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Leather Types, Cleaning and Care

Leather—information you should know. 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 insure you get a quality product for your money.

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

Vegetable tanned.
Is a very versatile leather that can be shaped and formed, died / stained etc. to whatever color needed. Used in belts, gun holsters, cases, some 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. 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 a solution of chemicals, acids, and salts (including chromium sulfate) and dye the leather. Used in most clothing pocketbooks motorcycle gear etc.

Other animal Hides:
Cow is the most popular and versatile, Buffalo is tougher and a pebbly finish. Pig is a very thin leather but extraordinarily strong used in English saddle seats and suede’s. Goat 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 thinner some thicker. Once a top grain has been split off for say a garment grade the rest is split into more slices which are then tanned into suede, or some used in a method I will mention below.

Raw Hide Leather:
You may have heard the tern raw hide laces; all leather show laces are Latigo which is Chrome tanned. Now a days it is used to parts of saddles that take a lot of wear and some lamp shades.
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 re-wetting and forming before being allowed too thoroughly re-dry. It can be rendered more pliable by ‘working’, i.e., bending repeatedly in multiple directions, often by rubbing it over a post, 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 the process of taking the splits mentioned above and running them through a process that will make it look like top grain leather. One way to tell is the hide will look too perfect with the same pattern over and over. How else can you get a all-leather office chair at staples for 100.00 or so. After time you will see wear on the leather, and it starts fuzzing up a little.

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

Vegan Leather:
Vegan leather and faux leather are the same thing – essentially 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 materials. Another term for fake leather is “pleather” which comes from the term plastic leather.
These two commonly used synthetic materials have raised questions about the safety and dangers of vegan leather to the environment. Very few vegan leathers are made from natural materials although it is possible to find more ecofriendly 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 main purpose is conditioning the leather to keep it soft and pliable. So be careful and read the containers. And all the methods I list on 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 damp cloth as to not soak the leather part.

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

Heavy cleaning of leather let us say smoke damage or horse tack that has not been safely stored I use liquid glycerin and a brush and scrub it clean, then a lot of 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 3 months I like to use Leather Therapy wash. A lite spray on a cloth and wipe the leather down in circular motion, this will clean a little deeper than the damp cloth treatment. But it also puts a conditioner back into the leather at the same time.

Basic rules are for any leather cleaner, 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.
For sanitizing leather you can use Clorox wipes or Clorox cleaner sprayed onto a cloth. 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. Which is if your leather has been conditioned and not dried out.

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

As for suede type leather a nice brass barbecue brush works best. It will restore the soft fuzziness and brush out any dirt. Stains are usually permanent in suede. If stains are still wet, you can wash them out with soap and water or blood with the Clorox wipes. Then as the leather dries out brush it down with the brass brush.

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

Some repairs are easy, and with a few tools you can do yourself. Most common is a rivet popped 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 tear together or put a decorative patch over it on the outside. Other than that, you would have to replace that panel or section of the garment.

Just a note, the Waterhole Leather LLC does repairs and modifications to any leather gear you may have. Fell free to contact Buck.

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