9 Reasons You Can’t Wash Leather: Alternative Cleaning Hacks

why can't you wash leather

Leather is one of the toughest materials to clean and maintain, but it is worth the effort for many people. We will discuss some of the reasons you can’t wash leather and then provide alternatives that are easier on you and your wallet and still keep your items looking great.

So why can’t you wash leather? You can’t and should not wash leather items because washing your leather items as your would for clothes can remove all the essential oils that keeps the leather nice and supple. This will ultimately cause your leather items to dry out and start to crack. Washing your leather items can also cause the leather to lose its color, brightness, and shine.

If you came for a short answer, there you have it. But to learn the details on why you shouldn’t wash your leather items, keep reading this article.

1. Washing Erodes Leather’s Essential Oils

It is important not to wash leather goods because it will cause the leather to dry out. Leather is porous and it needs those essential oils in order to maintain its suppleness so that it does not crack or break down.

A common misconception about this process is that washing gets rid of dirt when really you are just pushing the dirt into pores and making them larger than they were before.

This is because washing introduces more water content than necessary. The result? You’re left with a dirty-looking item as opposed to a cleaner one!

So it is important to avoid washing leather goods because it will cause the leather to dry out and ruin its suppleness.

2. Washing Leather Will Cause Leather To Dry Out And Crack

This is in line with the above mentioned point. Washing your leather can lead to the leather drying and cracking. This is because the leather can get very dry and lose its suppleness which will then lead to cracking or breaking down.

All that dirt you pushed from washing your leather items will actually not be washed from the leather but instead, it will, together with other contaminants for a residue that causes the leather to dry.

3. Washing Leather Causes Wrinkles And Creases

Another reason why you can’t wash leather is that it will cause the wrinkles and creases in leather to become permanent.

The reason for this is that washing causes all of those natural oils which help maintain a supple texture to get stripped away through the use of water, soap, and friction.

This leaves your item with an overall wrinkled appearance as well as tight-fitting areas where there are no natural oils able to keep it pliable or flexible. The result? A stiffer piece of leather item you’ll never want to wear or use again!

So why not just avoid washing leather at all costs by using one my recommended alternative methods below instead.

They are tried and tested approaches to making your leather clean and very enjoyable to use, without the risk of ruining it in any way.

4. Washing Removes The Clean Natural Sheen From The Leather

Another awful thing washing will do to your leather items is strip away the natural sheen.

For any item made of leather, it’s important to keep this in mind!

Washing your leather makes your items look dull and less luxurious than they would if they were left clean without washing them.

That means as soon as you take a washcloth or cloth with water on it anywhere near your leather items, the shine will be gone for good! All because you wanted to do something nice for yourself by cleaning an item that doesn’t need it at all.

If anything, using one of my recommended alternative methods below is more beneficial because you’ll still have that shiny surface while also removing dirt and stains from deep within the leather fabric itself.

The result? Your leather piece will continue to look better overall and retain its luxurious, expensive feel.

5. Washing Leather Will Remove Patina

Leather patina is an important feature of all natural goods. This is because, over time, the surface of an item will build up a protective layer against dirt and stains.

The more you wash your leather items, the faster this patina is removed–leaving them vulnerable to staining or damage from outside elements like water and sunlight in addition to a lost natural sheen.

Also, leather patina is a set of characteristics all natural leather build up to form a body of the character. Patina is one of the reasons why all natural leathers are not the same.

Unless of course, you want to get rid of the patina on your leather items so that your leather item is almost like when you first bought it.

Generally, leather should be cleaned thoroughly with care when necessary. Otherwise, it’s best left untouched altogether with only frequent conditioning and protection.

6. Washing Leather Makes Existing Stains Worse

When you wash leather, the water and soap break down any protective coating on the leather item whether bags, belts, shoes, jackets, etc. This can make existing stains worse because they are now unprotected from the environment that created them in the first place.

Existing stains could spread if they are soluble and cause discoloration which would then be even harder or impossible to remove from the leather. Washing the leather items also causes such stains to travel even deeper into the fibers of the leather.

You definitely do not want this to happen as it will worsen the stains or even create new ones. This leads to my next point on what washing could do to your leather items.

7. Washing Leather Can Create New Stains

Washing leather is a recipe for disaster as it can create new stains when left unattended to. When water and soap mix with the dirt on your items, they will then be drawn deep into the fibers of the leather item.

Even worse, if you don’t watch out they may cause discoloration in certain spots which would make them harder to remove from future washes. You will end up having watermarks, discolorations, and stain rings on your leather that you may never be able to get out.

This will lead to a new set of problems including creating stains instead of making your leather items clean.

8. Washing Leather Can Lead To Fading

Washing leather items can also lead to the item’s color fading. This is a result of excess water seeping into the fibers and getting trapped inside, washing out all the natural oils in your leather items which are known for protecting it from damage.

Washing your leather items will erode dyes, basically ruining the color, and making it much more difficult to dye your items again.

The result of this is a lighter leather item that will eventually start to crack as well as being generally less durable than before you washed it. This is even worse when warm water is used which can lead to a lot more damage.

Worse part is when the leather is washed and not dried properly, it can also lead to even worse color fading.

9. Mold and Mildew

Washing leather can also cause the appearance of mold and mildew. As the water seeps into your leather items, it will lead to mold and mildew growing on its surface which can cause damage if not monitored closely.

The way this will happen is that the water will seep into your leather items, and then it will stay there. The longer that this happens without being removed from the surface of the item, mold and mildew can form as well as lead to damage in both color and texture.

It’s important that you don’t let the dampness sit on your item for too long as mold will form if this happens. You should also avoid using bleach, which can cause color fading in some cases.

How To Clean Leather

Now we have discussed why you can’t wash leather and given some other alternatives to making your leather goods clean.

So how do you clean leather the right way to avoid all the above mentioned effects? Instead of washing these your leather items every time they become dirty or stained, try cleaning them using any of the following methods below.

1. Clean Leather With Distilled Warm Water

This is probably the safest way to clean your leather items especially if you’re not sure how to clean them. Try using a damp (with distilled water) microfiber towel to rub on the surface of your leather item. Try to be as gentle as possible as you wipe away any dirt that may have accumulated.

The best part about this is it is super cheap and can be done at home within a couple of minutes with no chemicals invovled.

The downside of using only damp microfiber towel to clean leather is that it can only remove light dust particles and light stains. It cannot deep clean the entire surface of leather items, which means you’ll have to use a more substantial cleaning agent.

2. Use Saddle Soap

If you want your items looking their best for long without having to do too much work, we recommend using some saddle soap on a damp cloth or brush instead of an allover wash with detergent.

This will clean just what needs cleaning while preserving the suppleness of your item. Saddle soap is a great way to remove dirt, dust and stains without harming the suppleness of your items.

The only downside to using saddle soap is that you need to apply it in small doses and be careful not to use too much pressure when cleaning, as this could harm the suppleness of your leather items.

3. Use Vinegar To Clean Leather Goods

You can also spray on a clean cloth with some distilled white vinegar mixed into water and wipe down any dirtiness without causing further damage. This is also a great way to remove odors from leather products instead immersing the leather.

The downside of this method is that it may not be as effective for removing stains, but you can always clean your items with saddle soap after using vinegar on them if there are any stubborn stains or smells!

4. Clean Your Leather With Toothpaste

If there are any stubborn stains or deep scratches on your leather that need attention, toothpaste can serve as an amazing stain remover for both interior and exterior surfaces of leather items.

The way you do this is by using a soft cloth and gently rubbing the toothpaste into the scratch until you see that it has been covered by white paste.

The downside here is that this process can take awhile to rub in, but generally speaking it makes leather look less worn out and less scratched.

5. Use Leather Wipes

Another great but very easy way to clean a leather item without washing is with leather wipes. Leather wipes are specially formulated to clean and condition leather, while also removing any dirt or stains.

The key to using the wipes is to wipe in small circles until you see that all traces of dirt have been removed from the surface. This process can take some time but it will be worth it!


Leather is such an amazing material but needs alot of tender loving care to maintain its beautiful unique look and feel. One of the most important things you will do to care for your leather goods will be to clean it and you sure do not want to do it wrongly.

By wrongly I mean washing it like you would do for regular clothes. This article share all the demerits of washing your leather items and suggested some simple and easy diy methods to safely clean your leather items.


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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