5 Mistakes You Might Be Making with Your Leather Goods

published Sep 23, 2018
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(Image credit: Courtesy of Moore & Giles)

If you’re afraid of the luxury of having something nice like a leather sofa, we’re here to put your fears at rest. Leather is a performance material, and fortunately you don’t have to work hard to maintain it.

“People make the mistake of assuming that because leather is more expensive, it requires more care—when it’s just the opposite,” says Whitney Tinsley, Moore & Giles‘ Director of Education. “Leather is meant to be lived in. The better-looking leather you see out there is leather that has been used for quite some time.”

Based in Central Virginia, Moore & Giles provides its leather hides to big companies like Crate + Barrel, NetJet, Ralph Lauren, Restoration Hardware, and Starbucks. They also make high-end leather goods for accessories and the home. We checked in with the folks at the leather manufacturer to hear about common mistakes people are making at home with their leather furnishings.

(Image credit: Courtesy of Moore & Giles)

1. You’re forgetting to dust

“The most important thing you can do is dust your furniture and that is simple,” says Tinsley. “Most people don’t realize how easy it is to care for leather.”

Leather is protein and dries out when a layer of dust accumulates on the surface. You don’t need to dust weekly or even monthly, but keep furniture free of dust in general so it doesn’t build up over time. Tinsley recommends taking a damp cotton cloth and gently wiping the leather. For suede or nubuck leather (unfinished leathers), she suggests wiping them down with a rubberized dry dust cloth.

“You don’t have to be an engineer or scientist to clean leather,” says Moore & Giles President Sackett Wood. “It’s a less-is-more situation.”

2. You’re making stains worse

It’s bound to happen: A glass of red wine will spill or the dog will have an accident on the leather sofa. Don’t freak out—you got this.

“A lot of people make the problem worse,” says Tinsley. “They think, ‘I got to get this spot out,’ and it ends up looking worse than when they started cleaning it.”

First, blot the stain immediately with a dry rag to absorb all moisture. Avoid rubbing the leather and spreading the liquid. “The quicker you can get to the spill before it sets, the better off you are, since leather is inherently going to be resistant to fluids because of the waxes and oils in the leather,” says Tinsley.

With pigmented (a.k.a. protected or coated) leather, spills roll right off since it’s finished with a coated barrier. This type of leather is used on more affordable furnishings and has the appearance of vinyl. But with natural leather (leather that has pigment variation, scratches easily, and gets a patina over time) you need to take more care to minimize stains. And keep in mind that suede is more of a magnet to stains and spills compared to other leather since it is unfinished.

(Image credit: Courtesy of Moore & Giles)

3. You’re using unnecessary cleansers

Tinsley recommends avoiding abrasive cleaning agents and just using a soap and water solution to spot clean. “More natural products are going to be forgiving in a way people don’t really expect,” she says. Simply mix three parts water with one part mild soap, like Ivory or Dawn dish soap. Both tap or distilled water works just fine.

The stain will look its worse on the day of the incident, but over time, as your leather ages and wears, the stain will wear too.

If you are really concerned with the stain, it’s best to call a professional cleaner to come and access the situation. And if you insist on using a leather cleaner, Tinsley recommends testing it out on a hidden area of the leather to ensure that it’s not going to hurt your leather’s natural patina.

“Lesson number one is ‘do no harm,'” says Wood. “That is the main goal. I can’t tell you how many times people have tried to get their MBA in cleaning by taking all these things to it and it just looks worse than when they started.”

4. You’re exposing it to too much sunlight

If you think the dog or red wine is your leather sofa’s worst enemy, you’re wrong.

“Sunlight is an enemy to all material,” says Wood. If your leather sofa is situated in front of a large window, sunlight eventually will cause the leather to fade. And the more natural the leather, the more apt it is to fade.

Install window shades or throw a blanket over your furnishings when you aren’t using them to project the leather.

(Image credit: Courtesy of Moore & Giles)

5. You’re being too kind to it

Leather is meant to endure wear and tear. And if you have pets or children and tell yourself you can’t have nice things, think again. While you’ll have to reupholster your fabric sofa several times over the course of your lifetime, leather stands the test of time.

“Leather is the original performance material. It performs beautifully as is. I can tell you that I am very unkind to it and don’t do much with it except occasionally dust it,” says Wood, who has kids and pets that make themselves comfortable on his leather furniture at home.

Pet hair is much easier to wipe off of leather furniture than taking a lint roller and vacuum to upholstered furnishings. (If you have cats though, just know that they will use anything as a scratching post.)

With that said, some occasional TLC is nice. Natural leather has a wax in the hide and by polishing it with a dry dust rag you can easily bring back its luster.

“We do have some natural conditioners and creams that you can use, but you don’t need to use them every week and every month. It’s whenever you think it needs a little freshening,” says Wood.

Moore & Giles recommends conditioning natural leather 10 years down the road. And know that when you buy natural leather, it’s only going to get better looking as it ages.