Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Leather Care: Conditioner

I remember getting my first pair of Dr. Marten’s.  They were black, eight eye, lace-up boots and I think I must have been no more than 12.   I convinced my parents that I desperately needed a pair for those harsh Seattle winters.  I also bought a container of Sno-Seal to really sell the idea that these were winter boots.  I carefully read the instructions, turned the oven on, and warmed up my boots until they were ready to coat.  I wore those boots most days for the next few years, and they got me to college one snowy morning that I had a midterm.  And they kept my feet dry the two miles that I walked in the snow.

I am actually asked a lot about leather care, and conditioners.  Living in a relatively moist environment (I heard someone say today on the radio that we are the “fungus capital” if that gives you an idea) I don’t actually have to do much to my leather goods to keep them in shape.  The truth is, if you’re in a decently humid environment and you use your leather pieces, they’ll be just fine.  The oils on your hands transfer to the leather, and keep it soft and conditioned.

If you’re in a dry environment, however, or if you have pieces you don’t use very often, you may want to consider treating them.  Scratch that.  You may need to treat them.  When leather ages it will lose the oils that keep it supple and will begin to crack.  You can think of it like really dry skin, but when leather cracks, it doesn’t heal.  And there isn’t really anything you can do about it once it does, other than give it Frankenstein-style stitches. 

So here’s what I recommend:  Lexol.   It is the only thing I use for leather these days since it absorbs well and doesn’t leave a sticky residue.  The times I have treated shoes with Mink Oil it has always been sticky after, which is pretty, well, gross.  I’m going to sound like the bottle here but I’d always test a small patch of the leather first before applying it to the entire thing.  Lexol shouldn’t affect the paint or the dye on your leather, but since every piece is different, it’s worth testing it out.  If you’re applying it to full-grain leather pieces (tooled leather, or your Moxie and Oliver wares) it will also help to soften up the leather’s initial stiffness. It’s really just accelerating the process here, since the leather does loosen up on its own.

Lexol is appropriate for anything from automotive leather to shoes to bags and your furniture. I did a personal stash clearance sale recently and sold a belt that I hadn’t worn in years.  Some of the branding lines were a little cracked and starting to show wear, so I rubbed a bit of Lexol on it and voila!  Good as new.  I just use a soft paper towel, but you can use a cloth or whatever you have on hand that doesn’t shed.  Just be careful – you don’t want to put a cloth in the dryer after you’ve saturated it with oil.  Apparently it is a fire hazard.

So those are my thoughts – I hope they help!  If you’re in the midst of a heat wave and bored, maybe it’s time to condition your leather!  If you are looking for a local place to buy Lexol, or another conditioner, try your local Shoe Repair.  They’re leather workers, and usually have quite a good selection + insight.

Next:  Leather cleaners and waterproofers.



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