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How to Remove Odor from Leather

How to Remove Odor from Leather

Posted by Daniel Sutton on Apr 29th 2014

Begging your pardon, and I don’t mean to disturb, but it smells like you might have dropped something. No? Not you? Oh, it’s just your leather – your stinky, smelly leather. You should get that fixed. You don’t know how, you say? That’s why you’re here, you say? Well, why didn't you say so in the first place! Let’s get this aromatherapy sesh started!

So you've got a smoking problem. Maybe the leather got a bit wet, and hasn't smelled right since. Perhaps the leather just came to you smelling a little off naturally. Depending on the leather’s make, it could possess more inherent odors or just maybe your leather doesn't smell as good in perfume as you do. No problem. Leather’s a connoisseur, you see. It likes to try on scents like a teenage girl tries on outfits at a shopping mall, or distinguished gentlefolk taste wines at a renaissance festival. Leather has an appetite for scents fair and foul alike, and due to the porous nature of its hide, it can soak them in very quickly. Don’t worry about it though. By the time we're through with you, you'll know how to remove odor from leather easily enough. Like all the latest fashion trends, eventually your teenage leather is going to get bored of whatever horrific getup she’s put on, and move on to something hopefully less appalling. Unlike your stubborn human variety, leather smells don’t last if you don’t want them to. So here’s what you need to do.

Wet Dog Syndrome

A lot of odd leather scents merely come from allowing your leather to get wet. You’ll want dry up that moisture pretty fast, as water can mess up leather terribly if there’s too much of it and it sits too long. You can read a little about water damage in our blog “Common Leather Care Mistakes.” Long story short, water robs the leather of a lot of its lubricants, which means if it gets it's way it's going to blow dry your bag to oblivion and give it a smell that would make a skunk blush. To circumvent this, dry up as much moisture as well as you can, and condition after to restore those vital oils and nutrients it likes so much. We’ll get to that momentarily. Afterwards, you’ll want to let your leather dry out naturally. Consequently, this practice works well to remove odor from leather whether it smells from water damage or not. Nature is a formidable and really great-smelling ally.

Let’s Take this Outside

The easiest solution to remove odor from leather is to air it out in the great outdoors. Let those babies breathe! Of course, check the weather first; if it is supposed to rain, do not put your leather outside. Wait until the rain is gone and dried up, and then try again. Likewise, humid temperatures tend to attract mold, which you can read about in our blog “How to Clean Mold From Leather.” Avoid any abnormally hot and cold weather likewise, and keep away from direct sunlight. Leather, like our friendly, bloodsucking creatures of the night, does not bode well under heavy sunshine. It really parches it up, and gives it very bad tans. Shoot for a mild day with slightly cool temperature and no strenuous weather conditions. When you have found your ideal date, let your leather sit outside for a full day, inflatable ball and beach umbrella optional. If you are trying to figure out how you are going to maneuver your leather couch outside, stop that right now. You don't have to squeeze that heavy hunk out of your tiny front door. Simply place a fan near your couch and open the windows – you will get the same effect as if you brought it outdoors to air out. Convenient, no?

Time for the Tub

Once your leather item has sat for at least 24 hours, it's time to really put the cap on this remove odor from leather operation. You can use the suds from a water and mild soap mixture (make sure it is mild!), or purchase a compatible leather cleaner. Do not use ordinary soap or commercial cleaners, because these can seriously mess up your leather. Chamberlain's Straight Cleaner No. 2 is a great option because it is natural, gentle and effective. Always test your leather cleaner is a discreet area with a white cloth and let it dry first. If there is little to no color rub off on your cloth, no discoloration in the leather, and no other visible side effects, you should be good to go. Whether you choose mild soap with water or a leather cleaner, apply a small amount to your item and gently rub in circular motions with a soft, clean cloth or applicator pad. Do not rub too hard, and spread the leather cleaner evenly in thin layers. Let it sit for about fifteen minutes and then wipe off any excess fluid with a clean cloth, and leave it to dry in a cool, clean place away from sunlight and direct heat. Lastly, take a deep, sweet breath. You’re almost there.

Conditional Love

Cleaning leather can be exhilarating, but don't stop there. Remember those nutrients and oils keeping your leather soft and supple we talked about? Those are gone now. You want to fix that. For this task you need a leather conditioner, and not just any leather conditioner will do. Depending on your leather type, various leather conditioners may be more or less effective, and can actually darken your leather if you aren't careful. Test any conditioner you want to use with the same test you used for your leather cleaner. If it checks out, you should be good. Note than unfinished leathers tend to be affected more strongly by leather cleaners and leather conditioners than finished leather, so you’ll want to tread carefully if your sofa or handbag has a suede or nubuck coat. You can read up on unfinished leathers like that in our blog “Leather Care for Finished and Unfinished Leather Furniture.” For most finished leathers, however, Chamberlain's Leather Care Liniment No. 1 should perform spectacularly. Just remember to test first!

Use more or less the same method to apply your leather conditioner as you did your leather cleaner. Wipe softly in circular motions, spreading conditioner evenly and in thin layers across the entire surface of your leather. After it’s completely covered, leave it to dry in the same cool, dry and clean place away from sunlight and direct heat as before for about fifteen minutes, then buff it off with a dry cloth or pad.

Plan B

If even these exhaustively planned stratagems fail you, there are a few more things you can try. If small enough, place your leather inside of a pillow case with a liberal amount of baking soda and allow it to sit there overnight. The baking soda should draw some of the scent out, freeing up your leather of its pesky odor attachment. Newspaper and packing paper work great this way too. Paper is a bit more porous than leather, and wrapping your leather item up with them like an Egyptian mummy tends to give unwanted odors the right idea. Make sure that both the leather and paper are completely dry. Also, try to stick with newspapers or packing papers rather than the conventional office variety. The fibers tend to be looser with the newspapers and packing paper, and allow the scent to absorb more fully. Keep your leather packed overnight.

Other than that, you can always just let the leather age. Like most things, leather scents disappear over time, and the more use your leather, the quicker that will happen. Don’t cheat by masking it with perfume or cologne either – that’ll make the scent want to stick around even longer. You might find this difficult to believe, but a scent that may bother you may be attractive to other people - natural scents can get weird admirers like that. Don't be afraid! Take it out, use it, and give it some love! Over time, the scent will take on a subtler identity - an aroma, like wine, exquisite with age, and pleasing to the senses. So give it the tick tock, and you never know how your leather friend might surprise you!

Bad Rap, Good Smell

That’s about all the time we have left for today, folks! Remember, if your leather’s got the smell, don’t quell. Knock out that stinky shell with a breathing spell, and a place to dwell that’ll make it swell with a flare like a...a church bell? I can’t do this anymore. Give you leather room to breathe and lots of love, and I’m sure it’ll be more than happy to put on aromas that will make your nose dance. Weird imagery, but you get the gist. Go crazy, people!

Stephanie Clarke
Daniel Sutton
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