Leather University™

Choosing The Best Cleaner For Your Leather

Picture of by Dan Concord

by Dan Concord

Author, speaker, teacher, and educator on leather working tools and techniques.

Choosing the Best Cleaner Based on Your Leather Type

Choosing the Best Cleaner Based on Your Leather Type

Welcome back, everyone. Today, we will look at something most people encounter: how to clean your leather safely. We’ll explore a few things. The first is the three sections and what they mean. Then, we’ll examine natural versus faux leather to understand how the cleaning can vary on the materials and how the cleaners affect them. We’ll also discuss choosing the proper cleaner to ensure that whatever you use to clean your leather is safe for your leather type. So, let’s dive right in.

Key Notes

  • Differentiating between the three leather sections helps determine the appropriate cleaner for various types of leather.
  • The cleaning process varies depending on the type of leather. Each type may have one, two, or all three sections, influencing the choice of cleaner.
  • The presence or absence of a protective coating serves as a primary guide for choosing the right cleaner.
Three Sections of Leather Items - Choosing the Best Cleaner Based on Your Leather Type - International Leather Club
Three Sections of Leather Items

Three Sections

We’ll first consider the three sections of a leather item. While the specifics may vary between different types of leather items, our focus here is on the essential leather material that forms the product. Whether it’s a handbag, wallet, or leather jacket, each will consist of three primary sections. The composition of each piece of leather may include one, two, or three sections.

 

Inner Material

The first section is the inner material, serving as the fundamental composition of the leather itself. This inner material can range from natural leather and faux leather to plant-based alternatives like pineapple or other fruit fibers, which make up the core of the material.

 

Surface Composition

Next is the surface composition, which could be a natural surface with a pattern applied to it or a layer of plastic on top of it. It could even be another synthetic material that’s actually on top of natural or faux leather below it.

 

Coating

The third component is the protective coating applied on the surface. This coating varies; some leathers may feature a waterproof sealant, wax, or Resolene. Essentially, it forms a durable and less water-permeable barrier over the leather. These aspects gain significance upon closer examination.

In essence, these three segments constitute nearly every leather piece. Some items may include one, two, or all three sections. Depending on their presence, you can ascertain the appropriate cleaner and assess its safety for the specific type of leather. This will start you off in good shape. Let’s discuss a few examples for a better understanding.

Three Sections of Leather - Choosing the Best Cleaner Based on Your Leather Type - International Leather Club
Three Sections of Leather

Suede

This type of leather essentially has one section. It has exposed fibers on the top and bottom and is a very fibrous material. It possesses a highly fibrous nature with numerous nooks and crannies, a tactile quality noticeable when handling suede. This is also why suede is very delicate. You should have a proper cleaner, usually just for suede because all those fibers are exposed.

Exposed Suede Fibers - Choosing the Best Cleaner Based on Your Leather Type - International Leather Club
Exposed Suede Fibers

Patent

Next, let’s examine patent leather, characterized by its two sections. It features a natural leather underside and a glossy plastic surface on top, providing a distinctive shine and smooth texture. The plastic composition makes it particularly easy to polish and clean. So, in this case, we have that natural leather underneath and that plastic surface right above it.

Patent Leather Sections - Choosing the Best Cleaner Based on Your Leather Type - International Leather Club
Patent Leather Sections

Saffiano

Next, we have saffiano leather, widely favored for handbags, wallets, and various small personal accessories. Saffiano leather comprises three distinct sections. It possesses a natural leather underside and a plastic surface similar to patent leather. The uniqueness of saffiano leather lies in its distinctive texture, contributing to its iconic and easily recognizable appeal.

Frequently, a third layer is added – the protective coating. This coating enhances water resistance and potentially provides some degree of stain resistance, with variations depending on the specific coating applied. Essentially, saffiano leather embodies all three leather sections: the natural material underneath, a plastic surface, and the protective coating atop.

Sections of Saffiano Leather - Choosing the Best Cleaner Based on Your Leather Type - International Leather Club
Sections of Saffiano Leather

Cleaner Choices

What does all of this mean when you’re trying to clean your leather? There are literally so many different leathers out there and so many different ways it’s been manufactured. Sometimes there may be a coating, sometimes not, but here’s a really simple approach you could take to essentially figure out what type of leather you’re dealing with and how safe it is to clean.

Cleaning Questions to Ask - Choosing the Best Cleaner Based on Your Leather Type - International Leather Club
Cleaning Questions to Ask

Things To Consider

The initial factor to consider is the presence of a protective coating. This layer typically occupies the topmost position and warrants primary attention. The decision on your cleaning approach hinges on whether a protective coating exists or not. Certain cleaners, if too abrasive, may potentially harm the coating, or if mixed in specific ways, could lead to discoloration due to reactions with the coating material.

So, that’s the first thing. If a protective coating is present, it can serve as a useful guide for your cleaning decision. In cases where there is no coating, we proceed to the next layer—the surface layer. Here, the key question is whether there is a plastic surface overlaying the leather or if it is entirely natural. If it’s plastic, your cleaning choice will be influenced accordingly, allowing you to opt for a cleaner compatible with that specific surface.

Conversely, if it’s natural leather, it’s advisable to seek a cleaner tailored for natural leather, as it requires a distinct cleaning approach, a specific pH balance, and fundamentally a different type of cleaner compared to any type of plastic, faux, or vegan leather.

After establishing the presence or absence of a plastic coating, if it’s absent, the next step is typically discerning whether the leather is protected or unprotected. Unprotected leather, similar to suede, features exposed fibers, necessitating a specialized cleaner tailored to such a composition. Additionally, certain leathers may already contain oils or waxes, warranting the use of a different cleaner and/or conditioner to accommodate these specific characteristics.

Three Sections of Leather Cleaning - Choosing the Best Cleaner Based on Your Leather Type - International Leather Club
Three Sections of Leather Cleaning

In Conclusion

With these three sections of leather, you’ll be able to go one by one and relatively safely determine what type of material you’re using, what comprises that material in terms of these three sections, and then, working from the top surface down, figure out what cleaner is best you know for that surface and ultimately for your leather. This way, if you were curious about which types of leather are safe to clean — now you know.

Happy Crafting

Picture of About Author Dan Concord

About Author Dan Concord

Dan Concord is a professional leather crafter with 15 years of design experience and expertise. He is founder of the successful Liberty Leather Goods studio, and also a published author, speaker, teacher, and educator on leather working tools and techniques. He lives in the USA.

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