How to Clean Leather (Jackets/Purses/Boots) from Thrift Store: A Definitive Guide

Finding leather products from a thrift store is definitely a good choice as you get expensive and quality products at a fraction of the cost. Leather is a durable material and lasts longer, one can find leather products in good condition from thrift stores.
Leather gets scars and stains with time so you may need to get rid of them to make your leather finds look new or at least capable of being used without any hesitation. We have researched products and ways to clean thrifted leather finds such as jackets, purses, etc. Continue reading the guide to cleaning secondhand leather. This guide is helpful in cleaning these products made of leather: leather jackets, leather purses and bags, leather Upholstery, leather shoes, and other related leather items.

Types of Thrifted Leather Damages

Before starting to clean the leather, it is always a good idea to know exactly what kind of damage is done to the leather so that you can choose the right products or the method needed to clean that damage.

A few common leather damages that occur with time or some accidents are the following

Do read our full guide on the types of leather damage and how to avoid them.  

Products needed to clean thrift store leather finds

From leather jackets to shoes to purses, you will need products to ensure the best possible condition after the cleaning procedure is done. 

You do not need all the things for each cleaning procedure, we have listed down the items that you can have to utilize in the procedures mentioned in this guide.

How Much will the leather cleaning procedure cost?

The cost to clean leather jackets, purses, or any other item depends on the type of leather, type of the damage that occurred to the leather, and the size of the leather. As far as size is concerned, cleaning a leather jacket will definitely cost more than a leather purse, wallet, or belt. How often should you clean the item depends on how often you use the product. It also depends on which part of the world you live in. There is no rule of thumb to measure the exact cost but on average, the cleaning procedure done at home with basic cleaning items will cost about $30. 

Guide to Clean Leather Finds (Jackets/Purses) from Thrift Store

Cleaning leather jackets, purses, belts, or other items is sensitive. You can not use a ton of water because it can leave stains, and you can not use harsh chemicals such as bleach as they can make the color and finish of the item dull. 
Occasionally, there can be chewing gum stains on your leather finds from a thrift store, you can remove such stains too. Read our guide to removing gum from leather.

Faux/fake leather is delicate and cleaning them can peel the outer layer so be careful and gentle when you are cleaning them. Unfinished leather for instance suede and nubuck can require different procedures and it is also advised to take them to professional cleaning experts.

1. How to clean the thrift store’s leather exterior?

The outside is visible to everyone and it should be cleaned thoroughly with proper care so that you can prevent any potential damage. Cleaning the outside frequently, at least once a month is recommended for a maintained look.

Here is a simple step-by-step guide to cleaning the exterior of the leather.

  1. Fill in a bowl with soapy water, in our case we are using leather laundry detergent.
  2. Dip a soft cloth in the soap water. To clean the exterior, it is a bad idea to put your jacket or purse in a tub full of water. Wipe over the surface with a damped cloth and repeat the rinsing process until you are satisfied. 
  3. Use non-soapy lukewarm water and a new cloth to clean the soap traces from the item. 
  4. Hang the item and let it dry at room temperature. 
  5. Use a good leather conditioner and apply it to the leather.

Use the process whenever you feel is needed or follow a cleaning process habitually once or twice a month. 

2. Washing And Cleaning Leather Jackets or Purses’ Interior

The interior of the leather items may not be visible but it still should be cleaned as it can be smelly or you may just feel bad touching the inside. And you can get accustomed to the smell of leather that is in your frequent use but others can definitely feel the smell, this scenario refers to nose blindness.

You can easily clean the leather jacket or purse interior by following the steps below:

  1. Turn the jacket or purse inside out.
  2. Use leather laundry detergent or soapy water with a soft sponge to clean the area. 
  3. You will need to pay more attention to areas with more dirt, such as inside corners or purse or jacket cuffs. 
  4. Let the leather dry. Let it dry in a shadowed area and prevent direct sunlight or heat.
  5. Optionally, you can use an air freshener for a pleasant scent.

3. How to remove oil and grease stains?

Fresh Oil Stains: Considering time is crucial when it comes to oil stains. It’s more difficult to remove older stains. If stains are fresh, they may be removed easily by simply removing the oil with a soft cloth. If it goes away, congrats, if not then don’t worry and follow the below step.
Using Baking soda to remove harsh oil stains: Baking soda can be helpful in removing oil stains from leather. Apply the baking soda on the stained area and let leave it for a couple of hours and then remove the baking soda with a soft brush.

4. How to remove Non-oil stains?

These stains can include ink, paint, or blood stains. To remove blood clots or stains, you can use cotton soaked in hydrogen peroxide and rinse the area. Then let it dry. For other types of nonoil or non-greasy stains, follow this process:

  • Use a damp cloth and rinse over the place where there are stains.
  • Once the stains are removed, let the leather dry and then use a good leather conditioner and apply it over the surface. 
  • If the stains do not disappear with a damp cloth alone, you need to use leather cleaner.
  • Apply the cleaner on the surface and use another slightly damped cloth and gently rub the area.
  • Let the surface dry under a shadowed area. Prevent the sunlight or heat as it can dry out and damage the surface.

5. Removing Mold and Mildew/Fungus From A Leather

If the leather product you got from a thrift store is quite old, it may have gotten mold and mildew. Even if the leather is not much old, it still can get mold. Here is what to do if your jacket or any other leather item gets fungus:

Bring your leather item outside to clean the mold so that the spores don’t spread inside your home or room.

Use a brush to remove mold from the leather and use rubbing alcohol or white vinegar and mix it with a cup of water. Rub the solution of the mold and mildew area and let the leather dry.

Check if after drying, are there any signs of mold remaining. If yes, you can use soapy water or leather laundry detergent to clean. And of course, dry it out again before wearing it.

6. How to eliminate odor/smell from leather?

After applying the cleaning techniques, if you still feel a weird smell of your leather, don’t worry you can use odor removal methods. Here we have mentioned 2 basic and easy ways to remove the odor. 

  • Using baking soda: Baking soda can remove odor as it is a natural odor remover. Use a pillowcase and put some baking soda in it along with your leather item. Shake it well so the baking soda covers the leather. Now, leave it for a day and then remove the leather product. You will feel a much better smell now. You can repeat the process if required.
  • Using Vinegar: Ideally, vinegar should be avoided on leather. But diluted vinegar can be utilized in case the smell is not going away from the leather. Use water and vinegar in equal quantities and mix them in a spray bottle and sprinkle over the leather and gently rub the surface. Allow the jacket to dry and if the smell is gone, that’s all you needed, if not you can repeat the process.

7. Professional leather cleaning services

Some leather types are sensitive to leather cleaning products available for DIY treatments to clean leather. Nubuck and Suede are some of them. We advise utilizing a professional leather service to remove pretty hard stains, clean unfinished leather and redying or refinish the leather. Always look out for a professional leather expert in your area who is well-experienced.

8. At-home DIY ideas to clean thrifted leather

Try these DIY ideas at your own risk. They can sometimes be harsh for delicate leather types. If you do not want to spend money on cleaning products or on professional cleaning services, you can try these methods.
Rubbing Alcohol: Mild stains including ink stains can be removed using rubbing alcohol. Use a cotton swab or a soft cloth to rub over the stain. 

Lemon Juice: Lemon contains citric acid and can be used to clean wine stains. Rub the lemon or lemon juice with a cotton swab and dry the surface with another cloth. 

Toothpaste: Yes, you can try using toothpaste to clean the stain. Rub over the surface and remove the toothpaste with a cleaning cloth. Make sure not to apply it to the stainless area. 

How to maintain the leather and prevent it from getting dirty?

If you have invested in a leather jacket, shoes, purse, pants, or even a sofa from a thrift store, then taking care of it is necessary to maintain its shape. To maintain and prevent the leather from getting dirty, experts advise using leather conditioners quite often. But using it in the right way is also significant. 

How to use leather conditioners the right way?

Leather conditioners basically moisturize the leather and keep the fibers flexible. Abundant of leather conditioner brands are there in the market. You can use any good conditioner. Our recommendation here is Weiman leather cleaner and conditioner

There are also some other types of leather conditioner. They are conditioning Oils, Conditioning Creams, and Wax Conditioners.

is vaseline good for leather

Oils such as Lanolin and Neatsfoot oil are used to clean leather. But oils can sometimes make your leather sticky.

Appropriate conditioning cream is excellent for keeping the fibers flexible and providing protection. However, if you use the wrong cream, your leather item’s color may damage.

Conditioning wax is intended to nourish leather products, but it is not deeply absorbed. Fortunately, they are excellent at repelling water and other liquids. It somewhat makes your leather waterproof.

You need to choose any of these conditioner types as per your needs.

Additional Tips and Advice

  • Always use products such as leather cleaners or leather conditioners as per product instructions. 
  • Allow the leather to fully dry before wearing/using it. 
  • Before testing a product on a whole item, use it on a portion and test it first if it is not harming the condition or color of the leather. For example, you can try on the cuff interior of a jacket before using it outside. 
  • Store your leather items properly for a longer life. To store jackets use a heavy-duty hanger that can bear the weight of the jacket easily. Hang the jacket in a dry place. 
  • Use a coat or jacket bag to store so that you can avoid any scars or scratches from other coats or cloth.
  • If there are scratches, don’t rub them too hard because this can enhance the damage; instead, use fine sandpaper to the area to lessen the scratching.
caring bonded leather

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

How to disinfect leather shoes from the thrift store/secondhand shoes?

To remove infectious diseases from soiled or used shoes, use disinfectant spray, hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol, or bleach.

Can you dry clean the leather jacket or other leather items?

No, do not use dry cleaning services to clean your leather. Seek cleaners who only use organic chemicals. Leather is a natural material that should not be washed with chemicals.

Do thrift stores clean shoes?

It depends on the thrift store. Some thrift stores have a policy of only selling clean items, while others do not have such a policy. Some thrift stores clean shoes before putting them out for sale, while others do not. If you are concerned about whether or not the shoes you are considering purchasing from a thrift store have been cleaned, you may want to ask a staff member for such information.

How often to clean the thrift store leather products?

Clean leather bags or jackets at least once or twice a year to remove dirt accumulation. Wipe your leather product with a leather-specific cleaner only.

Is thrifted leather infectious?

Thrift store leather jackets, boots, suede items, or any other related item can be infectious and cause you to get in touch with fungus or bacteria. So, you should follow proper cleaning procedures to avoid any adverse effects from infections.

Are old leather jackets worth anything?

Leather jackets that have been well-maintained for decades are quite precious. Vintage leather can be found for less than $100 at thrift stores. Although the value of an antique depends on a number of aspects such as the condition of the jacket, size (as larger jackets use more leather), brand, and quality and maintenance of the leather.

Can you use bleach to wash leather?

No, using ammonia or bleach-based chemicals is a bad idea since they are too harsh and can ruin the natural finish of the leather.

Is nail polish remover bad for leather products?

No, to remove marks from leather upholstery, bags, and jackets, do not use fingernail polish remover. Although fingernail polish can remove blemishes from leather, it also removes dyes that should not be removed.

Final Thoughts

Leather is a pretty durable material and lasts quite a long. But new leather jackets, purses, or other items come with huge price tags. So getting them from a thrift store is never a bad idea as you can easily clean the leather and make it almost look new.

Following the methods mentioned above, you can easily give them a nice look. Bring the leather items from thrift stores and give them a new life and refreshed look!



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