8 Ways Water Can Ruin Leather Plus Simple Hacks To Fix It

does water ruin leather

So the weatherman was wrong again and you got stuck in the rain. Or you simply got your leather wet one way or another and you’re wondering if it’s going to ruin the leather, I did research on whether or not water ruins leather and I’m ready to share with you all that I have found.

So does water ruin leather? Generally, water will not ruin leather if the leather has been treated and waterproofed with waxes, silicone sprays, etc. However, leather can get ruined depending on how wet the leather gets and how long it stays wet. Some leathers will usually develop mold and watermarks when they get slightly wet, while others will fade, shrink, and stretch when wet.

To learn more about how leather gets ruined by water keep reading this article.

1. Water Strips The Natural Essential Oils From Leather

One of the things water does to leather when wet is that it removes leathers’ essential oils. The oils contained in leather helps to keep it supple and soft for easy use and an enhanced look.

So when leather gets wet and the essential oils get stripped out from the leather it can cause it to eventually stiffen and lose its supple, softness, luxurious look, and feel.

Not to get too scientific, the way this happens is when leather gets wet, the water forms some sort of a temporary bond with the oils that lubricates the fibers of the leather.

And in just a matter of time, when nothing is done, these essential oils seep away and the leather becomes dryer, stiffer, and will lead to the leather cracking.

This can, however, be remedied through a simple process of massaging the leather, wearing it, or using the leather item very often. This will allow the leather item to get some body oils on it which will eventually let the leather soften again.

Leather from deerskin will usually not be affected or ruined by water.

Related Article: Does Coconut Oil Waterproof Leather?

2. Too Much Water Can Fade The Leather Color Or Dyes

I bet one of the reasons why you chose your leather items was the beautiful natural earth colors or contemporary colors they came in.

When leather gets wet, one of the common damages you could have is that the moisture can fade or lighten the dyes on the leather.

This will particularly happen if the leather becomes very wet from water either from rain or wrongful application of water during its care.

While water finding its way onto the leather is inevitable, small amounts with the right treatment processes will not affect the color or dye of the leather.

Related Article: 6 Reasons Leather Changes Color & How To Preserve The Color

3. Leather Can Develop Mold Or Mildew When Wet

Leather is very durable and luxurious but can be highly susceptible to mold and mildew when it’s wet. Mold and mildew thrive when leather gets wet or get mildly damp.

All it takes is just a single spore for mold to totally invade your leather. So you would want to treat or restore your leather as soon as possible when it becomes damp or wet.

Mold can destroy the luxurious look of your leather by discoloring it. When not treated, the mold can spread and eat into the fibers of the leather causing it to eventually weaken.

4. Water Can Leave Spots Or Splotches On Leather

The rustic and luxurious look of leather is timeless and can add a touch of class to any type of situation. But with water being part of our everyday life, it’s common to see water finding its way onto your leather items.

The sad part is water can ruin the rich luxurious look of leather if the right things are not done to deal with it. One of the common ways water can ruin your leather is that it can leave spots or watermarks on the surface of the leather.

Water will move some of the dyes placed on the leather resulting in spots and splotches after the water content on the surface of the leather has evaporated or dried out.

The worse part is, these splotches, sports, and watermarks are oftentimes almost impossible to remove especially once the leather is thoroughly dry.

You will often find that this type of water damage is usually a lot more worse on vegetable tanned or full-grained leather.

5. Water Can Damage The Coating Or Finish On Leather

To make the leather resistant for daily wear and tear, most of the leather you would come across on the market would have some form of surface protective coating or finish.

These finishes often act as the first line of defense for the leather. But when leather severely or consistently gets wet the surface coating wears out or gets damaged leaving the leather highly susceptible to other forms of damage.

The worse part is the damage only happens to only certain parts of the leather and what this will often require is for you to strip off the entire finish or coating on the leather in order add another layer or finish.

While you can DIY the solution for this sort of water damage on leather, you can as well bring the damaged item to a professional to help restore the coating or finish of the leather.

You will be able to find help with professional shoemakers, saddlers, etc. Or if you have a Tandy Leather Store near you, they can also help save your precious leather item.

6. Leather Will Shrink When Wet

Have you ever had your leather gloves or jackets feeling a bit tighter after it got wet? The reason why this happened was the leather shrank.

How? Leather is likely to shrink because when leather becomes very wet, it displaces lubricating oils, resulting in the leather fibers and proteins exposed to air as it dries. 

The leather fibers and proteins are the most important structural components that hold leather together. The way leather maintains its structure is that its intertwined fibers are held together by proteins.

So when leather gets wet and it’s not well treated and dried these vital internal structures of leather will fall apart.

Leather when wet will particularly shrink when the leather is not stuffed or is left unused after it gets wet.

I wouldn’t say leather shrinking is always a bad thing as most people oftentimes deliberately shrink their leather items by wetting them.

However, this can be a bummer when it’s not intended. It can make some leather apparel to be tighter than necessary and very uncomfortable to use.

Related Article: 5 Reasons Why Leather Jacket Sleeves Will Shorten With Wear

7. Leather Can Stretch When Wet

Leather will not always shrink when wet. At certain times, leather will stretch when wet. It all comes down to how wet the leather gets and what you do when the leather gets wet.

When you wear leather and it becomes wet while you’re still wearing or using it, it can stretch. The way this will happen is that the same way the intertwined fibers of the leather are able to make leather shrink, that’s the same way the leather fibers also make leather stretch.

The ability of leather to stretch and shrink is what makes leather one of the most versatile materials you would ever come across – especially if you would like to deliberately shink or stretch your leather.

The types of leather that are usually the most vulnerable to water are suede and nubuck leather. Without any form of protection, these types of leather will totally get ruined by water.

8. Water Can Cause Odor On The Leather Item

Leather generally comes with a rich natural but neutral earthy smell – which it inherits from tanning treatment processes which often involves using natural tanning agents, natural dyes, and day-to-day conditioners and leather cleaners.

But when water gets onto your leather items, makes them very wet, and remains wet for days if not weeks or months then this can lead to the leather having some super aweful odors.

Damp leather can also develop such foul smell.

This is particularly worse for sofas, car seats, and any other leather item that may have foam or some form of stuffing or backing.

This kind of water damages can oftentimes result in an expensive repair job. On the other hand, leather items with no form of backing will generally be easy to deal with their smells.

Related Article: 7 Very Simple Ways To Get Smells Out Of Leather Car Seats

Step-By-Step Guide On How To Fix Water-Damaged On Leather

There are several ways of fixing water damage on leather. Here’s a simple method that works for me always when I get my leather items (whether boots, shoes, jackets, wallets, or hats) wet or dampened. Here’s how to go about it if you’re interested.

Things Needed:

  • Microfiber Cloth
  • Leather Conditioner
  • Leather Cleaner


Step 1: Blot The Excess Water

Use your microfiber cloth to blot any excess water from the leather immediately.

Step 2: Clean The Leather

Put 1-2 drops of dish soap into lukewarm water. You can also use a leather cleaner or saddle soap instead of the dish soap for this step.

Dampen your soft clean microfiber cloth with the solution and begin to wipe the surface of the leather.

Once you have thoroughly cleaned the leather, wring out your microfiber cloth in clean (running) water and wipe any excess soap residue from the surface of the leather.

This will help to remove any dirt, stains, water spots, or dyes that may have become visible when the leather got wet. It also helps to nicely saturate the leather to ensure the surface of the leather is even.

You may want to do this step only if necessary. So check any see if the leather getting wet has left behind any stain or dirt.

Step 3: Air-Dry The Leather Again

Once the leather has been thoroughly cleaned leave it to air-dry.

Step 4: Condition The Leather

At this point, you can now use your regular leather conditioner to condition your leather item. You can either use your hands or a soft clean cloth to apply the leather conditioner thoroughly on the surface of the leather.

Make sure to apply the leather conditioner on every part of the leather – including parts of the leather that did not get wet.

Also, you would want to ensure the leather conditioner application is as thin as possible.

My preferred leather conditioner is the Leather Honey Leather Conditioner. It gives the leather deep and thorough conditioning and each application can last up to 6 months.

Conditioning your leather is probably the most important step in this process. Conditioning your leather will help restore any lost essential oils the water may have seeped away from the leather.

Applying the leather conditioner will also help to nourish the fibers of the leather so that its original softness and suppleness is restored.

Step 5: Air-Dry The Leather

Leave the conditioned leather to air-dry in a cool dry place. You would want to leave the leather to sit overnight.

This will give the leather the chance to absorb the leather conditioner to fully.

Helpful Tips

  • Do not place your leather items close to heat sources after it has gotten wet.
  • A great way to keep your leather from water damage is to wipe off any water spills immediately and apply a thin layer of coconut oil. This will help make the leather retain its softness.
  • Dampen a microfiber cloth with warm water and use it to wipe the leather surfaces that have become dried with water stains. Doing this gradually will help to fade the water stains.
  • The sad news is water can still stain or ruin your leather even when it has been treated with waxes, mink oils, leather conditioners, etc. These are just to help the leather to be resistant to minor or small amounts of water.
  • You would want to make sure any leather product you apply on your leather is first tested on an inconspicuous part of the leather before applying it on the entire surface of the leather.
  • If you can, use distilled water to dampen your rag when you’re blotting water stains from your leather items after it has gotten wet. Using distilled water is great because most ordinary water will contain rust substances, mold, and other minerals that can damage leather.
  • When water gets spilled onto your leather item, blot as much of the water as possible and let the leather dry naturally especially if you do not have any items readily available to help you fix it.
  • Clean and condition your leather regularly with a good leather cleaner, conditioner, and protector. A good rule of thumb is to do so every 3 to 6 months depending on how often you use the leather item and the quality of the leather cleaner and conditioner you use.
  • Waterproof your leather items by applying water-repelling agents.
  • If you follow a good cleaning and conditioning routine your leather will always be well moisturized and this will cause moisture to bead on the surface of your leather instead of the water penetrating into the fibers of the leather.
  • Do not use your leather items when it’s going to rain. While under certain circumstances you will be able to use your smooth leathers, you never want to use your suede and nubuck leather items even in very little rain showers.


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!

Recent Posts