How to Easily Restore Old Leather Items

If you’ve picked up that gorgeous vintage leather jacket, one you feel is timeless and way better than any high street or designer purchase, you must be really excited about giving it a long second life.

Here are some tips and tricks from the pros on how to restore old leather items at home.

Leather can be almost indestructible if treated properly. With a little bit of care and attention, your new leather will last well into vintage age and your vintage leather will continue to have a long happy carefree life.

The most important thing to remember about leather is not to get it soiled, soaked, or let it dry out. Despite the fact that all of these things can be rectified to some extent, it is helpful to not let leather get into such a condition in the first place. Proper storage, cleaning, and conditioning will keep leather looking as good as new no matter how old it is.

How to Store Vintage Leather

Storing leather properly when it is not being used is the most important thing you can do to keep it in its best condition. When leather is stored it should not be in extreme hot or cold, or in excessive dryness or humidity.

Tips for Storing Leather

  • Clean and condition leather before any long period of storage
  • Keep leather in a cool, dry place. Humidity can lead to mold, one of leather’s number one enemies.
  • Keep leather out of sunlight and away from any heat sources to ensure that the skin does not dry out and crack
  • Leather is heavy, so always hang it on a durable, padded hanger. Wood hangers are preferable.
  • Stuff leather (arms, legs, etc.) with acid-free paper to help keep its shape and help prevent dampness.

Clean/Condition Leather

Keeping leather clean and conditioned only takes a few minutes, but it will make a big difference in how good it looks. If a leather item lasted 30 years of abuse before getting to you, a little soap and water won’t hurt it.

How to Restore Old Leather Items

Cleaning at Home

In many cases, all that is necessary to clean old vintage leather is a damp cloth or a store-bought leather cleaner. This will remove any surface dust or dirt. (Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using a cleaner specifically for leather). If the leather has been in contact with perspiration, water, or is stiff, you may need a more substantial method to cleanse it.

Hand Washing

  1. Treat or remove any stains on the leather before washing it.
  2. Using warm soapy water made with a gentle cleanser like baby shampoo, Dove (unscented), or soap flakes rub the leather with a soft cloth to produce a lather in any area you want to clean.
  3. Wipe away excess lather with a clean cloth.
  4. Rinse leather thoroughly either by running through warm water or wiping it several times with a damp cloth.
  5. Pat leather dry with a clean towel to remove excess water.
  6. Allow leather to dry flat in a warm place out of direct sunlight and away from a strong heat source (fire, heater, stove, etc.)

Stains on Leather

Even leather isn’t adverse to stains, especially if it’s vintage and lived a previous lifetime before finding its way into your closet. However, you’re not required to live with the stains of its past; most leather stains will come out easily with a little soap and water. It is even possible to remove blood, oil, and wax in some cases.

How to Remove Leather Odors

Leather can be stubborn about holding on to odors. You may be able to locate a leather specialist or dry cleaner in your area that can remove the odor, but it won’t come cheap. Instead, try removing unwanted odors at home. There are many safe and gentle methods of removing odors like using baking soda.


If the leather item has a lining, Febreeze is a great first response. It will undoubtedly take the smell out of any fabric. For the leather part of the item, it is possible to use Febreeze even though it is not recommended for use on leather by the manufacturer due to the possibility of staining or dye removal.

A spot test before applying the Febreeze to the entire item is essential to ensure that you will not damage the leather by using it. If the spot test shows no change to the leather, saturate the item inside and out with Febreeze and allow it to dry flat.

Baking Soda

Baking soda can be used in a few different ways to remove odors from leather, all of which are very gentle, however, it is always best to perform a spot test to be safe.

  • Dry Baking Soda
    Put the Item in a paper bag or pillow case with an open box of baking soda for at least 24 hours. You may also sprinkle baking soda into the pockets and interior of the item or fill a sock with baking soda and leave it inside.
  • Baking Soda Solution
    Mix one teaspoon of baking soda with one liter of warm water and saturate the leather item (you may also increase the mixture and soak the item). Rinse item and dry flat.[/li


  • Dilute vinegar in equal parts warm water and let the item soak. Rinse and repeat. Allow drying.
  • Sponge the item with straight vinegar and rinse. May need to be repeated several times.

Always use white vinegar as other kinds of vinegar may stain.

What To Avoid With Leather Items

Although leather is very durable, it is not indestructible. Improper care or cleaning can crack and dry leather skin, remove finishes and colors, or make it too stiff to wear. Keeping leather away from chemicals, heat, and humidity is key. If leather is like skin, think of its care as anti-aging; if you wouldn’t put it on your own skin, it probably isn’t very good for the leather either.

As strong and durable as leather might be, it is fairly easy to ruin its apperance.

NEVER use the following chemicals or substances on leather:

  • Bleach
  • Alcohol
  • Household cleaners
  • Turpentine and mineral spirits
  • Waxes or silicone (prevent the leather from breathing)

Rule of Thumb: Leather is skin; if it would harm your skin it is going to harm the leather. 

Keep the rule of thumb in mind and you’ll be able to pass on your leather heirlooms to your children. There are many reasons why shop vintage and finding high-quality leather pieces is one of them.


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