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I Bought a Leather Jacket, Help Me Keep It Perfect!

Remember: Leather is just some other creature's skin!

Christian Vierig/Getty

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Out, Damned Spot has long provided general tips to keep your fashions looking amazing, but now, twice a month, I'll also be answering questions about the very specific problems your new (or old!) purchases may present. Do you have questions for me? Ask away!

I just got a new leather jacket. Should I condition it? Waterproof it? Saddle soap it? — David

Lucky, lucky you; congratulations on your purchase! And congratulations for being so responsible and conscientious about caring for your new purchase. Leather definitely needs a certain kind of TLC, but you also shouldn't feel afraid for its safety — leather is quite durable, and doesn't require a whole lot to keep it looking handsome.

Here's what you should do if you've just purchased a new leather jacket, or are planning to sometime in the near future. (Need inspiration? Check out our leather jacket shopping guide.)

Ask Lots of Questions

I mean, you've asked a bunch of questions of me, so you're on the right track. But really, you should ask these questions of the person who is selling you that leather jacket. Here are some of the questions you should ask:

  • What kind of leather it is?
  • Is the leather sealed?
  • If not, what kind of waterproofing do they recommend you treat the jacket with before wearing?
  • What kind of cleaner and/or conditioner do they suggest you use on the jacket?
  • Do they offer repair services? Or do they have a leather repair shop they recommend?

Asking those questions will help you figure out what products to buy to keep your new purchase looking great for years to come, and to plan for the eventuality that something will go wrong, requiring cleaning and/or repair.

Photo: Christian Vierig/Getty

Know Your Leather Care Products


If you're purchasing leather goods that don't come pre-treated with a protective seal, it's a good idea to apply one yourself. At the time of purchase, ask what protector is recommended and use that. If you forget to ask, or are too shy, or the salesperson is just a jerk who you want to get away from as fast as possible (it happens), try AquaSeal, which is a Good Housekeeping pick.

Saddle Soap

This is exactly what it sounds like, soap that's used to clean leather saddles. It's a great thing to know about, because it's what you'll use to clean heavily soiled leather, or to remove stubborn stains. There are a few caveats about the use of saddle soap, however. The first is that a little bit goes a long way; to use it, you'll rub a damp rag in a circular motion on the soap, which comes in a tin, until a lather forms, then use the lather to clean your leather goods. After cleaning, it's really important to remove all the saddle soap residue from the leather by rinsing the rag very well, wringing it out so that it's just damp, and thoroughly wiping the soap away. Finally, saddle soap should only be used in cases where your leather really needs a deep cleaning; for regular cleaning and maintenance, leather conditioner is what you want.

Leather Conditioner

This is what you should buy on the same day that you buy your leather jacket. You'll be glad you did! Leather conditioner is going to do a whole bunch of great things for your hides, including removing the grit and grime that will build up in the course of regular wearing. It also acts in much the same way that body lotion does on our own skin (remember, leather is just some other creature's skin!), keeping it from getting dry and cracking.

Just like with saddle soap, a little bit of leather conditioner goes a long way. To use it, apply a very thin coating of the conditioner to the leather, then buff it using a soft cloth, like an old T-shirt, to work the conditioner into the hide and bring the leather to a shine.

Photo: Timur Emek/Getty

Store It Lovingly

How you store a leather jacket is important enough to its care and keeping that I'm giving the subject its own section in this little guide. So! Here are some things to know: First of all, get a fancy hanger to go with your fancy jacket. A padded hanger is ideal, but a sturdy wood hanger is also a good option. Wire and plastic hangers are simply not sturdy enough for heavy leather, and can cause damage to the lining and lead to misshapen shoulders.

When storing a leather jacket for an extended period of time, use a nylon garment bag, if you must use anything. Avoid storing any leather goods in plastic, as leather needs to breathe and a plastic covering will restrict air circulation.

Have a Professional on Speed Dial

Caring for leather on your own is a fairly easy proposition, once you know what products to use and under what circumstances you may need them. Still though, there are times when it's best to send the jacket to a professional for cleaning or mending, which is why you should have local leather repair places in your arsenal, so you can take your leather goods right in for servicing. Need recommendations? We've got you covered in our guide to New York City's best fixers. Not a New Yorker? Not to worry, many of our leather care picks offer mail-in services.