Leather is expensive, and we’re conditioned to think of it as a delicate material. So it’s natural that an industry has developed to service our fear of damaging a valuable piece of leather in the process of cleaning it. But in fact, though leather can definitely be mistreated, it’s tougher than we usually give it credit for. After all, most of its usefulness is based on its durability.
First, get your supplies together: you’ll need gentle hand soap (in the interest of keeping this project green, I grabbed a bottle of Method Hand Washout of my bathroom), olive oil, and a few soft, clean rags. You’ll need water, too, but you can get that straight from the tap. Then, before you jump into cleaning your whole couch or that stain on the front of your jacket, it’s important to test the cleaning method from start to finish in a small, hidden place, just to make sure it won’t lighten, darken, or dry your specific piece of leather.
Once you’re ready to get started, you’ll need to prepare a rag by dampening it and applying a little soap. Get the whole rag wet if you’re cleaning a large area, but for small stains, it should be sufficient to run a corner of the rag under the tap. Either way, remember that the rag should be just slightly damp, not soaking wet; squeeze out any excess water before pumping a small amount of hand soap onto the rag.
Rub the rag against itself a little to work the soap into the cloth before you begin cleaning. You don’t want to apply a glob of soap to a piece of leather. Instead, gently rub a light lather onto the leather until it appears clean.