Can You Soak Leather In Water? (When To And What To Avoid)

Can You Soak Leather In Water?

We are all used to immersing a lot of the things we clean in water. Doing this help to loosen dirt and grime so that it can be a lot easier to scrub it away. But what about leather? Can you soak leather in water?

The short answer is technically yes! You can soak leather in cool or hot water to help change its molecular structure so that it becomes easy to reshape, stiffen, or soften. However, it is generally not recommended that you soak leather in water, as this can cause it to dry out and crack.

To learn more about whether you can soak leather in water, read on. I’ll discuss the pros and cons of doing this and when to do it and provide some tips on caring for your leather after you’ve soaked it.

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When To Soak Leather In Water

While it is generally not advisable to soak leather in water, there are instances where it can be beneficial to do so. So, knowing when and not to soak leather in water is important.

Here are some instances soaking leather in water is a good idea:

  • When Stiffening Leather,
  • When Hardening Leather,
  • When darkening leather, and
  • When Changing The Shape of Leather

1. When Stiffening Leather

One common instance where it can be a good idea to soak leather in water is when you are trying to stiffen it.

This can be helpful if the leather has become too soft or slouchy over time or if it has been stretched out of shape.

This process usually works well with vegetable-tanned leather but will also work on other types of leather.

Soaking the leather in cool water (at room temperature) can help change its molecular structure so that it becomes stiffer.

By doing this, you will be able to restore some structure back to your leather item. Here’s how to stiffen leather by soaking it in water;

Step One:

  • Fill up a large bowl or bucket with cool water.
  • Make sure the water is at room temperature.

Step Two:

  • Dip the leather item into the bowl or bucket of water.
  • Make sure that the entire leather item is submerged in the water.
  • Let it stay submerged for about 5-10 minutes.

Step Three:

  • Once the leather has been in the water for the allotted time, take it out, wipe it down, and let it air dry.

Step Four:

  • Apply a thin layer of leather conditioner once it is dry to help protect it.

2. When Hardening The Leather

If you want to go a notch higher than just stiffening the leather and making it harder, you can soak it in hot water instead.

This method is also best used on vegetable-tanned leather as it can help change the leather’s structure right from its fibers to become harder.

However, this process is a bit riskier as there is a higher chance of damaging the leather if not done correctly.

Here’s how to harden leather by soaking it in hot water;

Step One:

  • Fill up a cooking pot with water and boil it on the stove.

Step Two:

  • Place a kitchen cooking thermometer into the pot of boiling water to ensure the water does not get too hot.
  • The ideal temperature is between 140-160 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • If you do not have a thermometer, you can use your hand to check every minute.
  • If the water feels hot, yet you can keep your hand in it continuously for up to 10 seconds, then it’s possibly safe for leather.
  • This temperature will be hot enough to help harden the leather but not too hot that it will damage it.

Step Three:

  • Once the water has reached the ideal temperature, carefully pour it into a bowl or bucket.

Step Four:

  • Fill a separate bowl with room temperature water and first dip the leather in the cool water.
  • This will help prepare the leather for the hot water.

Step Five:

  • After a few minutes, take the leather out of the cool water and then dip it into the pot of hot water.
  • Make sure that the entire leather item is submerged in the hot water.
  • Let it stay submerged for about 60-90 seconds.

Step Six:

  • Take out the leather from the hot water and let it air dry or cool at room temperature.
  • Once the leather dries, it will be significantly harder than before.
  • You can then apply a thin layer of leather conditioner to help protect it.

3. When Darkening The Leather

Soaking leather in water is a great way to darken leather without harsh chemicals. This method is perfect if you want to simultaneously darken and harden the leather.

You will need to use hot water instead of cool water to darken leather with water. This is because the heat from the water will do the job of darkening the leather and hardening it.

To darken leather using water, follow the steps below;

Step One:

  • Fill up a cooking pot with water and put it on the stove to heat up.
  • Once the water has reached about 180 degrees Fahrenheit (or 82 degrees Celsius), take it off the heat.

Step Two:

  • Fill a second bowl with cool water and submerge the leather into it for about a minute.

Step Three:

  • Once you’ve removed the leather from the cool water, quickly submerge it into the hot water.

Step Four:

  • Leave the leather in the hot water for about 2-3 minutes.
  • The leather will start to darken and harden during this time significantly.

Step Five:

  • After the leather has been in the hot water for a few minutes, remove it and submerge it into the cool water bowl once again.

Step Six:

  • Remove the leather from the water and allow it to air dry completely.
  • You can then apply a thin layer of leather conditioner to help protect it.
  • Depending on how dark you want the leather to be, you may need to repeat the steps.
  • Also, the more you leave the leather in the hot water, the darker the leather will become.

4. When Changing The Shape of the Leather

If you want to change the shape of your leather, soaking it in water can be a great way to do so. This is because water will make the leather more pliable and easier to manipulate.

Keep in mind, however, that once the leather dries, it will return to its original shape. So if you want to change the shape of your leather permanently, you’ll need to do something else.

To change the shape of leather, here are a few steps to follow;

Step One:

  • Fill a pot with water and place it on the stove to heat up.
  • You’ll want the water to be hot but not too hot.
  • The ideal temperature for this is between 140-160 degrees Fahrenheit (or 60-71 degrees Celsius).

Step Two:

  • Once the water has reached the ideal temperature, carefully pour it into a bowl or bucket.

Step Three:

  • Submerge the leather in the hot water and let it soak for about 15 minutes.
  • The heat from the water will make the leather more pliable and easier to work with.

Step Four:

  • After 15 minutes, remove the leather from the hot water and start shaping it how you want.
  • You can use your hands, tools, or anything else to help you achieve the desired shape.

Step Five:

  • Once you’re happy with the shape of the leather, allow it to air dry completely. You must let it air dry, as a hairdryer or any type of heat source will ruin the leather.

The Possible Challenges Of Soaking Leather In Water

If you decide to soak your leather in water, there are a few potential downsides that you should be aware of. These include;

  • The Leather May Shrink

One of the potential challenges of soaking leather in water is that it may shrink. This is because water (especially cold water) can cause the fibers in the leather to contract.

If you soak your leather and it shrinks, it can be difficult to get the leather back to its original look or texture.

  • The Leather May Change Color

Another potential challenge of soaking leather is that it may change color. This is because water can cause certain dyes in the leather to bleed or seep out.

This is very common with darker leathers. You will often see a significant fade in color after soaking the leather.

  • The Leather May Become Stiff

As I mentioned earlier, the oil that keeps the leather soft and supple will be removed when leather gets soaked in water.

This can cause the leather to become stiff, dry, and brittle. If this happens, you must rehydrate the leather with a quality leather conditioner.

If this is not done timely, the leather may be damaged beyond repair.

  • The Leather Can Develop Mold And Mildew

If the leather gets wet and is not allowed to dry properly, it can develop mold and mildew.

Mold and mildew will cause the leather to smell bad and can be difficult to remove. Take action immediately if you notice any mold or mildew developing on your leather.

The best way to prevent mold and mildew from developing on leather is to keep it dry. If the leather does get wet, make sure to dry it off as soon as possible.

How To Care For Leather After Soaking It In Water

Once you’ve soaked your leather in water, it’s important to take proper care of it to ensure that it lasts a long time. Here are a few tips for how to care for leather after soaking it;

Make Sure To Condition Your Leather After It Has Been Soaked In Water

It’s important to condition your leather after it has been soaked in water. This is because water can cause the leather to dry out and crack over time.

This happens because when leather is exposed to water, the natural nourishing oils that make the leather soft and supple are removed.

Conditioning your leather will help to replenish these oils and keep the leather from drying out.

Air Dry The Leather Thoroughly After Soaking In Water

After your leather gets soaked in water (intentionally or unintentionally), it’s important to air dry it thoroughly before doing anything else with it.

If you don’t air dry the leather properly, it can develop mold or mildew, which will ruin the leather.

Also, not air drying the leather but rather using some form of heat source can also ruin the leather. This is because the heat will cause the leather to dry out too quickly, leaving behind watermarks or making the leather brittle and more likely to crack.

So, when drying your leather after soaking, make sure to do it gradually by letting it air dry in a cool, dry place. Do not use any kind of heat source, such as a hairdryer, or place it in direct sunlight.

Store The Leather Properly

Once your leather is dry, it’s important to store it in a cool, dry place.

This is because if leather is stored in a humid or moist environment, it can develop mold or mildew, which will ruin the leather.

Also, storing leather in direct sunlight can cause it to fade and become dried out and brittle over time.

So, when storing leather, make sure to keep it in a cool, dry place such as a closet or drawer away from direct sunlight and air-tight places.

Kwabena

Hi! I’m Kwabena, the owner and founder of Favored Leather. I’m a huge Leathercraft enthusiast and I’ve been that for almost 13 years now. I'm excited to share my experiences and all the new stuff I learn each day about leather craft, leather cleaning & care, and everything in-between!

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