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How to Fix Wrinkled Leather

How to Fix Wrinkled Leather

Posted by Daniel Sutton on May 28th 2014

Wrinkles: The most horrid sight in the world to some, especially when viewed inside of a mirror. To others, it symbolizes grit and resilience – wisdom gleaned from many years of hard-earned survival. Your answer to this contentious phenomenon will likely depend on your age. For your leather, less so.

Like those tough old birds of yonder generations, wrinkled leather can be a source of pride. In fact, some people may deliberately distress their leather through rigorous treatments to give them an aged appearance prematurely. Wrinkled leather certainly has a unique charm to it. Leather, unlike certain 70s fads, ages really nicely.

Of course, leather also looks good without the aging. It’s cool like that. Some people think it looks even better with the fresh, new blood flair. Today’s blog is for you, some people. Happy Birthday.

First thing you should probably figure out is how you got your wrinkled leather in the first place. It does not necessarily signify age, but leather wrinkles can develop with time, just like human skin. Don’t let it bother you. There are many other ways wrinkled leather can develop. Piling objects on top of your leather and stuffing it into tight places for extended periods of time can cause it to bend and flex unnaturally. Likewise, if you are wearing a pair of boots too large for your feet, or a big jacket with lots of slack, that slack can cause creases as they repeatedly fold in and out with movement. Even well-kept leather can develop wrinkles with use. Sometimes wrinkled leather may be inevitable, but you can go a long way to combating it by keeping it out of situations where it is likely to get squashed.

Flexible Approach

Now I want you to understand something very fundamental before we begin. Leather wrinkles are removed by either stretching or shrinking your leather. You can make this so minimal as to leave the leather virtually unchanged (apart from your wrinkle fix!), or if you are clumsy, you can alter your leather more visibly. This is a cautious process, and may change your leather slightly by the time you’re through. I will detail two methods, one using heat and steam, which shrinks leather, and another using alcohol, which can be used to stretch leather. Either one of these practices can curb those wrinkles, but you will be altering the chemical structure of your leather, so be careful when you perform this. That said, here’s our heat and steam trick.

Shrinky Trick

For getting rid of those pesky wrinkles, the first approach to try is your shower. No, I don’t mean take your leather in with you. That’s a terrible idea, and will definitely ruin your leather (“Common Leather Care Mistakes”). What I mean is, leave it hanging outside the shower, away from any direct moisture, and let steam build up over the course of about 15 minutes. While warm water is frolicking about and falling down the drain, that steam is going to be bulging up getting very friendly with your leather, turning it pliable. At this point, you will want to work the crease out with your hands, pushing leather away until the wrinkle is no longer visible. After this, take a soup spoon that’s recently been boiled in hot water (not wet, mind you, just hot), and rub the surface with the rounded back of it. The crease should become significantly less visible. Now turn off the shower and get your leather and yourself out of that steam before you fall asleep on the floor. It’s also a good idea to fill your leather out a bit while this is going on – stuffing shoes with a shoe tree or bags with newspapers, for example, will help the leather to dry out to its natural shape, and wood and paper products will particularly help to absorb any excess moisture that may harm your leather. Following this, your leather’s going to be rather parched, as the moisture that it did absorb from that steam will have dried it out a bit. You will want to lubricate it again with some leather conditioner, which I’ll get to in just a moment.

Stretchy Trick

The second method to curing your wrinkled leather is to use a bit of alcohol. Alcohol has the happy effect of helping leather to stretch when it is flexed with the alcohol in it. Basically, the more drunk it is, the more open minded it gets, see? This may sound bad, but it’s something healthy leather already does quite frequently (not drinking, mind you – stretching!), and has been for quite a long time. Did you know that leather apparel actually stretches and molds to your body the more you wear it, yet still retains its shape? More than any other fabric, leather is alive and it is intelligent; if you don’t believe me, just check out our blog post “How Does Leather Breathe?” That’ll show you a handy thing or two. Still, bear in mind that alcohol has the additional effect of drying leather out, so you’ll want to be careful about how many times you feed it to your leather, and always follow up with leather conditioning. You can read about how much you should perform this process in our blog “How Often Should I Condition Leather?” Nutshell: usually about twice a year.

Coincidentally, alcohol, in addition to fixing wrinkles, also cleans leather. You should be warned that not all leather responds to alcohol very well, so if you are using suede or unfinished leather, you may be better off trying the shower trick. If finished leather’s what you’ve got, alcohol is the perfect choice for you. You can read more about distinguishing those two in our blog “How to Identify Types of Leather.” Another good idea is to test your alcohol before using it. Sample a small amount in a discreet area on your bag with a white, lint-free cloth. You’re looking for color rub off on your cloth, discoloration in your leather, or any other visible negative effects. Seeing none, you’re good to go. One excellent alcohol-based leather cleaner to try is Chamberlain's Straight Cleaner no. 2, an all-natural cleansing recipe lovingly concocted for leather just like yours.

After you’ve tested your leather cleaner, try to use your fingers and palms to reshape the wrinkled leather before you apply any alcohol. Once you’ve uncreased it as much as you can, blot the wrinkle with a thin layer of your leather cleaner on a lint-free cloth or applicator pad. Do this until the leather feels damp, but do not soak it. After this, knead the wrinkled leather with your fingers and palm again, putting tension on the crease. Then push away from the crease on both sides, and repeat until it is invisible. Afterwards, blot up any excess fluids and allow it to dry completely. Since there’s a chance your alcohol may dry unevenly with the rest of the leather and leave a spot, it might be a good idea to clean the entire leather piece when you do this. Take care about cleaning it too much though, and reference back to our aforementioned “How Often Should I Condition Leather?” article to keep track on this. Again, it’s best to stuff your leather with something to allow it to dry out to its natural shape, ideally packing paper or newspaper, or wood molded to the leather’s natural shape (like the shoe tree).

Final Step

Whether you used the shower or alcohol trick, the last step to curing wrinkled leather is to recondition it. After your leather absorbed all that moisture or alcohol, it dispersed a lot of vital lubricants the leather needs to stay healthy. Leather conditioner restores those lubricants. As with leather cleaners, you’ll want to test any leather condition on your particular leather before you apply it, using the same method as before. Again, take care when you are using suede or unfinished leathers – conventional leather conditioners may darken them. For finished leather, we recommend Chamberlain's Leather Care Liniment no. 1. Alternatively, if you are treating car leather or furniture, you can try Auto Refreshener no. 4 or Furniture Treatment no. 5, respectively.

Whichever leather conditioner you end up using, apply a thin layer of it to a soft, lint-free cloth or applicator pad (after testing it), and massage it with circular motions into your leather. Spread it evenly for best results, and don’t use too much – a small amount goes a long way. After the surface has been covered, let it dry for about 15 minutes, and buff the rest off. Afterwards, its best to let it sit overnight to let everything settle. Voilà! That's how to cure wrinkled leather! It may not get everything out, but it'll be a right sight better, so pat yourself on the back. You deserve it.

A Wrinkle Out of Time

That’s all we’ve got for you today leathermancers! Wrinkled leather may not be a harbinger of Armageddon, but if it annoys you, it’s a whole lot more reversible than the end of the world, so don’t panic! Stay calm, and leave the rest up to whatever divine force of the universe what decided to test you with this inane trial. It’s a funny world we live in.

Daniel Sutton
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