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How to Clean Suede & Nubuck Leather

Warm, velvety and natural, unprotected leathers are widely considered the most valuable and beautiful. They are also the most vulnerable to damage. Having said that, quality unfinished leathers can age gracefully, arguably better than pigmented leather that can delaminate and degrade in other ways after years of use. With aniline, nubuck and suede, sometimes, the compromise is a patina of marks that, over time, blend to create a vintage appeal. Regular care and maintenance help to prolong the health of these leathers whilst softening the appearance of marks and minimising stains.

From Day 1

More than any other type of leather, it’s important to commence and maintain a regular regime of cleaning and conditioning from the day your new lounge or coat is delivered. When that first spill hits your leather, you will be glad you have a suitable cleaner on hand to immediately treat the affected area. You will also be pleased that you have conditioned the leather thereby providing a level of protection. Whilst there is no physical barrier to prevent spills from penetrating into the structure of the leather, regular conditioning adds some factors that may buy you some time as you race to soak up the spill before it enters the leather. Similarly, a leather protector, if suitable for your leather, can also create an invisible shield that helps to prevent stains and repels soiling.

What Not To Use

Due to the open and porous nature of leather and the lack of protective coatings on anilines, suedes and nubucks, the use of harsh cleaners can dry and damage the leather at the structural leather resulting in long term problems. Similarly, overly ‘rich’ conditioners can permanently darken the leather, making it look wet or greasy. Avoid the home-made recipes and so-called clever hacks you find on the internet. They are usually ill-informed and risky. Leather care has already been cleverly hacked by engineers and scientists who have, through decades (if not centuries) of research and development, created dedicated products that are safe and beneficial to leather. Also, avoid the use of household cleaners. They can cause irreversible damage that may show immediately or later on. Rips and stripped colour can result from the use of cream cleansers, cleaning wipes, oils and other unsuitable chemicals.

Bring in the Professionals

If you don’t get around to servicing your lounge regularly, call in a professional once a year. If an accident happens and you are not sure how to deal with it, contact a leather care and restoration expert for advice.

DIY Care

Good suede and nubuck leather care involves just a few steps; cleaning, conditioning and, if suitable a protective anti-soiling barrier often referred to as leather protection treatment.

How Often To Service Leather

Consider how often we wipe down our kitchen benches and wash our clothes… Imagine going a month without doing either. Lounges in regular use gather soiling, spills and ‘human grime’ at the same pace as everything else we use daily. A 3 monthly maintenance clean is recommended or more often in high traffic environments.  For apparel, a service at the beginning of the season and another one at the end of the season is recommended. The more regularly you wipe over your leather, the quicker the job. Light and regular is infinitely better for leather than harsh spring cleaning or worse still, the one in 5 or 10 years clean. It ensures your leather is always a joy to use and looks good too. Mark it on your calendar so that you don’t forget.

Regular servicing is the most effective.

Cleaning

The ideal cleaner gently lifts dirt and is mild enough to avoid damaging the leather.

Leather cleaning needs to balance short term results against long term effects

Leather Hero’s Nubuck, Suede and Aniline Cleanse (No.10) is a professional-grade general maintenance cleaner that is ideal for everyday maintenance. It’s formulated specifically for unprotected leathers, is water-based, non-sudsing, non-greasy, non-abrasive, non-toxic and easy to use. With regular use, it minimises marks and removes some of the soiling, body oil and perspiration that damages leather.

When it comes to unprotected leathers, you won’t see stains magically disappear when cleaning. Most often, soiling, spills and marks have penetrated, set-in and are permanent. However, with regular cleaning, marks tend to soften in appearance, blending in a more aesthetically pleasing way over time.

Besides improving the appearance of the leather, regular cleaning helps to minimise the harmful impact of body oil, hair oil and perspiration on leather. With long term exposure, unprotected leathers absorb these contaminants and are degraded at the structural level. They may become dry from perspiration or rot when soaked in oil.

Nubuck, Suede & Aniline kit without accessories - Leather Hero
Ideal for the regular care and maintenance of aniline, nubuck and suede leathers

Conditioning

For aniline, suede and nubuck leather that feels beautiful to touch and is nourished throughout, a light conditioner is best. Products containing the wrong types of waxes and oils can be too ‘rich’ for these leathers. They may clog the pores, look waxy, add unwanted shine, create a greasy appearance or permanently darken the leather.

Unlike a dense wax or thick cream-style conditioner, Leather Hero’s Nubuck, Suede and Aniline Nourish (No.11) is more like a lotion. Whilst a test spot is recommended to determine compatibility with your leather, it typically leaves a beautiful feel without changing the natural characteristics and physical appearance of unprotected leathers.

The Right Accessories

A suitable cleaner, a gentle scrubbing brush and some microfibre cloths are the all you need to clean unprotected leathers.

When it comes to leather cleaning, you want to strike a balance between using gear that makes light work of the job and not damaging your leather. Gentle is best.

For cleaning anilines, look for a bristle brush similar to a nail scrubbing brush with pig-hair bristles or a synthetic domestic cleaning brush. The bristles should not be too hard or inflexible. A light circular motion is usually ideal for agitating dirt from the grain.

Due to the absence of protective coatings, cleaners penetrate quickly. Spray across one area of the leather then, working quickly, use a lightly dampened microfibre cloth to work the cleaner into the leather, then wipe over the leather. You can also pour the cleaner directly onto the cloth, squeeze to incorporate and wipe over the leather.

Semi-aniline leathers can have light colour coatings or clear topcoats. As they are light coatings (meaning comparatively thin), they can be abraided easily. Avoid the use of harsh scrubbing, kitchen scourers and magic sponges. For all leather types, too much heat and water can cause irreversible damage. Whilst steam kills germs and can dislodge some soiling, it is very risky and is not recommended.

Nothing does as good or safe a job as hand detailing

Leather Care Accessory Pack 4 Piece - Leather Hero
Simple accessories get the job done

Test First

There are many leather finishes and qualities so regardless of the instructions on the pack, it’s important to test and observe how your leather responds before proceeding with a full service.

Protecting

The last step towards beautiful nubuck, suede and aniline leather is an invisible, anti-soiling, breathable shield that helps keep your leather clean for longer. Helping to protect the leather from the uptake of spills, grease, transferred dye and stains, it’s a smart inclusion if you want to make light work of maintaining your upholstery. Again, test products for compatibility in an inconspicuous place before proceeding with a full service.

Leather Hero’s Protect (No.3) leaves a transparent barrier to spills and stains.

Leather Protector 250ml - Leather Hero
Easy to apply, Protect (No.3) can help to prevent stains

Brush The Nap

After cleaning, conditioning and protecting, brushing the surface can lift the nap revealing the soft, fuzzy feel of the leather. It can also greatly improve the look, hide marks and leave a lush, velvety finish. A synthetic or fine wire-bristle brush can be used. Brush the surface gently. If there are marks, go over these areas a few times, gradually increase the pressure whilst watching carefully for any unwanted changes.

The Method

Test

  1. Start with Leather Hero’s Nubuck, Suede and Aniline Care Kit. Test each product in an inconspicuous place to assess compatibility with your leather. If there are any unwanted changes, do not proceed

Clean

  1. Vacuum any dust and particles
  2. Pour the cleaner onto a lightly dampened microfibre cloth or spray it directly onto the leather one small section at a time. It will be absorbed quickly, so…
  3. Working quickly and gently, agitate the cleaner into the grain using a scrubbing brush
  4. Wipe clean with a microfibre cloth
  5. Repeat if needed

Condition

  1. Pour conditioner to a lightly dampened microfibre cloth and squeeze to incorporate
  2. Wipe over the surface evenly and repeat until all areas have been treated

Protect

  1. Pour onto a lightly dampened cloth or spray over one section at a time
  2. Working quickly, wipe over the surface evenly and repeat until all areas have been treated

Brush

  1. Brush all areas to lift the nap and render a luxurious, velvety feel. On upholstery, use a strong bristle brush and on apparel, use a soft bristle brush

Regime

  1. Repeat every 3 months
  2. Have products on hand to tackle accidental spills and marks
A heavily soiled nubuck lounge
Cleaned by hand using Leather Hero Nubuck, Suede & Aniline Cleanse & Nourish

Other Care Strategies

Over time, hair and body oil can create dark areas, usually on the backrest, headrest or armrest of the favourite seat of a lounge. We have even seen the shadow of a full human figure sitting on an aniline lounge – made of grease! True story.

So, whilst it’s entirely up to you to decide, the use of throw rugs can be part of a strategic plan to minimise the effects of oils on aniline leathers. They are removable and can be washed regularly, unlike you lounge. In the old days, our great grandmothers used antimacassars; decorative cloths that were put over the back of a chair to protect it from grease and dirt. A crocheted doily may not be your idea of style especially when paired with a sleek contemporary lounge, but a stylish throw rug can serve as the modern alternative.

If you want to share the lounge with your pets, place a pet bed on the lounge and train them to use it.

Antimacassars; decorative cloths that were put over the back of a chair to protect it from grease and dirt.