Keys to Leather Care

A well-crafted leather piece is a work of art. Created by artisans from carefully sourced materials, custom leather goods like chaps, bags, belts, and briefcases aren’t just beautiful and luxurious—they’re designed to last. To help ensure that we keep our pieces in prime condition, we asked Chuck Pinnell of PINNELL CUSTOM LEATHER, which has been recognized as a premier source of equestrian leather goods and accessories for decades, for advice; here are his recommendations for leather care:

Think of leather care as you do skincare. Leather performs best when it’s treated according to type, and when it’s properly cleaned and conditioned. Treat your fine leather as you would your face: On a dry, dusty day, we clean our faces with warm water and mild soap. Then, we rinse with water, removing all soap and grime, and wipe off excess water with a clean cloth. Once dry, you apply a skin conditioner; if you have dry skin, you choose a heavier oil base.

Suggestions for how to care for specific pieces:

• Upholstery, clothing, handbags, and belts are made from more delicate leathers, and deserve equally delicate care.

• Leather chairs and car upholstery exposed to intense daily sun will dry, crack, and fade much faster than a chair or car sitting in the cooler light of a shaded area. You would not want to use heavy oil for these, but rather a lighter oil made specifically for these products.

• Alligator and lizard items are very hard to oil, and are best if used regularly and only oiled as needed. There are a few oils on the market just for reptiles. If you have a gloss alligator or lizard, almost any oil you apply will dull the finish. Be careful when choosing your oil.

• Suede should never be oiled. To remove mud and grime, first let it dry. You can then flake off the worst of it, and use a suede brush to clean the remaining dirt. Always brush in one direction.

• Boots, saddles, tack, and harnesses that are used outdoors in extreme environments will need a heavier oil base. Most oils that have bees wax in them are great. It is important to clean and dry the leather first (note: saddles coated with saddle soap and left to dry can be ruined), then apply the oil. Remember, leather is as delicate as your skin; normal room temperature and good air circulation are best for drying.

Follow proper storage protocol. Keep your leather in a space where you would be comfortable. You wouldn’t live in a hot attic or in a damp, musty basement. Instead, keep your saddles and tack in a box at room temperature, make sure the box has good ventilation, and ensure that the box will keep out mice and other unwanted pests. To prevent mold, make sure the leather is clean and has a very light coating of oil when you put it away. Place a cloth bag containing a few charcoal briquettes in the box, as this may help draw the moisture and control mold.

Expert tip from Chuck Pinnell of PINNELL CUSTOM LEATHER, featured in TSG Equestrian. Photo courtesy of Stacey Evans for The Scout Guide.