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Exotic Leather Series: Fish Leather Care

Exotic Leather Series: Fish Leather Care

Posted by Daniel Sutton on May 29th 2014

For those of you who like a good seafaring adventure, something flashy for the cruise to Bora Bora, or just have a thing for mermaids (like yours truly), fish leather provides. Although it’s not exactly the most exotic of all the exotic creatures out there – heck, just hike down to a river and you can find one of these for yourself – it definitely has a distinctive motif that will “makes waves” in spite of itself.

I’m sorry. That was terrible.

Seriously though, this leather is deceptively stylish! It’s a little similar to snakeskin in appearance, but the scales are rounder and friendlier looking, and much more ecofriendly and economical. ‘Sides, snakes have had the whole sinister vibe going for them ever since, you know, the Bible. Snakes are so yesterday’s evil getup. If scales are your thing, and you don’t plan to take over the world someday, fish have got the flakes where the fun is at. Flounder with it! And don't worry about the smell - it'll whiff up with the traditional olfactory perfection you can expect of any leather by the time it's out of the tannery. Unless, you know, you're into the whole sea redolence thing, in which case I'm sure you can find someone to oblige your excellent taste.

Yet apart from their splashy and fun-loving nature, fish make pretty good leather on their own right. Down through the microscope lens, your fish leather is held tight with a natural cross-fiber structure, unlike top grain cowhide, where the fibers run in one direction. As a result, fish skin is actually a bit tougher than top grain cowhide, when compared together with the same thickness. Basically, it'll hold together fairly well. The leather is also rather flexible and comfortable to the touch, so it makes an ideal purse or shoe. There’s also a wide variety of selection when it comes to what kind of fish your leather’s made from, each with a distinctive look (even amongst its own species!) and upkeep. Salmon, Perch, Cod, Sturgeon, Wolf fish, and Tilapia are among the more common types, and we’ve got separate articles for Stingray and Eel Skin leathers. Sharks are probably the most notorious to fit under this category, but we’ll talk about that hunk of nightmare leather another day.

Fishing for Some Love

Fish leather care is actually pretty easy. Generally, a clean, dry cloth is all you’ll need to keep it clean. Brush gently across the surface of your fish (to remove any dust build up) in the direction of the scales (assuming it has them!). It’s important to brush in the direction of the scales for minimal abrasive damage, and unfortunate possibility of peeling them up. If it looks like they may be doing that anyway, don’t worry – your scales will naturally lift slightly as they age – it doesn’t mean you’ve been abusive. Just treat them tenderly. If dirt has sunk between the grooves, you can try a soft, bristled brush to get between the scales. If there’s a lot of dirt built up, you can very slightly damp your cloth to help you on your way, but take care not to get it too wet. Fish, like most leathers, can be affected by water in a bad way if exposed to too much, and will grow dry and brittle if handled carelessly. You can read a little about how water affects leather in our blog “How Does Leather Breathe?” For sparkling fish leather care, keep water on the no-no list, ironic as it sounds.

Also on the list of things to look out for is sunlight and heat. You’ll find this weakness with any leather. While your fish scales should be expected to lighten in color over time (red and blue colors especially), sunlight and heat will speed this up significantly and can completely ruin its hue, in addition to drying and making it brittle. For best fish leather care, try to keep it in a cool, clean indoors location with balanced humidity. Inside a breathable case, like a wooden box or a dust bag, is an ideal location. If you notice any symptoms indicating your leather is getting a bit dry, or you just want to give it a protective layer to knock off the elements, you can find an exotic friendly leather conditioner, such as Chamberlain's Leather Care Liniment No. 1, to feed it. Silicon spray is also a workable alternative, but it has a tendency to dry out leather, so for good fish leather care, use sparingly and with caution. Test any leather conditioners before you use them; unfinished, lighter colored and exotic leathers especially can act strangely with some leather conditioning recipes. When you have found a leather care recipe you’d like to try, use a soft, white cloth and apply a small amount of leather conditioner to a discreet area on your item, and let it dry. If there is no significant color rub off on your cloth, discoloration in the leather, or any other negative side effects, you should be good. Spread it gently and evenly in thin layers across your fish leather with a lint-free cloth, applicator pad or bristled brush – in the direction of the scales – and let it dry for fifteen minutes. Don't rub too hard, or you may rub off some of the color. Afterwards, buff the rest off, and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Fish Out of Water

Fish leather care for spills involves drying the spot up immediately using a power towel or other soft cloth. Blot here, do not wipe, lest it smear and sink further into your fish leather. Trust us, you’ll have a worse problem than before. Blot, don’t wipe. If a stain gets involved, you might try mixing mild soap with water, mixing it up, and applying the suds to a cloth (do not get the cloth wet) and wipe it across the stain (in direction of the fish scales, remember). If its grease staining your leather, try sprinkling a tiny amount of corn starch over the stain and leaving it there overnight. Afterwards, gently brush it off with a soft, bristled brush. The starch should absorb the grease, and leave your fish leather scot-free of your near fashion disaster.

That’s the basics for fish leather care! As leathers go, this playful guy is more easy going than most, and will cause you little trouble in exchange for endless fun. Give fish leather a try, and you might find you’ll be in for the friendship of a lifetime!

Daniel Sutton

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