6 Leather Care Tips: A Comprehensive Guide

We know that moment: after much deliberation over which style and color to choose, you placed your order, and now your PLG package has arrived. With giddiness, you cut carefully through the tape, peel back the tissue paper, and take a deep inhale as you lay your eyes on your very own Portland Leather bag. 

Like many of our customers, the next thing you do is ask yourself: Now what? How do I care for this beauty?

Cognac Classic Tote

If you already own a Portland Leather bag, you may know that our leather is such high-quality that you don’t have to do anything to treat or condition your bag for at least six months. In the leather industry, not all hides are tanned equally but the tanneries we work with have the highest standards and the result is rich, well-saturated hides. Our bags are tough and you don’t have to baby them. You can set them on the floor, carry them in the rain, or bang them around without fear of doing long-term damage.

This rough-and-tumble sensibility suits us here in Portland. That said, we know some of you want to retain that new-leather look for longer, and that takes a little bit of care. Let us walk you through our best leather care advice to keep your PLG bag looking and feeling great for years to come.

TIP #1: The Best Leather Care Tool is Right at Your Fingertips

If we’ve said it once we’ve said it a thousand times: scuffs and scratches come with the territory when you’re dealing with natural leather! Leather is most vulnerable the first few weeks and it may seem like every little thing leaves a mark – that’s totally okay! Left alone, the self-healing properties of full-grain leather will take over. However, if you find a scratch bothersome, try erasing it with your finger. Many of our leathers are imbued with rich oils and waxes that respond to heat and friction. The same way that jar of coconut oil on your counter goes from solid to liquid in the warm summer months, or a candle melts when lit, the oils and waxes in the leather move and change when they become warm. Rub the mark vigorously with your fingers and you can manipulate the natural conditioners in the leather, helping scuffs and scratches to heal and disappear. The magic of this simple trick never fails to amaze us!   

Leather Care

Bonus tip: While you rub the scratch, push up from behind on the sueded side of the leather or hold a hair dryer on the warm setting 6-12” from the area to get those oils and waxes moving!  

Leather Care

TIP #2: Beauty and the Brush: Buffed Leathers

Some of our most popular leather colors have a buffed finish for a velvety soft, sueded feel.  These leathers might be rich and moisturized like Merlot and Deep Water, or they might have a dryer finish such as Grey, Blush, and Moab. These luscious leathers are ultra-responsive to their environment and their appearance is constantly changing as the loosened surface fibers shift when coming into contact with other textures. If you want to “wipe the slate clean,” you can use a leather brush or simply a soft cloth.  We recommend the wooden brush seen below sold by natemia. Make sure the brush or cloth is clean and dry, and hold tightly the bag as you use gentle circular motions. For light colors, this process will allow you to renew the look of your bag, without darkening the color. 

wooden brush

TIP #3: The “Corner”-stone to a Great Looking Bag

The highest stress point on our most popular Leather Totes, Crossbody Totes, and Backpacks are the bottom corners. The inside seam construction on these bags means that the four corners  are put to the test more than any other area of the bag. Like our own rough spots, adding moisture will keep them happy and resilient. We love Chamberlain’s Healing Balm for its lightweight conditioning properties that won’t darken the color of most bags. We always recommend doing a patch test on an inconspicuous area, such as the back of an inside pocket before application and let it air dry completely so you know how your leather conditioner will affect the leather. Lighter colors like Honey can be more prone to wear at this point, so you might want to condition earlier or more often on this color. This one process will keep any bag looking lovely for years to come.

 

Mini Crossbody 

TIP #4: On a Mission to Condition

Once you’ve had your bag a good long while, the leather may start to appear lighter in color or a little bit dried out. That’s when it is finally time for an all-over treatment. We use Leather Milk around the workshop, however there are countless equally wonderful products on the market. Pick your favorite conditioner and apply an even layer all-over the bag using a circular motion — a little goes a long way! Let it sit for about ten minutes and allow the moisture to fully absorb. Wipe off any excess product and admire your results. Many customers find this process of leather care very therapeutic.

leather milk

Bonus tip: Leather oil or oil-based conditioners can darken some bags. If you are worried about that, apply a small amount to a discrete area of the bag, like the backside of the interior pocket, and let it fully dry before assessing the results. Of course, darkening of the leather isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it is really a matter of cosmetic preference.  

TIP #5: Cleaning Your Leather: Basics to Blunders 

Dust and dirt from daily use is normal, especially if your bag goes everywhere with you. For light duty cleaning we prefer Weiman’s wipes (pssst, they are great for car interiors, too). But let’s face it, some of us are harder on our things than others. Leaky water bottles, coffee drips, hand sanitizer, pens pointing the wrong direction...you might wish you could protect your bag from yourself. The first step when that inevitable “uh-oh” happens is to not panic! These things are  usually less devastating than they initially seem. 

leather totes

For more organic spills such as food and liquid, you can use a few drops of a moisturizing soap such as Dove or Dr. Bronner’s and mix it with warm water. Dip a soft cloth into this solution, wring it out and gently rub the problem area. Go easy on the water, too, as it can stain leather. Use a second clean, damp cloth to wipe off the soap. Blot dry with a towel and allow the spot to dry completely before repeating the process or leveling up to a leather-specific cleaner. 

If the stain is more serious, such as ink or dye transfer from clothing, you may need more muscle. Our favorite by far is the Leather Care Kit by Furniture Clinic which uses a foaming action to get deep into the grain. If all else fails, call a professional – Google can help you find a leather care specialist in your area. Those folks have seen it all!  

TIP #6: Waterproofing (Very) Optional 

Many of us here in the workshop carry our totes day-in and day-out in rainy, rainy Portland, and none show signs of any kind of water damage. The grade of the leather we use is the same grade of leather used in making boots, saddles, and all manner of made-to-last, all-weather leather goods. However if you would like water to "bead up" on your tote, you are certainly welcome to apply a water-proofing product that is specifically designed for leather. We recently performed a leather protectant experiment on multiple leather swatches and we found that the Kiwi Brand stood out among the rest; it was low-odor compared to others and did not darken the leather. 

leather crossbody

Waterproofing isn’t only about making your tote rain-resistant but also can help fend off stains. That being said, we enjoy seeing the “character-building” our totes develop as we live our lives with them by our sides – so don’t feel like this is a necessary step to being a good tote owner.

Low-maintenance and long-lasting products are rare these days. Portland Leather Goods is committed to making products that last and, honestly, our leather does the heavy-lifting for us. Durability is inherent to this natural material. Each bag starts out unique and then evolves and becomes richer and more complex over time. We know you’re busy so don’t fuss too much about how to care for your bag and let the leather do its thing!

If you still have questions about the best way to look after your leather, please don't hesitate to contact the Customer Experience Team at customerservice@portlandleathergoods.com – we’re always happy to help!