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Q&A #8: How Should I Dry Leather?

Q&A #8: How Should I Dry Leather?

Posted by Daniel Sutton on Jun 24th 2014

Leather Guru Ponders Animal Hide's Deepest Mysteries

Q: How Should I Dry Leather?

A: Guess who's baaaaack?

Wet leather can be a real problem. If you’ve ever gone swimming for too long, you likely remember what your skin felt like afterwards. Everything dried up like a raisin, wrinkled and numb. You wanted to plunge your hands back in the water to give them moisture again, but that was exactly the problem. More water’s not going to lubricate the skin, and by extension, neither will it lubricate leather. We have to wait for the natural oils our body produces to replenish our lost oils, and leather needs exactly the same thing. Mostly exactly.

There’s a bit of a difference between living skin and leather. While living skin can make its own oils, leather cannot. In its most natural state, leather is material in a state of decomposition. Leather goes through a preparation and tanning stage to prevent this, getting soaked with preservative chemicals that can prolong its life significantly, which you can read about in our blog “Leather Tanning Methods.” But this isn’t going to keep it healthy forever. If leather is not given the oils and nutrients it needs to keep living, it will resume decomposition. Where do these oils and nutrients come from, you ask? You're looking at it, honey-boo! Leather conditioner’s your answer, or Chamberlain's Leather Care Liniment no. 1, for the more precise inquirers among you. It smells like almonds.

Of course, water saps all these oils straight out if it gets time to set, and leaves you with a really dry leather raisin. Usually we’d recommend you protect your leather in advance with leather repellents like Water Protectant no. 3, but for the sake of this article, let’s pretend your prize purse just got wet without any protection. How do we dry leather?

The first thing you’ll want to do is soak that water back up. Use a soft, lint-free cloth for this, and dab it on the wet leather. Your goal is for the water to absorb into your cloth, not smear. If you smear, you’re just pushing the water deeper into your leather’s pores, which is bad. Soak the wetness up as much as you can, and then set up camp to dry leather somewheres cozy. Where be this? I’ll lay it out for you.

No Sun or Heat

Leather and heat don’t mix. In addition to pulling out vital nutrients, heat has the unfortunate effect of causing leather to shrink. If you’re thinking about using a blow dryer, go with something else. Don’t try sunlight either. Sunlight’s just as bad as heat, and what’s more, can cause much more irreversible damage. The UV rays are your greatest threat, disrupting the leather on a chemical level and breaking down its most vital nutrients. Also, the color will fade over time, which makes it look less pretty. So dry leather somewhere cool. No artificial heat. Let nature run its course and your leather dry naturally.

Clean and Indoors

Occasionally outdoors will work for you, if the day’s overcast and relatively cool. Keep in mind that warmth, dark and moistness is an ideal breeding ground for mold. Keep it out of the sun, but not in a dark hovel. Outside drying is really dependent on the weather, which is a real wild card. Obviously you don’t want to put it out if it’s going to rain. Wind can help, but not if there’s a lot of debris in the air. Your leather’s pores are already open, and dust can seep into its fabric really easy. So keep it in a clean place. That’s the exact reason indoors are so great, as you won’t have to deal with those ferocious elements. Just keep it out of the dust. And keep the house cool-ish. I’m Texan, so that’s pretty much how we roll, happy-go-lucky for us.

Last Condition

After your leather has dried out all nice and smooth, it’ll be a good idea to give it some tasty leather conditioner to feed it back those lost nutrients. Remember to test any leather conditioner in a discreet area and let it dry before you use it – some leathers, like suede, don’t respond well to conventional treatments. If your test turned out well, rub your leather conditioner in gentle, circular motions, and you may want to cover the entire surface to avoid spotting once it finishes drying. Spots will generally fade as you use your leather, but in the meantime, they can be a nuisance. Feed as much as you feel it needs, but don’t over-condition, lest the leather get mushy and rot. Here’s a blog about that: “How Much Leather Conditioner Should I Use?” If your water left a stain, we’ve got a blog for that too! “How to Clean a Leather Water Stain.”

That's how to dry leather, folks! See you leathermancers later!

Daniel Sutton

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