This is a big question we get at the milk farm. If I leave my car windows open, or walk outside with my briefcase, and a storm blows in, is my soaked leather in peril? We're glad you asked, and even happier that we can ease your worries a bit. The straight answer: probably not. So long as you act quickly and use appropriate treatments, there's a remedy for almost any leather malady. Don't take advantage of that information though. Chronic neglect does effect leather on a microscopic level, and although many kinds of leather tend to outlive humans even with poor treatment, many do not. Poor treatment adds up, and allowing contaminations to set for too long can have disastrous consequences. Even though leather's technically dead, you should know that from the very first moment you purchase it, you are purchasing the equivalent of a housepet. Or at least a plant. With care, it will breathe and glow. Don't care, it'll choke up.
But I digress. You got caught in a storm, eh? Don't worry - soaked leather isn't too difficult to fix if you know what you're doing.
In fact, if your soaked leather is your car seat, you should barely have any problems at all. Due to the intense level of UV rays car leather is generally exposed to on a day to day basis, manufacturers generally outfit their leather upholstery with a fine protective coating made of pigments. In leather slang, that's known as a finish. It holds up pretty well against most kinds of natural elements, and has probably saved your hide a number of times by preventing that spilled soda or coffee from leaving any permanent stains.
Your briefcase, on the other hand, can be more of a wild card. Leather types differ, with some being more porous than others, and others having differing degrees of finish. Suede, for example, tends to be more susceptible to a beatdown than full grain leather due to its smaller cut. Whether your soaked leather is inside your car, in your hand, on your couch, or anywhere else, there a preventative measures you should take to ensure that when the inevitable storm or spill does roll in, you aren't going to be caught unprepared. Leather, at it's core, is kept alive using a complex breathing process that allows it to absorb nourishing oils and breathe out moisture. Whatever you do to protect your leather, you want to ensure this breathing process can continue, or your leather can dry out and slowly whittle to dust.
Like Drowning a Moat
Leather conditioners, protectors and dressings are the most common way of giving leather a line of defense. Not only do these recipes provide leather with the vital oils it needs to keep alive, but they also form a competent barrier that permits breathing while rejecting most other contaminants. However, not all conditioners are alike. Since suede has a very different make than full grain, conventional leather conditioners will tend to clog up its pores and hurt it in the long run. When you are preparing to condition leather, it is always best to check the manufacturer's instructions first for best leather care recommendations. Elsewise, always test your recipe first in a discreet area before you use it to ensure it has the best results.
For most leather types, we recommend Leather Care Liniment No. 1or Water Protectant No. 3. Check out our Leather Care Liniment and Water Protectant Guides for exclusive peaks on what makes these mad formulas tick!
Let's Get Real
Alright, so that's nice to know in retrospect. Now what do I do about this soaked leather that wasn't protected? Well, there are a few things. Assuming the water hasn't had time to set, the first thing is to blot up as much of the liquids as you can with a clean, lint-free cloth. Blot, here, don't wipe, as wiping pushes liquids further into your soaked leather. Once you've gotten out as much water as you can, allow the leather to dry in a cool, clean place away from sunlight and direct heat. After the leather has dried completely, apply a leather conditioner. Rainwater is dangerous primarily wet leather draws oils up to the surface. Once the oils leave the leather, it becomes exceedingly dry, and will start to fall apart.
If your soaked leather has been allowed to absorb excessive amounts of rainwater, it may begin to show signs of water stains or mold. You can read more about that in our articles "How to Clean Mold from Leather" and "How to Clean a Leather Water Stain." In most cases, the best remedy is to regularly clean and conditioner your leather. Note that in most cases leather conditioner will not be able to clean leather well enough to remove stains or substances that occur beneath the leather's immediate surface. If you want to effect substances deeper within the leather's pores, you will need to use a more potent leather cleaner, such as Straight Cleaner No. 2. You can read about how to use that in our handy guide here.
Umbrellas Also Helpful
So bottom line: be prepared. Our skin has lots of handy dandy oils to keep it protected against rainwater. You might notice that when you get out of the rain or pool after a prolonged period of time, your fingers tend to dry out and wrinkle like raisins. That's because the oils in your hands were pulled out, leaving them to dry in an unpleasant manner. In a short time, however, your body replenishes these lost lubricants with new oils, and you've got protection again. Leather is unable to produce new oils, and that's why it's so important that you remember to replace them whenever the leather's texture starts to feel dry.
Thanks for reading!