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Leather Cleaning Guide


If you are not cleaning a product made by Hardmill, please review the Leather Types info page to note if the item you are cleaning is Full Grain Leather.

Hardmill products use two different kinds of leather. Our oil-tanned leathers are soft and supple – used on our tote bags, placemats, leather aprons, etc. Our vegetable-tanned and bridle leathers have a smooth finish and a firm feel. We use this kind for our belts, bag handles, rugged apron trims, wallets, keychains, etc.

The leathers we use are full of oils and waxes from the tanning process allowing the material to have a water-resistant finish and soft feel. Leather may dry over time due to wear, exposure, moisture, heat, and humidity. Leathers may look lighter in color, dull/dry, firm, and rough in texture, and water may no longer be beading on the surface.

Before cleaning, spot-test the oil in an inconspicuous area to ensure the finish and color fit your needs. 

Light conditioning:

For light conditioning, use 100% Pure Neatsfoot Oil or mink oil. Note that the oil will slightly darken the skin and may be unsuitable for light-colored materials.

Add a few drops of Neatsfoot oil to a clean, lint-free cloth and apply a thin, even coating to the surface of the leather in a circular motion. Add more oil to the rag as needed. Use a separate clean, lint-free cloth to wipe away any excess oils. Leave the item to rest for at least 30 minutes to allow absorption. It can take up to 24 hours for the skin to absorb and for the color to stabilize evenly.

Applying too much oil to your product or not wiping off excess oils can cause the surface to become tacky and attract dust. 

Cleaning and conditioning:

Items might need a deeper cleaning and condition. Start by brushing off dirt and debris, then wipe the surface with water using a damp rag. Allow air-drying fully.

We enjoy cleaning with Blackrock Leather: Leather-N-Rich, carnauba wax-based, Skidmore Leather Cream, beeswax-based, or Fiebing Saddle Soap, tallow-based. These products clean and condition in one step by suspending dirt and grime from the pores while restoring oils and waxes into the leather.

Once your item has dried, use a clean, lint-free cloth to apply the cleaner/conditioner of your choice in a thin layer over the entire piece. Use a dry part of the cloth to go back over the article in circular motions until no more dirt transfers from the item to the rag. If necessary, re-apply the product and repeat the process until clean.

Leather Discoloration:

Our placemats and coasters occasionally will have a stark color change that may occur if hot liquids are spilled or left on the surface. While cool or tepid water will bead off the surface, the hot liquid will permeate and displace oils, leaving the underlying leather desiccated.

Applying heat to the discolored area will help melt the waxes allowing them to flow black into the discolored area. We use an industrial heat gun at our shop to do this. Alternatively, a household hair dryer will work if held close enough to the surface with some patience. If the color of the leather does not fully return, apply a leather conditioner to help replace the oils and waxes in the areas. Light heat can then expedite the waxes and oils to restore the impacted area.

Leather Smell:

We have heard from customers who love the smell of their new leather products and those wanting to remove the scent as quickly as possible. Similar to a new-car-smell the aroma associated with the leather will wear off over time.

While we have not found a consistent process to remove the aroma of leather, some at-home methods use coffee grounds, baking soda, and newspaper. However, we cannot attest to the efficacy of any of these methods.

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