Difference Between Leather Cleaner and Conditioner

If you are looking into caring and maintaining your leather items, you’ll likely be faced with this question: leather cleaner or conditioners or both? But what’s the difference?

The main difference between leather cleaner and conditioner is that leather cleaners remove dirt and grime from the leather while conditioners add or replace oils to the leather.

When it comes to leather items, cleaning and conditioning are highly important to keep them clean and protected. If you have never cleaned or conditioned your leather item before or it’s your first time and you really want to get it right, keep reading to find out more about cleaning and conditioning leather.

What is Leather Cleaner?

Leather cleaner is a specially designed product or a special homemade product designed to remove unwanted materials like dirt, stains, crumbs, grease from leather in a very gentle and mild way without having any effect on the leather.

Cleaning your leather article is vital and should be the first thing you do in your occasional care and maintenance of the leather items you have. However, you have to be careful not to over care for your leather by cleaning too frequently or cleaning without conditioning.

It is normal for your leather product to accumulate dirt and grime over a period or in a day, and so it is a good idea to use cleaning agents like mild saddle soap or even better, a facial soap. Avoid using general washing soap as they will discolor or destroy the leather item.

The cleaner safely cleans the leather items thoroughly without causing any form of damage like discoloration of the leather.

If the dirt and grime are not removed, it will buildup over time and this will prevent your leather from breathing which then will eventually cause the leather to suffocate, crack, and peel.

You will want your leather cleaners to contain surfactants that are able to easily attract all the dirt and grime from your leather item during your cleaning process. Also, ensure the pH in your cleaning solution is neutral with no alcohol substance that can change the color of your leather item.

Types of Leather Cleaners

There are many types of leather cleaners. The most common types are:

  1. The Foam type cleaner is the type that once applied to the leather item forms a foamy layer and after which the excess foam is removed with a damp cloth. It includes the saddle soaps and other mild soaps.
  2. The liquid spray-on type can be sprayed on the leather item and then with a soft brush or damp cloth. It is good because cleaning spray particles are able to get to the part of the leather items that are usually hard to reach.
  3. Homemade cleaners like vinegar solution, nail polish remover or rubbing alcohol (for removing ink stains), lemon juice and cream of tartar, baking soda or cornstarch (to remove oil stains), etc.

How to Clean Leather

Cleaning leather is not rocket science and so it is easy to do with just simple steps. Cleaning can be done at home with a simple solution of vinegar and warm water. You can also buy mild saddle soaps to do the same bid. Follow these simple steps to clean your leather.

  1. Dust off built-up dirt or debris by with a clean soft brush, rag or towel especially on the exterior of the leather item
  2. Mix up your cleaning agent and try it out on a hidden part of the leather item to ensure the color of the leather item does not change after cleaning. If using saddle soap, facial soap, or any mild soap, it is safe to use 1 part of the soap to 8 parts of luke-warm water.
  3. Apply the soap solution to the leather item by dipping a soft cloth into it, wringing it out and then wiping the exterior surface or parts with leather. Be sure to apply in a gentle circular motion, allowing the leather to absorb the cleaner.
  4. Wipe off excess soapy substances with a soft clean damp rag and dry with a towel.

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What is a Leather Conditioner?

Leather conditioners are products made to restore natural oils and moisture lost as a result of regular use of the leather item. A leather conditioner will be used or applied to the leather item after cleaning.

After the cleaning is done using mild saddle soap, the leather item is allowed to dry after which the conditioner is then applied evenly.

Without conditioning, leather has the tendency to dry, crack and peel. The conditioner keeps the surface of the leather soft, supple, and flexible.

One important rule of thumb is to ensure the conditions you are applying made from natural substances as much as possible.

How often should You Clean and Condition Leather?

Some times the durability of leather might make you think you don’t have really give the leather the care and attention it requires from time to time.

Generally, every leather product must be given proper cleaning and conditioning at least once every year. However, the cleaning and conditioning of Leather items depend on the type of leather article.

For example, leather jackets can be given proper cleaned once or twice every year while on the other hand, leather shoes or boots that are used very often can be cleaned and conditioned twice to three times every year.

If you find the best type of leather conditioner make sure to follow the instructions as religiously as possible in order to get the best results and also not damaging your precious leather article.

Watch a video on: How to Condition a Leather Jacket

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Don’ts of Cleaning and Conditioning Leather Items

  1. Don’t use strong soaps that are not meant for cleaning leather items
  2. Don’t rub too hard when cleaning the leather item
  3. Be careful with home DIY concoctions you prepare for cleaning leather items. If you are not sure of the mixture or solution, don’t use it.
  4. Don’t force dry you cleaned leather items. For example, using a hairdryer, or drying over the radiator
  5. Avoid using extreme temperatures on the leather item. For example, hot water or cold water
  6. When you have ink stains or other serious stain and you don’t have repair kits available, quickly see an expert


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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