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Simple Steps To Clean and Protect Your Leather and Suede Clothing

Stock up on baby wipes.

Senior Home and Style Editor
Leather Jacket
Photography by: Lucy Schaeffer
Mackage, Lisa in Gray, $790,

Your big-ticket items -- the soft-leather trench or fun raspberry-colored suede boots -- need special care. While no one recommends dunking a leather jacket in a home bath or washing machine, there are some tactics to keep your investment pieces looking their best. We spoke to Bruce Barish of Ernest Winzer Cleaners, which has specialized in leather cleaning for over 40 years, for some expert advice.


How to protect leather and suede?

As much as you want to shield your chic black leather moto from the elements, avoid store-bought protectors. The formulations are often so strong, it’s impossible to penetrate the water-repellency barrier to clean the garment -- an issue that’s especially frustrating when you, say, spill a latte on your favorite suede bag. That isn’t to say you can’t add a protective layer to your garment -- just have a professional do it. “What I’m going to spray on, I know I can clean off and get to any stains later,” says Barish.


What if your leather and suede items get wet?

Caught in a downpour -- now what? Whatever you do, do not put any leather or suede items in the dryer.  “Heat is going to end up burning the skin,” says Barish. “The best thing someone can do is actually just let them air dry.” For jackets, use a solid hanger so the shoulders can sit properly. A flimsy hanger can drag the shoulders down, and the garment can be misshaped during the drying.


How do you spot-clean leather?

Any mom will tell you: Baby wipes are magic. They bail you out of many an emergency. In fact, Barish says they’re the safest way to remedy small stains and spills on suede and leather. “I’ve rarely seen it make the skin darker,” he says. And most wipes contain some lanolin oil, which is a moisturizing agent. But be gentle. Don’t “rub the heck out of the stain with it,” he warns.  If you’re feeling adventurous and decide to DIY a consumer cleaner, always test it in an inconspicuous area first. “Make sure it’s not drying in a darker shade and discoloring the garment,” he says.


[READ THIS: Caring for Leather]


How do you spot-clean suede?

Invest in a suede brush to tackle spots and stains. Gently wipe off the stain with a paper towel and brush the area. Lightly brush the area surrounding the stain as well. Don’t be too aggressive or you’ll end up pulling color, says Barish. Keep in mind that “as you’re brushing, you’re kinda changing the nap itself,” he explains. "If looks like it needs to be evened out, then you might have to do a bigger area.” And in case you’ve brushed in the opposite direction than the nap runs naturally, simply run your hand across it in the other way to even it out.


[HOW TO CLEAN: Leather and Suede Shoes]


The best way to store leather and suede 

When spring arrives, it’s time to pack away your leather and suede favorites. If you wear your coats a decent amount during the season, clean them once a year, says Barish. Store these items in a breathable garment bag in a cool, dry space. “Breathable bags are important because [if you store in plastic] you’re starving the jacket of air, and stains will oxidize quicker and become stubborn,” he says. Another tip: To help leather retain its shape, use a heavy-duty wood hanger. If you've got the room, a padded hanger is even better.