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Rescuing wet leather need not be a hopeless task provided you keep in mind three key things: timing, patience and a small amount of elbow grease. Lock these elements down and you stand a good chance of reversing the havoc water can wreak on your favourite bag or briefcase.
Whether you got caught out in a rain shower or narrowly missed a puddle, we – the leather experts – have a few tricks up our sleeves to ensure your leather doesn’t pay the price.
Can leather get wet? The science bit.
Technically yes, but we wouldn’t recommend it. So what happens to leather when it gets wet? The oils in the skin bind to the water molecules, so as the water dries and evaporates, it starts drawing the oils out. It’s this shedding of natural oils that causes the leather to lose its supple quality and become stiff and brittle. Water can also cause staining and can move dyes leaving streaks and spots. And if the leather doesn’t dry quickly enough, it could even start to rot.
Rescuing leather – how to do it
We’ve all been caught in a rain shower or stepped into a puddle. It happens. The key is not to panic, but to follow these expert tips on preserving your favourite leather.
To start, arm yourself with the following items: dry cloth, sponge or microfibre paper towel, soft-bristle brush or toothbrush, leather conditioner, padded hangers and old newspaper or absorbent material.
And remember, when dealing with wet leather, speed is everything: if you notice water or liquid on your item, act right away before it gets a chance to set. For already stained leather, read on for tips.
Smooth vegetable-tanned leather
Most vegetable-tanned leather is full-grain or top-grain leather, which is made from the strongest part of the animal hide. This makes it one of the most durable and water-resistant forms of leather.
How to dry wet leather:
1) Dab and dry
First, clean your hands as leather – especially bags – can easily absorb grease and oil.
The next step is to let it dry, naturally. Dab off any liquid from the surface and inside – this allows what’s soaked into the material to evaporate on its own. Try not to wipe as this moves the liquid further into the skin. The aim is to get the leather to change from soaked to damp.
How to dry a wet leather wallet: dry in the closed position – if it hardens during the drying process the last thing you want is for it to be open.
How to dry a wet leather bag: stuff the inside of the bag or briefcase with newspaper to help the item retain its original shape. This also helps absorb moisture from the interior. Lay flat.
Never use a hairdryer or artificial heat as this can shrink the material helping it to become dry and stiff in the process.
Once the leather is damp, apply a reasonably thick coat of high-quality leather conditioner such as Carl Friedrik’s Leather Cream, which works best on natural/vegetable-tanned leather like Vachetta. A conditioner contains natural oils that replenish those lost as the water evaporates. Massage into the surface of the leather and leave it to dry overnight.
3) Buff and protect
Once dried, buff the entire surface of the item. At this point, you may want to apply some water or stain repellent to help guard against future exposure to water.