We have worked with leather for 20 years and up until about a month ago we didn't give any thought to disinfecting our leather goods. Heck, we didn't really disinfect our hands much! Of course now all that has changed when this microscopic menace called ‘Covid-19’ came into our lives.
The image above was captured with a transmission electron microscope. Notice the faint spikes on the surface of the virus? That’s what gives the coronavirus its name, meaning ‘Crown.’
This virus is tough and likes to stick around. We now know it may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days. Since this virus is spread by respiratory droplets expelled by someone who is coughing the likelihood of a surface becoming contaminated is very possible. That is why we have been recommending you disinfect and condition your leather items.
We might not think about it, but we come in contact with our EDC (Every Day Carry) items often multiple times throughout the day. Besides bag handles, think about the number of times we touch our wallets or our leather key fobs when out shopping. Remember, leather is a hide, and porous, and you should think of caring for it the same way you care for your own hide. So, besides giving our hands a proper wash and scrub when we get back from a trip to the grocery store our leather goods should be properly disinfected as well. Thankfully this is easy to accomplish provided you have some disinfecting wipes or a disinfecting spray.
At Billykirk we recommend disinfecting your leather goods after such an outing with Lysol or Clorox wipes. You can also make your own with the below ingredients:
1 roll of quality paper towels
1 glass, stainless, or plastic container (#1 HDPE or #2 PET plastic work well)
2 cups distilled water
1 cup 99.9 % isopropyl alcohol
1 tablespoon of castile soap
1 teaspoon of hydrogen peroxide
A few drops of an essential oil with disinfecting properties like Tea Tree, Lavender, Orange, Rosemary, or Peppermint.
Blend ingredients together
Cut the entire roll in half and place horizontally in sealable container
Pour contents over paper towels
Once the inner cardboard tube is soaked it can be pulled out easily.
USING A DISINFECTANT ON LEATHER IS OK!
Now, many of you are probably thinking, “There’s no way I am putting alcohol on my leather handles….It will dry them out and ruin the leather!” Well, in theory you're not wrong. However, since you started using your leather item, your skin's natural oils have been conditioning the leather fibers the whole time. So, a bit of surface alcohol will not be a concern. That said, after you have disinfected your item(s) after a few trips to the store it will be time to add a bit of leather conditioner.
WHY USE LEATHER CONDITIONER?
At a microscopic level, leather is made up of trillions of interwoven fibers. Those fibers are smaller and extremely densely packed near the surface, the deeper into the hide you go the fibers get looser and looser. While this leather was once a living skin, it was kept nourished with a continuous replenishment of natural oils. Now that it isn't living these oils are no longer replenished.
During ‘non-pandemic’ times, we believe your skin’s natural oils and sweat are usually enough to keep your leather pliable and in tip top shape. In fact, we only use leather conditioners once or twice a year on our items. Of course, if your bag or tote is regularly in the sun or gets wet you’ll need to increase the frequency of conditioning, and may even need to use a waterproofing wax.
The reason for that is to nourish and restore flexibility to the leather fibers. Imagine these fibers are your knee joint. We are given a limited supply of a natural lubricant called Synovial fluid which cushions the bone so the joints don’t rub together. As we age, this important fluid deteriorates and we are left with bones rubbing onto the bones. Those small, interwoven fibers are no different. If they aren’t lubricated, friction will occur and over time the leather will lose its flexibility, begin to break down, and eventually turn to dust. When that happens the only alternative is to replace the leather item….Same goes for our old creaky knees!
But were not talking about replacements, we’re talking about preservation! Thankfully, there are lots of leather conditioners available and the one you select will depend upon the type of leather your item is made of and how you use it. At Billykirk we have been using and recommending Skidmore’s Leather Cream for 20 years. Made with all natural ingredients and a pleasant smell this conditioner is perfect for restoring those fibers so they continue to flex and move with ease.
Keep in mind some leathers absorb conditioners more readily than other leathers, while some require less amount of conditioner until they are properly brought back to normal. Through a bit of trial and error you will eventually get to know the unique qualities of your leather item so you can develop a proper routine.
THE CONDITIONING PROCESS
Before you disinfect and condition your leather item you’ll first want to make sure it is nice and clean. In most cases a soft cloth and a bit of water is all you will need. However, a soft bristle brush can be used if there is any dirt or grime present.
If your leather is really dirty or grimy you’ll need to use a leather cleaner or leather soap to remove the dirt before it gets conditioned.
Once your item is completely dry it's ready for the leather conditioner. Remember, if it’s not fully dry the conditioner won’t penetrate into the fibers properly, which will only exacerbate the issue.
It’s always a good rule of thumb to test out the conditioner in a spot that is not often noticed. The reason for that is because a leather conditioner can alter the color of your bag, particularly if it’s made with full grain, natural veg tan leather. That said, in order to condition and preserve your investment, you may have to compromise by allowing it to darken some.
Below are a few photos showing the process of conditioning your leather items after it’s been spot cleaned and disinfected.
The great thing about Skidmore’s Leather Cream is that it’s completely natural so you really don’t need latex gloves or a lint free cloth to apply the cream like other brands suggest. Simply, use thin, even layers, letting it absorb naturally. This will also prevent over-conditioning. Be sure to allow the conditioner to fully dry between applications.
Now that the conditioner is properly applied you can buff off any of the remaining conditioner with a soft, lint-free cloth or a horsehair brush.
Once dried it’s ready for its next outing.
PROLONGING YOUR LEATHER ITEM FOR A LIFETIME OF FAITHFUL SERVICE
Conditioning one's leather item will help preserve its supple texture, keep it from drying out and will ultimately prolong its use. Try to form good habits with your leather gear. Treat them with respect and you'll be able to pass these special items onto the next generation.
Did you know the world's oldest leather shoe was found a few years ago in an Armenian cave? This wasn't a 500 year old leather shoe or even a 1000 year old leather shoe, it was 5,500 years old! Luckily, this one-piece leather-hide shoe was stuffed with grass, preserved in sheep dung, and stayed in a cool and dry environment.