Understanding Leather Products

Be aware that some leather products that have been around for a long time have new formulations. Therefore, chemically you are really looking at an entirely new leather product so while you think you may be achieving certain results from using the product last year; this year with the new formulations, the results achieved could be very different. Additionally, some leather products that have been in use for a long time were used for a different purpose than used today.

Acrylic Copolymers

Technology continues to offer new leather products such as acrylic copolymers that form a barrier ‘net’ too fine for water molecules to pass through, but still porous enough to let water vapor in so the leather can still breath. These products do not have the slippery consistency of silicone sprays and do not have a negative
effect on dyes.

Beeswax

This natural leather product has been in use for a long time. Today, it is combined with ingredients that are more modern, which allows for better leather products to be made. One of the primary things that beeswax does is provides waterproofing although it also replaces natural oils.

Blackball

Blackball is a combination of beef tallow, beeswax, and soot that was used in the 18th century as a multi-purpose leather treatment, waterproofing, conditioning, and blackening in one fell swoop.

Cleaning

A simple wipe down or brushing with each use is a good idea for your leather items to help knock dirt off the surface and keep dust from working its way into the pores. For heavier soiled leather or for stains, cleaning should be done to keep the dirt and other debris from working its way into the leather and becoming a permanent, more than likely unattractive part of your item.

The concept here is not washing per se. You are applying a detergent of sorts to the surface to emulsify and lift off soils and stains. Follow directions and determine first if the type of soil you are dealing with can be removed with spot cleaning. If needed, you can clean the entire area of the leather.

Cleaning is always followed by conditioning. Just be sure to let the item dry thoroughly and naturally, and avoid using hair dryers unless specified to be okay by the manufacturer. In some cases, using a hair dryer on low heat is permissible but of course, you want to do this with extreme care.

Conditioning

You can follow the manufacturer’s recommendations, or just use common sense here. It is not difficult to tell if your leather is a bit tired. Regular conditioning will prevent deterioration such as cracking, which is important since once leather is cracked there is no going back.

Cracked leather can only be fully repaired by replacing it. Although it can also be dyed so the leather appears uniform, the crack will remain. Conditioners run the gamut from oil to wax and both function as conditioners. Wax tends to make leather harder, which works for some items such as a bicycle seat while oil tends to make leather softer as what you would find with a leather sofa.

Lanolin is another conditioner that is used. www.Obenaufs.com has leather products that are worth considering, especially if you are working with a specialized garment such as motorcycle and firefighter’s gear. Obenauf’s also makes boot care kits that people rave about.

Conditioners also function as basic waterproofing agents or sealants. This makes perfect sense since it is the same principal at work as in nature when the hide was still on the animal. If you are working on a leather item that is not going to be in direct contact with your skin, oil is great. Boots and the outside of a jacket are good candidates.

It is always a good idea to give oil a day to soak in, regardless. If you are working with an item that does touch your skin, or fabric, for example a seat of some sort, give the product time to soak in and maybe a gentle cleaning before you sit on it or wear it.

Mink Oil

Mink has a fatty layer under their skin and have great pelts, as you know. This fatty layer is rendered and turned into Mink Oil, which is used to treat leather. Mink oil will leave furniture feeling greasy. It’s primary purpose is as a water proofing agent for hiking boots. It is not recommended as a protective coating for upholstery leather. Some Mink leather products have filler ingredients so read the label if you prefer good quality.

Neatsfoot Oil

A “neat” is a beef animal, and this oil used to be made out of cow hooves, hence the name. It is heavy oil and is known to rot cotton stitching on leather items that have been sewn. Of all the raw oils, Neatsfoot oil seems to have the most colorful history. Neatsfoot oil was combined with all sorts of things to keep leather (especially footwear) serviceable.

Saddle Soap

Saddle soap is a great solution for saddles but can actually harm upholstery leather. Saddles are made from tough, vegetable tanned leather that can take the alkalinity of saddle soap. It’s intended to remove manure and related heavy soil from saddles.

Upholstery grade leather has been processed differently, usually processed with chromium tanning which imparts supple characteristics. Saddle soap speeds up the demise of upholstery leather by breaking down the fibrous structure through chemical reaction.

In the days when most leather items were the natural color of the hide, this was not an issue. In fact, the age finish that saddles take on was desirable. As dying and bleaching leather has become more popular, people are more concerned about the leather staying the original color purchased.

Silicone

Most guidelines for leather care also recommend staying away from anything that has silicone in it. Silicone leather products produce nice finishes. However, there is not anything in them to condition the leather.

A newsletter for Jaguar enthusiasts warned that use of silicone on leather seats could make future repairs, especially re-coloring very difficult. If this is not an issue, silicone polymers sprays are non-greasy leather products that can be used on all leather, including suede to produce this type of finish.

Some guidelines put petroleum products in the same category as silicone. For leather conservation as in a museum or collectible, petroleum components are used in leather products where animal-based products might not be as suitable because they could be a medium for bacteria or mold contamination.

If you are riding, wearing or driving your leather item outside of a museum collection, you do not need to worry about this as much. www.Pecard.com is a company that makes one of the best leather products according to museum and restoration specialists. There is also British Museum Leather Dressing It’s expensive and you have to get it from a vendor that sells supplies to museums.

Stripping

Another process to mention is stripping. Stripping takes all of the oil out of the leather, leaving you with the raw material. If you were going to dye leather, stripping would be necessary.

Sometimes new leather has a finish layer that prevents absorption of a conditioner or sealant so you may want to strip this off before conditioning. Usually, as you use the item, this factory applied conditioning will wear off. Keep in mind that there are commercial leather strippers on the market that are petroleum-based solvents – Naphthalene is a perfect example. The downfall is that commercial strippers can be pricey.

Interestingly, Zippo lighter fluid is made of the same chemical and is much less expensive, but a word of caution, before you go dousing your new leather with lighter fluid, ask the manufacturer about any sealant that might have been used. Some of these wear off naturally so by the time you are ready to condition, you will not need to strip the leather first.

Leather products can now be found in most stores. In fact, even your grocery store is likely to carry them. www.Lexol.com and www.Leatherique.com have been around for a while and have great reputations. The makers of these leather products say that they have kept the good effects of “raw” products
traditionally used on leather and used modern chemistry to modify them, as a way of reducing or eliminating some of the not so desirable effects.

Magnesium (School Chalk)

This substance can be used to clean buckskin. Simply use a softbrush on the rough side and chamois cloth on the soft side. School chalk or corn meal will also absorb grease. If you are working with white buckskin, using magnesium on the stain after brushing lightly is a popular home remedy.

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