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Does washing/soaking leather jackets substantially harm them or weaken the leather?

Discussion in 'Outerwear' started by Seb Lucas, Aug 12, 2009.

  1. Seb Lucas

    Seb Lucas I'll Lock Up

    I have washed a few of my jackets - goat and cow hide and of a good quality. Does this make them subject to cracking or does it weaken the leather?

    I soaked them in a full bath with mild detergent to make them fit better and loosen them up. They took days to dry but now look much better. Then I Pecarded them.

    Does this mean that they may now crack where the creases are?

    Please answer this if you have personal experience or "know", since guesses are not going to offer an answer.

    Best regards - Seb
  2. aswatland

    aswatland My Mail is Forwarded Here

    John Chapman recommend hot water treatment and here's what he says from his flight jacket CD.

    For the hot water technique, I simply let the leather sit under running hot water for about 30 seconds, and then dry it off (not letting the non-leather elements get wet). I then wrinkle the leather and try to get natural texture to come out, sometimes with very vigorous mashing of the leather with my hands.

    Afterwards, I let the leather sit and dry naturally, or wear the jacket, as the leather really is completely wet. Since the leather's been mashed, the natural texture comes out and it looks a lot more like the older leather, rather than stiff and straight.

    Using hot water on leather may cause it to shrink a little, and become stiff at first once it dries. If it's mashed over a period of time, it will be even more soft than when it was new, so the work involved can be quite a bit.

    He does not mention the use of detergent, but it will remove the natural oils from the leather which could eventually cause the leather to deteriorate.
  3. RP McMurphy

    RP McMurphy One of the Regulars

    Agreed... keep salts and detergents away from leather. The oils that are in the hide will come out (as they do with time) and will likely damage the fibers of the leather.

    That being said, many "fashion" jackets are washed these days to give them an extremely soft feel... sort of like stonewashing a pair of levis. So the leather can take some abuse, however it won't look as naturally worn as if you wear it through a couple of good hard rain storms


  4. Peacoat

    Peacoat My Mail is Forwarded Here

    I have gently hand washed goat and cow jackets for a better fit with no problems. You are on the right track with the Pecards after the jacket dries.

    Most leather jackets, other than mall fashion jackets, are made to endure the elements.
  5. Seb Lucas

    Seb Lucas I'll Lock Up

    Thanks all.
  6. I somtimes wear my A2 in heavy rain storms a few times to weather it ;)
  7. jac

    jac Familiar Face

    Of course it does, or it would be recommended care!

    Isn't this obvious??
  8. Seb Lucas

    Seb Lucas I'll Lock Up

    That's funny, jac.

    By the way, talking about washing leather, since posting this I have learned that putting a leather jacket in the washing machine with a mild soap powder does no damage and is done by many jacket collectors. Spoke to one guy who had been doing this for 20 plus years without any harm. Particularly good, he says for goat because it pops out the grain.

    Washing them isn't about care, it's about changing the look of the leather to suit the wearer better.

    Pecard or lexol to follow is a must.
  9. jac

    jac Familiar Face

    Do whatever floats your boat, but stay away from my collection!

    You won't catch me putting soap or petroleum distillates on hides, but I swear by Obaneuf's.

    Real life throws enough crap at me that I'm in no hurry to hasten the inevitable.
  10. JLStorm

    JLStorm Practically Family

    Im not a fan of hastening the break in period of any jacket, so I cant comment on the soaking aspect, but I have a question: What made you add the detergent? Ive not heard of that one before.
  11. feltfan

    feltfan My Mail is Forwarded Here

    What about dry cleaning? The maker of my older leather jacket
    (Johnson Leathers) just recommended that I dry clean my jacket
    to get the skin oil out of the collar and other places. I figured I'd
    do that and then hit it with some Pecards. Will it damage the leather?
  12. Seb Lucas

    Seb Lucas I'll Lock Up

    The detergent helps the water to do it's job - ie it reacts with the leather in a more absorbant way, bringing out the grain. That's what the guy told me. He got this tip from working with a leather jacket maker in the 1990's. Apparently it's done all the time to help break in a jacket.

    Detergent doesn't remove many of the oils, as they are, apparently, far too viscous to be shifted by a mild washing liquid. And anyway you use just half a teaspoon.

    For me a brand new leather jacket usually looks pretty dreadful - just my view. And that same view, right or wrong, is what's led so many others to wash theirs. It doesn't distress them, it just softens and creases the leather and pops out the grain. Both good things in my book.

    Now those people who use sandpaper to age their jackets are just plain sick. lol

    Dry cleaning - never heard of that one. ;)

    Be interesting to hear from anyone who has had first hand experince of the process going wrong.
  13. aswatland

    aswatland My Mail is Forwarded Here

    I guess everyone is entitled to their opinion about the appearance of jackets. I doubt if young USAAF pilots complained about wearing a new A2. Besides they would break-in quickly through daily wear!

    As far as using sanding to age a jacket this is done by people who are not plain sick. John Chapman says this about the process:

    For sanding, I've had several ideas. One is to use the green side of a kitchen sponge and lightly go over the wet surface of the jacket, and it will take some of the top finish off on the edges. I did this on the russet Real McCoy's New Zealand Werber A-2 and the results are excellent. I had to add several coats of Peckards conditioner after doing this, which really made it look aged but healthy. Another idea I've tried is sanding with 2000 grit sandpaper which is pretty soft and light. The leather finish will come off just on the edges with this sandpaper. I prefer the sponge technique.

    However, perhaps the best way to age a jacket is to wear it regularly.
  14. Seb Lucas

    Seb Lucas I'll Lock Up

    :eusa_clap You're right! If a leather jacket is issued to you new in a world where leather is used in place of today's nylon, then why would you make any changes? But these days, leather is expensive and special, so why shouldn't we customise it? :)
  15. gfirob

    gfirob Familiar Face


    Well, clearly the most authentic way to age a jacket is to wear it all the time (particularly if you are flying Spitfires regularly) but comparing my new Aero jacket to my 8 year old jacket, the new one is so hard and shiny it looked like Vinyl (to me). I put the new one in the dryer (no heat) for about 8 hours with a bunch of wet towels and it was improved quite a bit, both in the way it looks and the way it feels.

    These are very tough jackets and they will take a lot of pounding. I'm sure everybody does not think they look bad in their virginal state, but I think there is just no comparison between a genuinely weathered jacket and a brand new one.

    I may try the washing machine gag.

    Rob Gardner
  16. May I suggest caution with machine washing a leather jacket. Not only might the leather shrink...but there have been problems with liners and knits taking the bigger hit of deforming in the process. I would rather repeatedly bottle spray only the leather with water for a more relaxed effect..and spot clean the liner if needed. Once machine washed..some of the results may be irreversible.
  17. DC3

    DC3 New in Town

    From my leather Fedoras to my motorcycle chaps, all have gotten wet at one time or another. Some, like the chaps, I have even had to use the rough side of a kitchen sponge to get the bugs off. None though has seen a washing machine. All my pieces get treated with Obenauf's leather oil when I first get them, and on a regular basis depending on how often I wear it. The end result is that my items are protected from the rain to a good degree, and most times a toweling off and an air dry will do the job. I guess what I'm saying is that to "wash" one of my garments would be to remove the protection I've put on, and into it. So I am sure I would not stuff my garments into a washing machine unless a piece was very heavily soiled with mud or something like that. But thats' just me.
    Now, I might "age" raw leather before it was cut and used it to make an item. That seems logical if you cannot find the look you want at the local leather store.
    ...and now waxing nostalgic.....My bomber jacket has, over the years, acquired a number of marks during the adventures I've been on. It's funny that I can look at that jacket and know how I got most of those dings or scratches and so it provides a bit of history, forever etched into the leather. That's the essence of what we mean when we say "it has character".
  18. jac

    jac Familiar Face

    Not to gross anyone out, but I don't even like to wash my favorite cotton & denim until they are actually dirty. Washing is essential and necessary for shirts and jeans, but hot water, caustic soaps, and the spinning & rinsing break down materials.

    Incidentally, new soldiers were honored and elated to have such solid, protective outerwear- they literally wore them do death, uninterrupted lifetimes included!

    I won't use anything but Obaneuf's anymore- and then only when needed.
    This is after using everything else.
  19. JLStorm

    JLStorm Practically Family

    I agree with this. I have some jackets that I bought new which are 15 years old that I still wear. Most of these are nothing fancy, just basic jackets, but All the years of marks, break in and wear bring back memories of different places, different women, different feelings. Looking at some of the marks, scratches, and broken in creases, is almost like travelling back in time to a specific event when you remember noticing that it had creased finally, or you remember scratching part of it in haste to get to a certain place...or whatever.

    So my question is, if you dont weather the jacket over time and "cheat" by using one of these methods, do you feel less of a history or attachment to the jacket x number of years later?
  20. Seb Lucas

    Seb Lucas I'll Lock Up

    It doesn't actually put wear on the jacket - that only comes from real life. But it does soften the leather, take some shine away and make it look more grainy. It just stops it looking like vinyl. So it only helps me enjoy the jacket more...

    I put my G&B Indy through the washing machine - front loaders only as they are less wearing and don't have an agitator which can rip lining, etc. And it looks great. Sheen has gone, leather is softer and it looks slightly worn in. Still looks new but not vinyl new.

    But I realise it's not for everyone.

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