Leather Guru Ponders Animal Hide's Deepest Mysteries
Q: How Much Leather Conditioner Should I Use?
A: Good question! Using leather conditioner is a delicate process. We’re dealing with what is essentially the glue that holds your leather purse or briefcase together. This is what your leather eats and drinks, and the very breath that keeps it alive. So I think it should go without saying that leather could use as much conditioner as it can get. Seriously, pile it on like tomorrow’s the apocalypse. Leather’s got a ravenous appetite, and it’ll soak up lubrication as fast as you can pour it in a pitcher. Leather’s stomach is an endless pit – feed the howling beast! Feed it more! Slather-slather-slather!
FYI, this is terrible advice. Let’s try this again.
It’s true what I said about leather conditioner being glue and food and all that. Leather conditioner nourishes leather. At a deep, molecular level, your leather is made up of millions of tiny, crisscrossing fibers knitted together by proteins bonds. Ever since leather underwent a preservation stage during its production process, where it was soaked in chemicals to prevent decomposition (“Leather Tanning Methods”), it’s become kind of hard. Those fibers, less like cute, fuzzy sewing threads you might imagine, become angry razorblades, sawing against each other every time the leather bends and flexes, slowly grinding the whole thing into dust. Fortunately, your leather was lubricated before it came to you, slicking up the protein bonds and giving those fibers a comfy pillow to frolic against rather than another sharp razorblade. Naturally, our entropic universe can’t have that, so those lubricants whittle down over time. And it’s your job to replace them. If you are of the scholarly persuasion, you can further investigate this deeply philosophical pursuit in our blog “How Does Leather Breathe?”
Leather conditioner be good. Okay, how much should we use then, oh sagely Leather Guru?
There’s really just one answer to this: It completely depends. First advice, don’t cheat the system. Your leather is a hungry animal, and it does have an appetite for leather conditioner. But let me put it to you this way. Have you ever left on a week-long vacation and just crammed as much dogfood as you could into a bowl in the hilariously optimistic notion that Fido would ration himself? That dog’s not going to ration himself. He’s going to eat a week’s worth of food in one sitting, throw it all back up, and live for a week on weeds and love-forsaken squirrels he’s lucky enough to catch in his yard. Bon appetite, Fido.
Leather works the same way. It’s really, really impulsive. You give it too much leather conditioner, it’s going to eat it all up and get really sick. Unlike Fido though, leather can’t throw it all back up again. Instead, that stuff sinks deep into your leather and turns it mushy and stretchy, rotting the fibers and weakening your leather massively. Rather than merely protect your leather from outside dirtiness, too much leather conditioner suffocates it, preventing the vital breathing process that allows moisture to do its job. Stuff’s liable to darken too – especially lighter colored leathers – and develops a sticky quality that would make even Spider-Man blush.
So you don’t want that. Instead, you need to set up routines. Ensure your leather receives a proper conditioning at given intervals, usually about twice a year. We have a blog about that at “How Often Should I Condition Leather?” If it’s excessively dry, maybe three to four times a year. If it gets super dirty, it may be a good idea to give it some leather conditioner after you clean it. There’s no exact amount to how much leather conditioner you should put on your leather. In the end, the best advice I can give is to play it by ear. One thin layer should suffice for leather that’s in reasonably good shape, but if it’s starting to dry out, you may want to add another layer. Go easy on the fella, and don’t pour more down its throat that it can swallow. A thin, even layer (especially make sure the leather conditioner is spread evenly, or it may dry splotchy) will usually do the trick.
After you have given your leather a healthy dose of leather conditioner, the best thing you can do is to let it sit, preferably in a cool, clean indoor location away from sunlight and direct heat. Don’t actively dry your leather (blow dryers and sunlight are harmful, read “How Does Sun Affect Leather”) – let it dry naturally. For best absorption, you may even want to let it sit overnight. Otherwise, give it a good amount of time and then lightly buff your leather off with a clean, soft, lint-free cloth. Revel in glimmery goodness.
If you've got suede, nubuck or other unfinished leather, different treatments may be necessary should your leather require it. Our blog "Leather Care for Finished and Unfinished Leather Furniture" should get you started on that. Check it out!
Lastly, keep up your routine. Give your leather enough to keep it lubricated, but not so little that it will dry out and start cracking. Also, don't think that giving it extra leather conditioner so it will stay lubricated longer. It doesn't work that way. Like poor Fido learned, there's only so much nourishment animal hide can take at once. Don't put on extra, but get to know your leather and how much conditioner it likes. That'll get you further than anything else.
Well, that’s all for today leathermancers! Leather conditioner’s tasty, but so are steaks. Eat too much, and you’ll be sitting around in dark corners instead of basking in leisurely neighborhood strolls. Give yourself and your leather a workout, and enjoy life in its proper time!
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