There are a couple of factors that result in leather turning white. It’s important to know and understand these causative factors so as to pick the right cleaning alternative or remedy.
So why does leather turn white? Leather will turn white mainly because there’s a bacteria or fungus growth, fatty/salty bloom, salt stain, or metal corrosion causing a reaction on the surface of the leather making it turn white.
In order to learn more about the reasoning behind leather turning white, keep reading!
Details On Why Leather Turns White
1. Bacteria Or Fungus
Bacteria and Fungi are the most common causes of leather turning white.
This will particularly happen if the leather item has not been stored properly over a long period of time.
Storing your leather shoes, bags, jackets, etc in a damp place can cause the growth of fungus or bacteria to appear on your leather.
Also, if you put your leather item away when it’s damp or wet can also cause the leather to breed microorganisms that will cause the leather surface to become white.
Another thing that promotes bacteria and fungus growth is the weather.
If the humidity levels where you are is too high, mold or mildew can start to form on the surface of your leather items.
Again, if you use leather preservatives that are animal-based and contain ingredients such as Neatsfoot oil or mink oil can cause bacteria or fungus to attack the leather causing it to turn white.
The effects of this mold or mildew growth caused by humidity will not always be white.
It may in some other instance be green in color with a dusty, speckled appearance.
Usually, you will be able to tell your leather to turn white due to bacteria and fungus-based on its smell.
It will often have a mold or mildew smell which will be between a musty, earthy, meaty, or rotten wood smell and a wet sock smell. 😀
I’m going to show you how to remove mold or mildew that has caused your leather to turn white.
So whether it’s your leather car seats, couch, shoes, jackets, etc, you will be able to use materials that you might already have in your cupboards.
The caveat is that there are different kinds of leather and each will require a slightly different approach to removing mold and mildew.
The popular types of leather are finished leather, unfinished leather, and suede.
It’s important to know how to remove these bacteria and fungus the right way from each type of leather.
For this article, I’m going to only focus on finished leather since the majority of leather products on the market will come with a finish on its surface. Below is how you go about it!
How To Remove Mold or Mildew From Finished Leather
As stated before, finished leather is one of the most common leather materials used for leather goods.
Finished leather will come with an extra layer to help protect, preserve, both the physical appearance and durability of the leather.
But the surface will not be completely protected from fungus or bacteria attack.
With the right conditioning, fungus and bacteria will thrive leaving the leather surface discolored.
Here’s how to remove mold or mildew from leather goods.
- Soft horse hairbrush
- Rubbing alcohol
- Dish soap or leather cleaner
- Vacuum with a hose and soft bristle brush attachment
- Leather conditioner
Step 1: With your soft horse hairbrush brush off any loose white mold or mildew residue from the leather.
Step 2 (optional): If you have a vacuum cleaner, use it to further remove any kind of loose debris left on the surface of the leather.
Alternatively, shake the leather or gently pat it outside your room or over a trash can.
Step 3: Dampen your microfibre cloth with water and add 2 or 3 drops of your dish soap or leather cleaner to the damp cloth.
Step 4: Now gently rub the surface of the leather in a circular motions.
Step 5: After the leather surface is thoroughly cleaned, you can use another clean cloth (or you can rinse and wring out the one you used earlier) damped with ordinary water and use it to wipe away the suds.
Step 6: Mix a solution comprising equal parts of water, rubbing alcohol, and detergent.
Step 7: Rinse and wring out your cloth and dampen it with the solution. Now wipe down the leather surface area again.
Step 8: Now allow the leather to dry completely.
Step 9: Apply the leather conditioner and buff so that there’s no residue.
Step 10: Leave the leather to air-dry.
Metal corrosion can also result in a white-ish, off-white, or mainly greenish effect on the surface of your leather.
This will usually be caused by the metal fittings and fasteners put on the leather item to facilitate closing and opening of the leather item or decorating the leather it.
Examples of some of these metal parts or hardware include zippers, eyelets, rivets, press-studs, D & O rings, etc.
These metal parts, especially if they are copper-alloy or brass when it comes into contact with the leather (which inevitably will) will react creating organo-metallic corrosion.
Generally, there’s one permanent solution to this problem that I have found and a couple of others that will help minimize the effect of the leather and copper-allow or brass reaction.
- Find out what type of metal hardware does your leather item comes with and if possible, change them to non-reactive and safe ones that will not react with your leather-like silver.
- Regularly use a soft bristle brush to brush around parts of the leather with brass or copper fittings or fasteners.
- Clean and condition your leather regularly.
3. Fatty Bloom
Fatty bloom also is known as fat bloom, fatty spue, or fatty spew is one of the most common causes of leather turning white.
The fatty bloom can be caused by the fats, oils (highly oxidizable like fish oils), or waxes used during the tanning process or from the application of fats, oils, or some type of soap dressing to the surface of the leather item itself.
Fatty bloom will basically mean the white effect you will be seeing on your leather will be as a result of oils and waxes moving through the fibers of the leather and then crystallizing on its surface.
This will especially happen if there is the presence of air, a sudden change in temperature, light, or humidity.
The migration and crystallization of these fats, waxes, or oils will cause the leather surface to have a white bloom. In many cases, this will often be confused with mold growth.
This confusion is understandable as these white blooms will have a matte fibrous appearance or a feathery look just like mold growth.
A fatty bloom can be clearly distinguished from mold growth when a microscopic examination is done.
Oil-tanned leather is more likely to show a whitening bloom on the surface of your leather than most types of leather.
The good news is whether the fatty bloom is a result of internal oils or external oils, it’s not going to harm your leather item apart from distorting its appearance.
While the bloom can be wiped away, it will reappear after a couple of days without additional treatment.
Luckily there are products on the market that are specially formulated to help lock the fatty acids in and keep the spue (spew) from coming back.
Here’s how to remove the fatty bloom from the surface of your leather.
- Spew (spue) remover. You can check out my recommended spew remover Leather Master Spew Remover from Weaver Leather LLC on Amazon!
- Microfiber Cloth
- Horse Hairbrush or lint-free towel
Step 1: Simply dust off the white overlay with a horse hairbrush or lint-free towel.
Step 2: After you have thoroughly brushed or dusted off the white residue, apply the spew remover with a microfiber cloth, following the instructions on the package.
Once the leather spew (spue) remover is applied, the oils, fats, or waxes should no longer cause the leather to whiten anymore.
4. Salt Stain
Salt stain, I will say is a common cause of leather turning white especially on boots, shoes, and most leather jewelry.
Leather items that are in constant contact with our skin will encounter and accumulate perspiration or sweat.
This can buildup and with time, may develop salt efflorescence as the salts migrate through the leather and crystallize on the surface.
Also, salt can find its way onto your leather from salts that are often spread on roads and sidewalks during winter or snowy or icy seasons.
These kinds of salts from the external environment can permanently stain your leather items like shoes and boots.
You would want to remove any salts or sweats that gets onto your leather as soon as possible.
You would want to do this especially before polishing or conditioning your leather item.
This is a preventive measure and will help save you some time so that you do not have to deal with your leather item whitening.
On the other hand, you will also be able to remove whitening from salt stains by neutralizing the salt stains using a mild solution of vinegar and water. Here’s how you go about it.
- White vinegar
- Warm water
- Natural horse hairbrush
- Clean towel or microfiber cloth
- Spray bottle
- leather protector
Step 1: Mix a mild solution of white vinegar and warm water in a bowl. You can use 2 tablespoons full of vinegar for every cup of water.
Step 2 (Optional): Pour the solution into a spray bottle.
Step 3: Spray a few squirts on your horse hairbrush and begin to scrub gently.
Step 4: After carefully scrubbing the entire surface of the leather with the vinegar solution, use a clean damp cloth to wipe the entire surface of the leather to remove the vinegar solution.
Step 5: Leave the leather to air dry. Do not dry with any type of heat source.
Step 6: Apply a leather protector to your leather item. This is going to help protect your leather item from external salt damage and moisture or water.
5. Natural Fatty Bloom
Another possible culprit for leather turning white is the natural fats from the hide or skin of the animal migrating to the surface of the leather.
This is very similar to the fatty bloom effect discussed earlier.
Just that with this the natural fats from the animal hide are mainly at play although the same conditions of humidity and temperature change can agitate the reaction.
The main characteristics of the natural fatty bloom is usually a white powdery or gummy bloom on the surface of the leather.
The remedy for natural fatty bloom is the same as that of fatty bloom discussed above.
You can simply get a good spew remover and apply following the instructions by the manufacturers.
Click Here to skip>> to the details about the remedy!
6. Salty Bloom
The salty bloom is often confused with fatty bloom. However, there’s a clear distinction between the two.
While the fatty bloom has to do with fats or oils from within the leather crystallizing over the surface, the salty bloom is when salts used in the leather tanning process moves from within the leather and then crystallizes on the surface.
The most common white effect caused by salt bloom is usually something that is popularly called a salt line which will appear on the surface of your leather items.
Salt bloom can be remedied usually by wiping away the surface of the leather with a damp cloth.
One important thing you would want to keep in mind is to ensure you do not use too much water when wiping the leather item as this can cause more salt stains to appear on the surface of the leather.
Finally, you would also want to apply a good leather conditioner on your leather to help protect and preserve it.
Why Does Leather Turn Dark or Black?
Leather will turn black or very dark when oils from the body, conditioners (especially if too much is used), and dirt begin to clog the leather’s pores. Lighter colored leathers are perhaps the most susceptible to turning darker.
Why Does Leather Turn Yellow?
The more leather is exposed to the elements like air, dust, and sun over a period of time, it will begin to oxidize causing the leather to turn yellow especially on lighter colored leather.
Related Article: 6 Things That Turn White Patent Leathery Yellow
Why Does Leather Turn Green?
Leather can become discolored and turn green in color if the leather comes into contact with metal (like copper-allow or brass) hardware and reacts with it.
Another common cause of leather turning green is an issue of faded leather dye.
Usually, leather that has been previously dyed black will often discolor and develop green patches when exposed to direct sunlight for prolonged periods of time.
Why Does Leather Turn Blue?
The main reason why Leather turns blue is due to color transfer from clothes (like denim jeans) onto the leather. You will be able to remove these color transfer using leather cleaners.
Other common causes of leather turning blue are as a result of the leather fading or coming into contact with cosmetics like sunblock.
Another common way to remove blue stains on leather is by redyeing it.