The appeal of high quality, handmade leather goods isn’t hard to wrap your head around.
One of the most ancient materials our ancestors worked with, leather has been practically hardcoded into our DNA. From clothing to shelters in the ancient world to boots, bags, and wallets in our modern one, there’s just something about leather that separates it from the rest of the pack.
Leather goods stand the test of time. Tough, but supple, rugged and luxurious at the same time, you just can’t beat the look and feel of high quality leather products.
At the same time, you want to make sure that you’re doing everything you can to keep your leather goods looking and feeling their very best. Heirloom quality items can be passed down from generation to generation with just a little bit of elbow grease, some well-chosen products, and the inside information we highlight below!
With Proper Care, Leather Goods Can Last a Lifetime
Right out of the gate, it’s important to remember that leather is, after all, material made from animal skins.
It’s easy for this material to crack, to dry out, to warp and bend, to become stained or discolored, and to genuinely fall apart at the seams if it isn’t cared for properly. At the same time, with just a little bit of attention you’ll be able to keep your leather goods looking almost brand-new (but with that daily wear and tear patina that gives them a truly one-of-a-kind look) without much headache or hassle.
Proper care isn’t going to chew up too much of your time or energy, either.
If you are smart, systematic, and strategic about cleaning, prepping, and caring for your leather goods, you really won’t have anything to worry about. You’ll be able to hand down a pair of leather driving gloves, that leather wallet or briefcase, or those leather shoes and lessons on how to care for them to future generations with no trouble at all.
The Obvious: Use a Cream or Ointment to Prevent Damage
Most folks understand the value of keeping leather soft and supple, but many use products that advertise big benefits when it comes to prolonging the life of your leather goods while breaking down your leather with each application.
You want to avoid most of the chemical polishes out there on the market today. They almost always include additives that will break down the natural fibers of the leather, degrade the products used to tan the leather in the first place, and sometimes create moisture barriers that prevent future applications of quality leather conditioners, creams, and oils from getting the job done at all.
NEVER use vegetable oil, as its chemical composition begins to eat away and break down leather almost immediately after it is applied. You’ll end up with a mess on your hands sooner rather than later, and it’s one of those natural solutions you don’t want to ever scrub into your leather at all.
Instead, you want to use products like Neatsfoot oil, mink oil, or specially formulated leather conditioners, creams, and ointments. These are the kinds of products designed to soak into the skin of the leather, not necessarily polishing or shining the leather but instead protecting it.
These oils, conditioners, and creams are absorbed into the leather the same way that oils, conditioners, and moisturizing creams are absorbed into your skin. You’ll add a tremendous amount of suppleness back into the leather with each application, preventing it from drying out, cracking, and breaking down.
The Go Forth Goods leather ointment is specifically engineered to provide leather the moisturizing qualities they need to last as long as humanly possible, all while staying soft and strong.
Keep Leather Goods Dry and Moisture-Free
Leather needs to be able to “breathe” and you want to do everything in your power to keep your leather goods dry, moisture free, and exposed to plenty of air as often as possible.
Air can naturally pass through leather goods, leaving behind moisture that can evaporate naturally while at the same time softening the leather and preventing it from drying out.
The worst thing you can do is seal up your leather goods (like in a plastic bag, for example). You’ll end up choking the leather, drying it out a lot faster than you would have ever thought possible, and prematurely aging it all at the same time.
Of course, you also want to make sure that your leather goods aren’t allowed to become soaked through, either. This will flood the leather with moisture, causing it to expand. If the leather dries out too rapidly there will be a tremendous amount of shrinkage – destroying your leather goods along the way.
It’s best if you use a wire or suede brush to clean off gunk and grime, something specifically designed for leather products that won’t scuff or scratch the surface but will remove dirt and debris without you having to soak the leather itself.
Never use baby wipes or any other cleaning agents with harsh chemicals. Those kinds of products end up drying out the leather, causing it to split and crack, and no amount of conditioning or oiling will be enough to bring it back to life.
If you do have to wash your leather goods, it’s always a good idea to do so with a damp, clean cotton cloth or rag with only the mildest of soap. It’s even better if you can use saddle soap (specifically designed for leather), but mild dish or hand soap will do if you don’t have saddle soap close by.
It’s best to allow your leather goods to dry out naturally. If you’re going to be airing them out in the sun, make sure that you don’t leave them out for too long in direct sunlight. You’ll end up discoloring your leather goods, and the excess heat and UV rays may work to destroy the leather the same way that it can do a number on our skin, too.
After you have cleaned and dried your leather products, reapply leather conditioner, moisturizer, and oil to protect the leather between cleanings.
Sit Them Up, Don’t Lay Them Down
Unlike synthetic materials, leather has the nasty habit of conforming to whatever shape it is contorted into for extended amounts of time.
For example, you can toss a synthetic fabric wallet into your back pocket for years and years and never have it come out of shape regardless of what you might stuff in it – but nothing could be further from the truth if you’re doing the same with a genuine leather wallet.
Therefore, it’s so important to make sure that if you have leather bags that you stand them up rather than lay them down on their side upon the ground.
Lay them down (or compress them with other objects) and you’ll inevitably end up kinking or warping the overall shape of your bags or leather goods. This is especially true if you end up piling things on top of your leather products (which works great if you’re trying to break in a baseball glove but isn’t so great if you want to keep the shape of your leather briefcase, for example).
Not only will your leather goods come out of shape after being laid down on their side, but they’ll also begin to shift and move against the stitching that holds them together. This can cause these leather goods to degrade faster than they might have otherwise.
Opt for Full Grain Leather Gear
If you really want to make sure that your leather goods are around for as long as possible, invest in leather products that are made with full grain leather.
There are a lot of different leather types out there on the market today, ranging from bonded leather and split leather to full grain and top grain – with a whole host of other types in between.
Full grain leather is the highest quality option available, which makes it more expensive than the other choices but also gives it a durability and quality that you won’t find with any of the other leather choices.
Full grain leather comes from the topmost layer of the hide and includes ALL the natural grain of that hide section. It maintains the fiber strength of the hide itself, and it hasn’t been sanded or buffed to remove “imperfections” that add quite a bit of character to leather goods.
While this means that there may be blemishes or discolorations in the leather pattern itself, it guarantees that you’ll have a durability and longevity in your leather goods that you simply wouldn’t have been able to enjoy otherwise.
Each piece of leather we use is hand selected, hand inspected, and chosen for each individual project to result in the fewest seams possible. This allows more of the full grain leather to be used from each individual section, but also decreases the amount of stress points in any of the leather goods we produce.
It also helps us best honor each of the animals that contributed the solid pieces of premium American full grain leather by eliminating waste and maximizing the materials available.
Sure, by choosing to use full grain leather you might find some scars, some discoloration, and some uneven color patterns in your leather goods – but each and every one of those only adds to tell the tale of the animal that contributed to this product being made in the first place.
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