Tips For Hand Cleaning Your Leather Jacket

We may receive a commission on purchases made from links.

Leather has been a staple material in shoes, handbags, and other accessories for decades, but if you're looking to really lean into the edgy, cool girl look, there's no option that tops the leather jacket, thanks to its long association with bikers and the so-called bad boy back on the screen in the '50s (via Buffalo Jackson). This style is both a chic and practical choice for protecting yourself against chilly weather and wind, but, unlike your beloved pair of leather boots, proper maintenance of leather jackets tends to fall by the wayside.


Leather is an incredibly durable material, but, because it's a natural animal product, it needs a bit of TLC to stay in good shape. Luckily, this is a fairly simple task to take on. Cleaning a piece that's been soiled by mud or snow, reviving a vintage find, or simply giving your favorite jacket a refresh is as easy as following a few basic steps. 

Saturate a sponge or cloth with leather cleaner

The first step in cleaning your leather jacket should always be finding an appropriate leather cleaner — or making one on your own. According to Liberty Leather Goods, cleaning leather takes a bit of extra care because curing and shrinking this material to size requires special processes. Cleaners that are too harsh or damaging can further shrink your piece and even wipe away the stain, leaving you with more of an issue than you started with.


There are quite a few brands of leather cleaner available in stores, anywhere from Walmart to specialty leather goods shops, so if you decide to go with the store-bought option, be sure to follow your jacket's care instructions and the steps on the product. If you'd rather take the do-it-yourself approach, however, you probably already have what you need on hand. Simply dilute a bit of gentle dish soap or laundry detergent in warm water, then apply to a soft cloth or sponge.

Rub the exterior of your jacket

Before you go in with your leather cleaner all over, it's always a good idea to do a patch test on a small, inconspicuous area. Wipe down a spot somewhere that isn't obvious, like the inside hem or collar, then wait a bit to ensure no color wipes off. It's okay if the leather feels a little bit dry after wiping down, but if you're noticing changes in color or cracking, stop and find a new cleaner that works better on the material.


Once you ensure your leather cleaner is safe, the process is pretty self-explanatory. Gently wipe down any debris on the jacket, especially focusing on any stained or soiled areas. Make sure not to aggressively scrub, however, even if you're dealing with a stubborn spot. Instead, Liberty Leather Goods recommends you rub in a bit of regular toothpaste for a few seconds with your finger, then wipe away — after spot-checking, of course. It's also a good idea to avoid fully soaking the jacket in water. It's okay if it's a bit damp, but leather can deteriorate if it's faced with excess moisture.

Gently pat dry with a cloth

After you're satisfied with your cleaning job, grab another clean and dry microfiber cloth to wipe away any excess water. A tiny bit of soap left over is fine, but if there's obvious residue, you should go back in with a bit of clean water to remove it. From there, simply hang it to dry for a few hours. The leather shouldn't be all that wet, so this shouldn't take very long.


If your jacket looks a bit lackluster after you wash it down, don't worry. The cleaning process strips some of the moisture from the leather, but as long as you didn't use anything too harsh, it'll return to its shiny, supple state with a bit of conditioning. Before you go in with the conditioner, however, it's important to make sure that all of the water or cleaner has evaporated and your jacket has fully dried out. Conditioner traps in moisture, which is beneficial to the jacket, but too much can cause the fibers to deteriorate over time.

Apply leather conditioner

According to Liberty Leather Goods, there are three main options for leather conditioners on the market — oils, creams, and waxes. Oils are best for thicker leather in need of serious TLC, while creams are well-suited for thinner applications. Wax is typically used in conjunction with one of these products and provides a bit more surface protection from water and the elements.


Leather jackets are heavy-duty pieces of clothing, but they don't need the same level of moisture and protection as something like a pair of sturdy work boots, so it's best to use something like Lexol All Leather Conditioner that has a slightly liquid consistency. Patch test, of course, then wipe down the full jacket with the conditioner you chose. Allow it to sit for a few minutes, then wipe away any excess product that didn't soak in. If there are any drier patches, you can go in with a second coat, but be careful not to over-condition. Leather that's too moisturized can often lose its shape, an issue that's especially important to avoid on a clothing item like a leather jacket.

Wipe down the lining

Most leather jackets feature a lining on the interior to make them more comfortable to wear, so if you feel like your jacket needs a bit of a refresh, now's the time to tackle the inside, too. Each jacket is different, so there's not one consistent lining material, but as a general rule of thumb, the best bet is to wipe it down with soapy water and allow it to air dry. Of course, check your jacket's care label for specific instructions, but, whatever you do, don't just toss your jacket into the washing machine once it gets dirty.


Genuine leather is a bit more high maintenance than something like polyester, but with proper care, you'll have a piece that will last you for decades and only get better with age, unlike trendy, fast-fashion pieces. Even though it takes a few extra steps, a bit of additional work is worth it to maintain a high-quality, timeless leather jacket.