Leather care product being applied to leather

How do you clean leather the right way?

How to clean leather is a topic we get asked a lot, as long as you don’t abuse your leather goods, they will last with little maintenance and just get better with age. That’s part of what makes leather so incredible.

But just like your car needs an oil change and your laundry needs washing, you want to thoroughly clean and condition your leather goods every few months.

How do you know when it’s time to clean your leather? 

You don’t need to be an expert to know when it’s time. When it starts to look and feel grimy, that’s a good enough signal. If you’re a gentle user and your leather never gets too dirty, you probably still want to condition your leather every few months to help preserve it.

Because leather is porous, it absorbs oils and grime during daily use.

If you’ve never cleaned leather before, it’s pretty simple, though you can mess it up if you aren’t careful with some products. See a little further down for precautions about mistakes you can make while cleaning leather.

What products do you use to clean and treat leather?

At Duvall Leatherwork, we have a couple items we use on our own products, which we’ll talk about here. But the consumer market has tons of things you can clean leather with. For soaps, whatever you choose, make sure it’s pH-appropriate.


Simply put: leather is slightly acidic, and it’s important to treat it with a cleanser that matches its pH level.

We don’t recommend making your own cleaning solution. Even the high-end cleansers and conditioners cost only a few bucks and give you the peace of mind that you won’t destroy your leather. You spent the money to invest in good quality leather. Protect your investment and use consumer grade leather cleansers and conditioners.

Conveniently, it’s easy to get an all-in-one cleanser conditioner. At Duvall Leatherwork, we love Leather Amore for just about everything except suede. It handily removes dirt and grime then helps you buff and polish your leather.

Leatheramore used for just about any application on leather goods

If you’re restoring an old piece back that needs some more intense love and care, try Shep’s 100% Pure Neatsfoot Oil. We like Shep’s for its ability to bring old abused leather back to life. Neatsfoot changes the color of leather, so be mindful of any delicate pieces you don’t want to alter too much.

Neatsfoot oil is ideal for work boots, horse tack, and firm leather goods

If you simply want to maintain your leather with a high quality conditioner, we use Dr. Jackson’s Hide Rejuvenator. It’s simple to use and provides a lasting shine.

hide rejuvenator product sitting next to a belt

How do you clean leather shoes?

More than belts or wallets, leather shoes and boots get dirty.

Start by vigorously brushing them with a large horsehair brush to remove any dirt on the surface.

Then use a cleaner conditioner like Leather Amore, first dabbing the cleaner on a soft cloth, then applying it to your shoes or boots using a circular motion.

If you’re trying to smooth over some scratches, use a polish like Lincoln Stain Wax Black Shoe Polish. Polish in its nature is only temporary, so if you want to maintain that spit-shine polished look, you’ll have to make a routine.

How do you clean a leather purse? 

Start by dry dusting. You can use a soft cloth to get any dirt off, similar to using a horsehair brush on boots or shoes.

Then, use a conditioner cleaner like Leather Amore, first applying it to a soft cloth, then wiping the cloth on the bag with small circular movements.

If you clean using only a pH-matched cleanser, make sure to follow up with a conditioner. Cleaning without conditioning immediately after can lead to premature aging. Your leather bag could dry and crack.

How do you clean leather wallets and belts? 

Cleaning a leather belt or leather wallet follows the three steps of leather-cleaning: wipe, clean and treat.

Start by giving your belt or wallet a quick dusting to clear away any dirt.

Then, clean your wallet or belt with a cleanser conditioner.

If you opt to just use a cleanser, make sure you use a conditioner to preserve

Mistakes you can make while cleaning or treating leather 

Too much conditioner

If you’re using a powerful conditioner like Shep’s 100% Pure Neatsfoot Oil, using too much will draw in dirt, can lead to dramatic discoloration and end up leaking oil in the sun or warmer temperatures.

Treating color-sensitive leather

Just about every leather care product recommends testing for colorfastness in a small part of the item. This might be easier said than done, but if you’re cleaning a leather item for the first time, take the extra time to test it for colorfastness before cleaning the whole piece.

Too much water

Leather naturally rejects water, but if it’s soaked, it can lead to premature drying and cracking. Don’t soak your leather with water while cleaning. If you need to use a damp cloth to clean it, Make sure it’s just that — damp — let it adequately dry, then use a conditioner.

The wrong pH cleanser

Cleaning with a soap that is too acidic or too basic can lead to premature aging. Even a mild dish soap like Dawn, which is right about neutral, is a little too basic for leather. Always use a cleansing agent that is pH-matched for leather.  How to use saddle soap.