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Garments and dry cleaning

With such a variety of garments available techniques for cleaning them vary enormously, so always check the care labels and care products before cleaning.

Basic tips to look after your leather garments include:-

  • Keep it on a well shaped or padded hanger to avoid distorting the shoulder line.
  • Protect the leather from unnecessary soiling.
  • When wet allow to dry naturally away from direct heat. Leather garments should not be dried in front of the fire or by hanging them over the radiator!
  • Don’t allow adhesive labels, such as charity flag day stickers to be stuck to suede or leather garments as the adhesive can cause discoloration. damage the finish and attract dirt.


Many leather garments have aftercare labels which should be followed, but the secret of home care lies in testing first on a hidden area such as an inside facing or under a pocket flap. If any colour is removed, stop immediately as the treatment is not appropriate.

Check the trial area for any damage before starting on the outside of the garment. If the test area has been wetted it should be allowed to dry naturally before checking for changes.

Whatever treatment is used, work on one panel at a time and finish that one before moving to the next. Give each panel the same treatment for the same length of time. If you use a proprietary product, follow the manufacturer’s directions carefully.

Grain Leathers
These can be finished or unfinished (full aniline) leathers and can be distinguished by putting a drop of water on a hidden area. If the water is absorbed rapidly, with a darkening of the leather, then it is unfinished, but if it stays on the surface it is either a finished leather or it has been treated to make it water-repellent.

Finished leathers
These are best cleaned by wiping the surface with a damp cloth. If the soiling is more stubborn then a very dilute soap solution can be used instead.

Worn or scuffed areas can be masked by the use of colour restoration products which are available at shoe shops and shoe repairers. These are available in many colours and if the correct colour can’t be found they can be mixed within their own ranges. The colour should be matched carefully or the repair could worsen the problem!

Unfinished Leathers
Since water can be absorbed by this type of leather (causing staining) cleaning can be difficult. The surface can be polished with a soft dry cloth but treatment beyond this should be left to a professional leather cleaner.

Suede and Nubuck Leathers
When new they can be treated with a protective spray (see products). This will improve water and grease resistance but can cause a slight darkening. You should follow the instructions on the can and don’t hold it too close to the leather surface during use.

Brush the nap occasionally with a dry sponge or soft bristled clothes brush. This is best done when the suede is slightly damp, for example after hanging in a steamy bathroom. Don’t use a wire or hard bristled brush and don’t try to dampen suede by using the steam from a kettle.

Rain may cause temporary darkening whilst the nap is wet but should dry out to the original colour. If there is a residual darkening then the suede can be brushed to restore the original colour. As this is likely to happen every time the garment gets wet you could use a protective spray to prevent the problem occurring.

If a water spot can’t be brushed out, often leaving a darker periphery, then there might have been a migration of dye and the evenness of colour can be difficult to restore. A specialist cleaner may be able to help.

Wet Leathers
If a garment gets seriously wet you need to take special care to prevent the leather suffering as it dries :-

  • Remove large or heavy items from the pockets so they don’t distort the garment as it dries
  • Blot carefully with a dry towel to remove excess water
  • Allow to air dry naturally at room temperature and keep away from sunlight or direct heat
  • When dry you could apply an appropriate leather conditioner or protective product


The relative expense of dry cleaning can make it an unattractive option, but where appropriate it’s the best method of cleaning your leather garments.

Most leather garments are considerably worn and heavily soiled because many consumers don’t think about cleaning leather garments until they have been worn for a number of years – making them difficult to clean.

Whilst cleaning, refinishing and pressing of leather garments requires considerable skill on the part of the cleaner, the consumer should always ask for the considered realistic expectation of the cleaner.

Dry cleaning is a complicated process where important oils are removed from leather during dry cleaning. Normally these oils will lubricate the leather fibres, keeping them soft, but their partial removal can leave garments feeling firmer and lighter in appearance after dry-cleaning. The drycleaner therefore needs to put oil back into the garment after dry-cleaning to soften the garment and bring it back (as near as possible) to its original feel and colour.

Dry-cleaning do’s and don’ts : –

  • Don’t let a garment become heavily soiled before having it cleaned.
  • Have matching pieces, e.g. a skirt and jacket, cleaned at the same time.
  • Give your cleaner any care information that came with the garment.
  • Point out any stains and ingrained soiling.
  • Be prepared for a change in colour depth after cleaning as some dyes used on leathers are soluble in dry-cleaning fluids. The cleaner can correct some colour loss but can’t always achieve the same depth of shade as the manufacturer.
  • Some oils which are impregnated into the leather for suppleness during tanning are lost in dry-cleaning, and although the cleaner will use special additives to replace the oils, there may be some change in the feel of the garment.
  • Always take items to a specialist leather cleaner.

Look at the links section to find out more about specialist leather cleaners.

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