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Leather is a textile made by tanning and treating a raw animal hide, or rawhide. The tanning process makes leather incredibly durable, a popular textile choice for everything from leather furniture to leather jackets to leather shoes. Even though leather is a durable material, you need to care for it properly to ensure it lasts a lifetime.

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What Is Leather Conditioning?

Leather conditioning is a routine care process that can restore moisture to your leather and strengthen it for the future. While conditioning your leather isn’t necessary for it to last a long time, regular conditioning (up to once a month) can drastically improve the look and durability of your leather items.

Types of Leather Grains

Nubuck, bonded, patent—there are many categorizations of leather:

  • Top-grain leather: Top-grain leather is the thickest and most durable type of leather. Top-grain leather includes the outside layer of the hide, which is referred to as the grain. There are a few types of top-grain leather, including full-grain (considered the highest quality), corrected grain (treated to eliminate flaws), and nubuck (sanded down to feel smooth, like suede).
  • Split leather: Split leather is made from scraps of leftover leather (called corium) after the top grain is removed. It is not as strong and durable as top-grain leather, but it tends to be softer and smoother without the top grain. Types of split leather include suede (made from the underside of the skin), bi-cast leather (has a layer of vinyl attached to appear similar to full-grain), and patent leather (lacquered to appear smooth and shiny).
  • Bonded leather: Bonded leather is made by taking leather scraps and fusing them together to create the appearance of a full sheet of leather. Bonded leather is rarely seen in fashion textiles, and is more common in leather upholstery.
  • Faux leather: Fake leather is made from synthetic materials instead of animal skin.
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What Are the Benefits of Conditioning Leather?

Conditioning leather can be beneficial for many reasons:

  • Keeps leather looking great. As leather ages and is exposed to the elements, it starts to dry out and look ashy or dusty. Conditioning reinvigorates leather with necessary natural oils, refreshing its appearance and making it look smooth and hydrated—similar to how lotion moisturizes dry skin to make it look smooth and healthy.
  • Improves leather’s durability. When leather gets old and dry, it becomes brittle and can be prone to cracking with even gentle use. Once your leather has cracked, there’s not much you can do to mend it back together seamlessly. It’s important to take steps to prevent those cracks from happening in the first place. Conditioning your leather will keep it supple and flexible, avoiding those damaging cracks.
  • Adds a layer of protection. While leather conditioning isn’t the final step of leather care, conditioning your leather can give it a mild layer of protection against water damage or stains. (To fully care for your leather, you should also consider designated leather protectants like leather beeswax, making your leather water-resistant and more durable in conditions like direct sunlight, snow, and rain.)

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How to Condition Leather

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Whether you’ve got a leather couch, a leather bag, or leather car seats, here’s a step-by-step guide to conditioning your leather:

  1. Remove straps or accessories. Before you work with your leather, remove any fasteners, laces, straps, or other accessories so that you can easily condition the nooks and crannies of the leather.
  2. Clean the leather. Using a damp cloth (a microfiber cloth is best but not necessary), wipe down the entire surface of the leather to remove any noticeable build-up of dirt or grime. Then, apply a dime-sized amount of designated leather cleaner (like saddle soap) to your cloth and evenly apply it to the leather, working in a circular motion to allow the leather to absorb it.
  3. Allow the leather to dry overnight. To ensure that the leather is completely clean and dry before conditioning, let the leather rest in a dry place overnight.
  4. Wipe away any cleaning residue. After your leather has rested, wipe away any excess cleaning residue with a dry cloth.
  5. Test a small spot with the conditioner. To ensure that the conditioning agent you’ve chosen won’t cause discoloration to your leather, apply a small amount using a clean cloth and allow it to sit for an hour. Most conditioned leather will look darker due to the moisturizing process. If the spot seems drastically darker and undesirable to you, try out a different leather conditioner for this particular item.
  6. Condition the leather. Apply a dime-sized amount of designated leather conditioner (like mink oil) to a soft cloth (microfiber is best but not necessary). Avoid using DIY leather care products, like olive oil or coconut oil, which can potentially harm your item. Begin rubbing the clean leather in circular motions with the cloth. Cover the entire surface of the leather to ensure even distribution of the conditioner.
  7. Allow the leather to rest. After applying the conditioner, allow your leather to air-dry a second time—overnight is usually best to ensure complete drying.
  8. Wipe away any conditioning residue. After the leather has rested, use a clean, dry cloth to wipe away any residue the conditioner may have left behind. Your leather should now look smooth and hydrated.

For best results, condition leather goods regularly, any time it starts looking faded or dry. Many dedicated leather owners condition their leather products as often as once a month to make sure the goods look and feel their best.

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