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Exotic Leather Series: Eel Leather Care

Exotic Leather Series: Eel Leather Care

Posted by Daniel Sutton on May 22nd 2014

When a guy tries to sell you eel leather, your first thought is probably going to be, “Really? I want to carry around my lipstick and makeup inside of that slimy, wriggly ocean worm’s stomach? No thank you!” In point of fact, eel leather is actually a misnomer, because the leather isn’t actually made from an eel at all. Eel leather is instead (usually) made from the hide of the Pacific Hagfish, native to the Sea of Japan (like Godzilla of yore), a slimy, wriggly, worm-like fish that puts on thick layers of mucus to deter predators and feasts upon the dead and decaying by burrowing itself into their putrefied carcasses.

Well, that’s a relief, isn’t it?

Don’t worry, you won’t be dealing with zombie residue on your eel leather. Eel skin is thoroughly cleaned and outfitted for safe and cleanly human usage as much as any other leather. The constitution of its skin is actually what puts it in such high demand as one of the most prominent exotic leathers you’ll find. Eel leather is remarkably smooth and supple, yet lightweight and two to three times and strong as ordinary leather. Its beautiful sheen is instantly recognizable, with a moist looking pinstripe pattern refracting light like the ocean waters it once called home. A healthy absorption rate allows spills like soda or oils to become more nuances than serious threats, and it is among the easiest of all leathers to maintain. Who would have known such a magnificent diamond could be cut from this (really rough) rough?

Slippery as an Eel

Eel leather is fairly water resistant. Although exposure to water in a spill will likely darken your leather temporarily, the color will return as the skin dries. Sodas or juices, on the other hand, will need slightly more attention. Splash a small amount of water on the stain to rinse out the leather, and allow it to dry in a cool, indoors place away from sunlight and direct heat. If you need to, soak up excess water by blotting it with a paper towel or soft cloth. Do not rub eel leather when it is wet, or stretch it. Although eel is tougher than general cowhide, it is also thinner, and is usually laminated over cow skin to provide greater durability. If it helps you to picture, eel skin once fit over your hagfish like a sock – very, very flexible, but good for protection and absorption.

Oil spills, like grease or hand lotion, should be cleaned off quickly. Apply rubber cement (you can pick it up at a craft store) sparingly to your stain, let it dry, and then peel it off. If it doesn’t come off the first time, apply again and peel off. You may have to do this several times to get a stain out of it has set in. As a general rule, the quicker you act, the quicker it’ll come out – stubborn stains may take up to fifteen cycles to get rid of, although they should come out eventually. Don’t worry!

If you get an ink stain, try rubbing it off with a clean finger. If it doesn’t give, grab an eraser and gently erase the mark from your eel skin. Again, the quicker you act, the better. Permanent ink stains may not be able to be removed. For more general ink removal tips, check out our blog “How to Clean Ink Stains From Leather.”

Apart from general maintenance, good eel leather care dictates that you clean your eel regularly (about to three times a year), and a light session after it has been exposed to excess dirtiness (such as getting dropped in the dirt). For routine dustings, wipe off you eel leather with a soft, dry cloth. When cleaning, however, dampen your cloth very lightly (you don’t want too much moisture on the eel while you are cleaning), and wipe the surface off until there is no more visible dirt. Afterwards, blot up any excess moisture with a dry cloth, and allow your eel leather to dry in the familiar cool, indoors area away from sunlight and direct heat. Also, avoid commercial cleaners and alcohol for eel leather care, which possess harmful qualities to eel skin. More on that in our blog "Common Leather Care Mistakes."

For any cowhide supplement, visit our blog “Leather Care for Finished and Unfinished Leather Furniture” for tips on cleaning unfinished leather (or finding out what that even means!). If your cowhide is finished, Chamberlain's Straight Cleaner No. 2 will work well as a leather cleaner, only make sure you don’t get any on your eel leather, and test before use.

Hold Your Grip

Eel skins will also need to be conditioned fairly regularly. For this task, it is best to use an exotic conditioner intended for reptile skin – these conditioners tend to be a bit lighter and gentler than other conditioners. A wax conditioner isn’t terrible, although multiple coats may make the skin less flexible. A cream based conditioner is the safer and healthier choice for eel leather care. Our Chamberlain's Leather Care Liniment No. 1 is a great choice. Gently blot conditioner onto your eel with a soft cloth until its surface is covered evenly, and leave it to dry for about fifteen minutes. Afterwards, blot any remaining conditioner off with a dry, clean cloth. For your cowhide, Chamberlain's Leather Care Liniment No. 1 should work excellently as well, although if your leather is unfinished, it may darken somewhat. Check the aforementioned blog for further tips and tricks.

Finally, keep your eel leather in a dry, cool, and clean place indoors when you are not using it. Keep it inside of a box or dust bag to prevent dust from gathering on it, and a comfy bed inside packing paper or a few newspapers can also help. Also, don’t stress the leather by putting anything on top of it, or else it might crease. Let your leather relax! Lastly, try to give it space from other objects, to avoid any needless scratches. If your leather has a strap, tuck it inside.

Claps, Pats, and Tips of the Hats

So, you’re friendly eel pal has a new home, and you are totally ready to make that slimy swimmer happy with the best pamper a seafaring handbag has ever seen. Nice job doing your eel leather care homework, by the way, and getting to this part. You might not hear it, but I am clapping for you pre-emptively. Pat yourself on the back for me, you awesome person. You’ve made your eel one happy fish.

Daniel Sutton

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