs are easy, and you can do them yourself with a few tools. The most common is a rivet popping out. Or a few stitches came loose. With a simple leather punch and leather needles, these are easily fixed. A tear in a garment, a patch glued on the inside to hold the hole together or put a decorative patch over it on the outside. Otherwise, you would have to replace that panel or section of the garment.

Just a note, Waterhole Leather LLC repairs and modifies any leather gear you may have. Feel free to contact Buck.




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