CONCORD, N.C. — My January column on wetcleaning suede (Breathing New Life into Suede) drew a large number of comments. This month, I will revisit the cleaning of skins, by giving an overview of smooth leather and its cleaning. It can be found as trim on a fabric garment as well as comprising the entire garment.
If the leather has begun to stiffen, even to the point of crackling when handled, it is a good indication that it has been a victim of neglect or abuse. Stiff leather that crackles when bent is a sure sign that the garment is likely to be unserviceable. Leathers come in almost every configuration: jackets, skirts, pants, vests, even shorts. Just like suede, the moment the animal’s heart stops, the hide tends to dry.
Modern tanning methods go a long way to slowing down the process of drying. Our job is to continue to retard the drying and keep the leather smooth, soft and supple.
The advances in wetcleaning chemistry make the actual cleaning process the least stressful part of restoring smooth leather.
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use, based upon the volume of the washer and the number of items being cleaned. Classify the load just as you would any other cleaning run: white, light, medium and dark.
I recommend that you clean any specialty item, such as painted or ornamental trim, in a load by itself. I prefer to have at my disposal as many chemical tools as possible, to allow myself a greater level of flexibility in the cleaning process.
A leather detergent cycle followed by a leather conditioner cycle will be adequate for most items. After the cleaning and conditioning cycles are finished, tumble the leather until it is at 10-15% RH, not quite dry, using a temperature of 120-130 F.
A jacket, coat or vest can be placed on the suzie using manual air to provide light tension and drying. You should use sleeve forms to shape the sleeves as they finish drying.
Pants can be placed on the pants topper on manual air and using the plastic “clam-shell” cuff forms to shape the leg and block airflow, thus providing tension to the pant legs.
While some operators may choose to invest no further effort, it is at this point where you can set yourself apart and “sell” the job.
One way is to use a mineral oil mixture or neatsfoot oil mixture to add luster to the garment surface. Simply spray the garment, wait a few minutes, then wipe away the excess.
Another option is to set the garment aside until you have the time to hand-rub the entire garment with mink oil. On several occasions, I have returned a leather garment on which I used mink oil, only to have the customer respond that I have given them the wrong garment. Word of mouth is still the best, and cheapest, form of advertising.
Specialty items make up a small percentage of the market but a large percentage of the problem items when restoring leather.
A few abandoned handkerchiefs and some No. 3 safety pins will provide adequate protection for any heavy buckle. By pinning a doubled handkerchief over the buckle, turning the garment inside-out, and running the garment in a mesh bag, you will prevent damage to the garment, or having the garment damage your equipment.
Those painted fan/tour jackets have special sentimental value to the customer. The paint is usually oil-based and should be wet-cleaned. Set these jackets aside until you have a few extra minutes to pre-spot, extensively.
Your goal is to reduce mechanical action as much as possible. Painted jackets will respond well to the time required to rub them down with mink oil. This will enhance both the leather and the painted surface.
Finally, a word of warning. The time will come when someone will bring you a “trail coat,” also called a duster. This is not a hide, but a cellulose fabric impregnated with wax and oil.
The proper and recommended care is to wipe this long coat with a soft cloth while using a water hose to flush away the surface dirt. If you dry-clean it, you will buy it.
To read Part One, click HERE!