Does Vinegar Discolor Leather? (We Called Some Experts!)

Does Vinegar Discolor Leather?

When it comes to using household items to clean and maintain leather, vinegar is one of the most popular. And why not? Vinegar is an inexpensive yet effective cleaning agent that can be found in any grocery store.

For this article, I called up some experts to see how they felt about using vinegar on leather and whether vinegar discolored leather. Below, is all that I found out.

Does Vinegar Discolor Leather? The answer to this question is a little complicated. It all depends on the type of vinegar that you are using, how often it is being applied, and how it is applied.

Acetic acid, which is the main component in white distilled vinegar, will not cause any damage to leather; however, other types of vinegar such as apple cider vinegar can sometimes cause some form of color damage.

Trying to summarize what was said, using vinegar on leather is generally not a problem as long as you are using the white distilled variety; however, if you are using apple cider vinegar or some other type of vinegar with a higher concentration of acetic acid, it is best to avoid contact with the leather.

In short: Vinegar will not discolor most types of leather, but it is best to avoid contact with apple cider vinegar or other types of vinegar with a high concentration of acetic acid.

Factors That Cause Vinegar To Affect the Color of Leather

As mentioned before, for vinegar to discolor your leather, there are a few factors that can determine it.

1. Type Of Vinegar Used On The Leather

There are different types of leather and depending on which part of the would you are, the type of vinegar you use might have a different reaction. For example, if you are cleaning the surface of the leather, any type of vinegar will work just fine if properly diluted with water.

There are different kinds of vinegar but the major and most common ones include;

  • White vinegar
  • Apple cider vinegar 
  • Wine vinegar
  • Rice vinegar

As the name implies, apple cider vinegar is made from apples. Due to its naturally occurring components and acidic nature, this type of vinegar is a good cleaning agent for most things around the house including brown or dark-colored leather goods.

White vinegar is distilled or made from grains like corn and sorghum. White vinegar can be very strong if not diluted properly with water so you have to be careful when using it to clean your leather because it might discolor them.

However, if properly diluted with water (with a ratio of 1 part white vinegar to 1 part water) it is the perfect household remedy for cleaning all types of stains. It is also the cheapest to buy.

Wine vinegar is made from red or white wine and has higher acidity than apple cider vinegar. It also has a fruity taste that some people might find appealing.

This type of vinegar should not be used to clean leather as it will definitely discolor them. This is because wine vinegar is made from wine, which contains tannins- a substance that can cause discoloration in leather.

Rice vinegar is made from fermented rice and has a mild taste. This type of vinegar is the most gentle on leather and will not discolor them like other types of vinegar might.

Overall, if let’s say you have ink or dye stain on your leather, using anything other than white distilled vinegar could result in a color change. The acetic acid in apple cider vinegar, for example, can change the color of the leather to a light brown.

So as you can see, white distilled vinegar is unlikely to cause any kind of discoloration on leather. One expert I spoke to said that he’s never seen or heard of white distilled vinegar causing any kind of damage to leather, but it’s always best to test a small area first.

2. How Often The Vinegar Is Used On The Leather

Another major factor that determines if vinegar will discolor your leather is the frequency of use. As the old popular saying goes, Too much of everything is bad, and this applies to the use of vinegar on leather.

You should not be using vinegar too often on your leather items because it will cause discoloration. The best way to keep long-lasting and beautiful looking leather is by cleaning them about 2 to 3 times a year depending on how often you use them.

Generally, all vinegar types contain some level of acetic acid due to the fermentation process involved in the making of vinegar.

However, white or distilled vinegar contains a higher concentration of acetic acid when compared to apple cider vinegar and balsamic vinegar.

This simply means that if you clean your leather with too much white or distilled vinegar, you are more likely to get some discoloration on the material.

Leather is a natural material and over time it will change color no matter what you do to try to prevent it from happening.

The constant or frequent use of vinegar as a cleaning agent will not make your leather items any worse than they would be if you didn’t clean them with vinegar.

The truth is that the natural patina and color of leather change over time, so it will end up looking darker or lighter depending on how you use your items.

3. How Much Vinegar You Use On The Leather

An important factor, another expert mentioned was the amount of vinegar being used on the leather. If you use a little bit of vinegar then there shouldn’t be any problems however, if too much is used it will definitely discolor the leather.

Similar to the earlier point stated, it is best to always dilute the vinegar before applying it to the leather. This can be done by mixing one part vinegar with three parts water or one part vinegar to one part water for tough stains.

You do not want to use raw, undiluted vinegar on leather because it can quickly start to break down the surface and strip the leather of its dyes and finish.

Also, after applying the vinegar and it’s soaked in, wipe off any excess with a clean cloth and let the leather dry completely before using it again – said one expert.

The expert also recommended using a microfiber cloth, a non-abrasive, or a lint-free rag when cleaning leather items with vinegar.

He also advised to take not if the vinegar is diluted or not. He mentioned if you’re not sure if your vinegar is raw or diluted, put a few drops of vinegar on a white piece of paper. If it turns light brown, then it’s raw; if it doesn’t change color, it’s diluted.

4. The Age And Condition of The Leather Item

Next, we have the age and condition of your leather item, which is something you can’t change.

If a leather item has been around for years or it’s old, then using vinegar on such an item will definitely cause discoloration because at this point, the dye on the material is already fading if not weaker.

So it will be a lot easier for the vinegar to strip the dye and leave you with a stained leather item. If your leather is new or it doesn’t have any color, then using vinegar on it will not really change its current state.

However, if there are any stains or blemishes on your leather, the vinegar might lighten up those areas so they blend in with the rest of the leather.

Having said that if you’re not planning on using vinegar for some old or vintage leather, then you’re good to go.

5. Prolonged Exposure To The Vinegar

As I might have alluded to earlier in this article, allowing vinegar residue to sit on the surface of the leather for prolonged periods will definitely discolor the leather.

The acetic acid in vinegar has a way of reacting with stains or dirt on the surface and this can change the color of your leather.

Therefore, you want to ensure that after applying vinegar on your leather items, rinse and wipe it off completely and let it dry before using the leather item again.

This is critical so that no vinegar residue is not left on the surface to react with other elements over time.

One expert mentioned that this is actually one of the rookie mistakes people make when they clean their leather items with household items such as vinegar.

They don’t completely rinse and wipe off the item, which then leads to a stained or discolored leather surface over time.

6. Leather Conditioner Used After Vinegar Is Applied

Last but not least, we have the leather conditioner that is used after cleaning or treating the leather with vinegar.

When you clean your leather items with vinegar, it is important to apply a good quality leather conditioner after cleaning the item completely and letting it dry.

This will help restore any moisture lost in the process of cleaning and also prevent future stains or discoloration caused by other elements such as water, body oil, sweat, etc.

A good leather conditioner will also help keep the leather soft and supple. There are many different types of leather conditioners on the market, so you’ll definitely be able to find one that suits your needs.

Just make sure to read the instructions carefully on how to apply it and let it dry completely before using the leather item again. This is often not a problem.

Usually, the issue is with homemade conditioners like the ones made with olive oil. If you’re using a conditioner that is not homemade, then there shouldn’t be any problems.

Note: If you are using vinegar to clean leather and then applying a leather conditioner, it is best to use white distilled vinegar.

Leather Cleaning Tips Using Vinegar

Regardless of the type of vinegar you decide to use, there are some general tips for cleaning leather that should be followed:

  • Try not to get the vinegar on any metal zippers or snaps as it can cause them to corrode over time.
  • If you’re using a spray bottle, make sure to shake it well before each use so that the ingredients are mixed properly.
  • Test the vinegar on a hidden area of your leather item such as the inside seams to check if there is any discoloration.
  • If you’re cleaning your leather items with vinegar, it’s best to do so outdoors or in a well-ventilated area as the smell can be quite strong.
  • Never use full-strength vinegar on your leather items.
  • Always dilute it with water first before applying it to the leather.
  • Vinegar to water proportion will depend on the type of leather you have or the type of stain you have – but it’s usually around 50/50.
  • Many experts recommend using a spray bottle so that way you can apply the mixture evenly throughout your item without overly saturating one area more than another.
  • If you’re cleaning your leather items with vinegar, always make sure to rinse with clean water and wipe off any excess residue before letting it dry completely before using the item again.
  • Some experts recommend using a blowdryer to help speed up the drying process, but this is not necessary if you don’t have one available.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it! Everything you need to know about using vinegar on leather. Just remember to always test in an inconspicuous area before applying any solution to the entire piece of leather.

With these tips in mind, your leather should stay looking beautiful for years to come. Hopefully, this article has answered any questions you may have about using vinegar to clean leather and discoloration.


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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