It is not impossible to salvage wet leather if you keep three key things in mind: patience, timing, and a little elbow grease. You can prevent the havoc water can wreak on your favorite jacket, bag, or briefcase if you lock these elements down.
If you were caught in a rainstorm or narrowly escaped a puddle, our wet leather guide offers tips to ensure your leather isn't damaged. Due to its natural properties and the effects of moisture, leather can undergo several changes when wet. Usually, leather reacts to water in the following way:
Leather is a porous material, which means it has tiny pores that can absorb water. When leather gets wet, it can soak up the water, causing it to swell and become heavier.
Swelling and distortion:
As water is absorbed, the fibers within the leather swell. This swelling can cause the leather to become thicker and heavier. It also disrupts the natural arrangement of the fibers, which can lead to distortion.
Stiffening and loss of flexibility:
Leather contains natural oils that help keep it supple, soft, and damage-resistant. When leather gets wet, these oils can be stripped away, making the leather stiff, dry, and more prone to cracking over time.
Discoloration and water stains:
Depending on the type of leather and the dye used, exposure to water can cause the color to darken or change temporarily. This is due to the water affecting the dye and the structure of the leather.
Weakening of structure:
As leather dries, it can shrink due to the loss of moisture. This can cause items made of leather, such as shoes or bags, to become misshapen if they are not adequately reshaped while drying.
The swelling of the fibers can cause the leather to lose its original structure. This is particularly noticeable in leather items like shoes, belts, or bags. As the leather absorbs water and swells, it may stretch or warp, changing its overall form.
While wet leather swells, it can shrink as it dries. The water loss causes the fibers to contract, leading to further distortion. If the leather isn't properly reshaped during drying, it may dry with a slightly altered shape.
Mold and mildew growth:
If leather is not dried correctly and is left in a damp environment, mold and mildew can develop on its surface. This can lead to discoloration and a musty odor.
Protect Leather From Damage After It Gets Wet
You never know how the weather can switch from bright and sunny to cloudy and wet. However, when it happens, the key is not to panic but to take quick action to preserve your favorite leather accessory.
To begin, make sure you have a dry cloth and a sponge or microfibre paper towel, a soft-bristled brush or toothbrush, a leather conditioner, and padded hangers.
Blot and Shape:
If the leather item gets wet, gently blot away excess moisture with a clean, absorbent cloth. Then, reshape the item back to its original form as much as possible before allowing it to dry.
Avoid Excessive Water Exposure:
While preventing all water exposure is challenging, avoiding prolonged contact with water is key to minimizing swelling and distortion. If you know you'll be in a wet environment, using waterproofing products or carrying a waterproof cover for leather items is a good idea.
Allow the wet leather item to air dry at room temperature. Avoid using direct heat sources like radiators or hair dryers, as high heat can lead to further distortion and even cracking.
Natural oils in a conditioner replenish the lost moisture due to evaporation. After drying the leather overnight, massage it into the surface and buff the entire item. To protect against future water exposure, apply some water or stain repellent at this point.
How to Prevent Leather From Getting Wet
If you want to improve the water resistance of your leather bag, jacket, wallet, or shoes, pre-treat them before using them. Due to its permeability, leather, especially aged leather, can never be 100% waterproof. Your best bet is to have a water-resistant product.
The condition of leather can deteriorate significantly over time if it is repeatedly exposed to water. Nonetheless, looking into treatments containing natural oils that help replace lost oils due to water damage is worthwhile.
Natural water-repellent creams such as Beeswax can be used - but test a small patch first, as it may darken the area.
- Make sure the leather is clean, as dirt may interfere with the wax's effectiveness.
- Apply wax to the leather with a dry, clean cloth and allow it to dry for around 30 to 60 minutes.
- Cracks can occur when artificial heat is used to speed up the process.
- After the wax has dried, buff it off with a clean, dry cloth.
Remember, beeswax will ruin the skin when it comes to suede and nubuck leather. Waterproofing spray should instead be applied to the leather. If you want to make faux/vegan leather waterproof, use a synthetic spray.
Now that you've got our tips for dealing with wet leather, there's no need to worry.