Q&A #1: How Does Leather Breathe?
Leather Guru Ponders Animal Hide’s Deepest Mysteries
How Does Leather Breathe?
Why, how could your leather be alive if it didn’t breathe? What’s that you say? You’re pretty sure your leather is not still alive? It doesn’t even have lungs, you say – or a mouth? Ok, fine. Your leather isn’t literally alive. Still, it once rested on the back of a living animal, and was responsible for keeping that animal healthy by absorbing moisture and protecting its insides from harm – much like your leather purse does now. Make no mistake – the only difference is that, instead of carrying internal organs, your leather is now carrying makeup and a cell phone.
Now obviously, leather is going to start decaying after it leaves its animal. Leather is a biodegradable material, and decomposes fairly quickly. For this reason, the hide goes through a preservation process to prevent decomposition, after which it is tanned and finished to create the leather you are looking at now. You can read a little about this process in our blog “Leather Tanning Methods.” This preparation phase will temporarily set your leather up for a new, healthy life, but it’s not going to stay that way on its own.
While the animal that was once your leather purse was alive, lubrication kept its skin healthy. It’s like the oils you produce in your fingertips, or conditioner you apply to your skin. Same principal. Except while the animal was able to produce natural oils in its own body, your leather can’t. So, it’s going to have to get those lubricants somewhere else.
Water plays a part in this. Leather, the clever minx, actually absorbs moisture from the air around it, hence the “breathing.” As it inhales, this moisture sinks deep into the fibers of your leather, drawing out old oils that have lost their substance to the surface of your leather to disperse (exhalation), and opens the leather’s pores for new, fresh oils to come. Three guesses where these oils come from. Hint: it’s sitting at the top of your page, and it’s not your search bar (although it might be in it). Chamberlain’s Leather Milk, you say? You’re a genius! You figured it out!
Chamberlain’s Leather Care Liniment No. 1 and other leather conditioners like it are responsible for providing fresh lubricants after the old have begun to weaken. Down under a microscope, your leather is built of endless tangles of fibers knitted together by protein bonds. These bonds are kept strong with lubrication, and without it, they would chafe and brush against each other until they loosen and fall apart. Of course, too much lubrication can make them mushy, so there’s a balance here. Same deal with water; too little or too much H2O and leather will grow dry and brittle over time. Check that out in our blog “Common Leather Care Mistakes.” Balanced humidity and space away from sunlight and heat will help your leather breathe like a Tibetan Monk.
Remember this, leathermancers! Water is the breath of all life! We need it, animals and plants need it, and our leather needs it too! Without water, our world would become a dry, fleeting desert of ruin – leather will fare no differently. Flakes and cracks are a harbinger to the tender heartbeat of your leather friend, and careful lubrication is the shiny ray of hope! Just remember that too much of what cures can also kill, so like everything else in life: moderation. You and your friend share something powerful in common – protect and cherish it. Let your leather breathe!
Chris Repp (www.leatherhelp.com)
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