Raw leather care has a knack for intimidating even the bravest of people. Worries surrounding proper treatment, conditioning, and even the right ways to use leather can prevent someone from buying a piece they love.
Whether you’re a lifetime lover of leather or just exploring the idea of purchasing your first leather product, there are simple ways you can care for your patina that will accomplish two things:
- Protect it from damage, and
- Let it evolve naturally, making it yours.
Be observant of the patina that will develop naturally as you use it.
Simply put, your patina is the sheen, coloration, and character that will develop on the surface of your leather as you use and handle it.
With top-grain untreated leather, your patina will naturally darken and gain more richness over time. The leather will absorb oils from your hands and be somewhat shaped by the climate you live in – hot and dry, cold and rainy, and mild temperatures will have different effects on your patina.
Stay clear of water and salt.
Water and salt are bad for every type of leather. On an untreated, raw cut, water will darken the leather and compromise its texture and softness. Combined with salt, and the exposed area may begin to warp.
Don’t leave your leather in the sun.
Continued exposure to sun and heat will compromise the quality and feel of your leather. Don’t be afraid to use it outside, but avoid leaving or storing it in direct sunlight. If your leather gets wet, let it dry naturally for a day before using it again. Do not dry it in front of a fireplace or heater. This will damage and morph the leather, and can even make it crack.
Remember that chemicals aren’t always best.
There are many different forms of leather care, and they vary based on the material you’re working with. Unlike high-polished leathers, people choose raw leather because it develops character as you use it. It will absorb more of its surroundings during use. Don’t be afraid of scuff marks, surface scratches, and darkening. Those are signs you’re using your leather well.
For conditioning, use a product like Dr. Martens Wonder Balsam. This will help protect the patina from water and salt damage and keep your leather soft and flexible. Be sure to follow the recommended application and avoid over-conditioning. And make sure you don’t ever use heat to “open the pores” of the leather to absorb the product. This will result in absorbing too much product and can cause your leather to take on a completely different feel. In the worst cases, the excess product will also seep out of the leather.
Be aware of the short-term effects of leather conditioning.
Conditioning will temporarily darken raw leather quite a bit. The color will lighten again as the conditioner dries, but it may not fully return to its natural shade once chemicals are applied to it. Be cautious of the leather care treatments you find in many stores, as most are not made to treat raw leather.
Avoid wax and polish.
Patent dress shoes, highly-treated leather bags, and boots made from leathers like calfskin and ostrich are made to handle waxes, polishes, and brushes. Raw leather is not. Don’t use these products on your Rustico leathers, as they will alter textures and damage your patina permanently.
Don’t try to make leather something it’s not.
Leather is leather. It will never be plastic, canvas, wool, hemp, nylon or polyester. It requires it’s own treatment, and it’s important to be mindful of how you want your patina to develop. Raw and rugged? Use it generously in any area without treating it. Simply lick your finger and rub it in to minimize the look of scratches. Well-preserved and looking like new? Be a little more delicate in how you use, store and carry it. Condition it lightly when necessary.
Appreciate its uniqueness.
No matter how you care for raw leather, it will develop a unique patina over time. Embrace it and appreciate how yours will look different from anyone else’s. Your story is your own, and your patina should wear it well.
The leather products that come to mean the most over time are rarely untouched and perfectly preserved. Leather is durable. It’s meant to be tested, worn and carried from adventure to adventure. Don’t be afraid to make it yours.
The marks your leather journal got on that 11-hour train ride through western Europe? The lines it adopted near its spine when you wrote freely for three hours straight? Those are the exterior characteristics that will make it as unmistakably yours as the content inside.