Leather is a material produced from the tanning process of animal skins. Leather is commonly used to make jackets, furniture, shoes, bags, belts, and many other products. While leather is a very durable material, it is actually more difficult to clean than natural or synthetic fibers. The pores of genuine leather can absorb strong odors, such as the smell of smoke, food, sweat, perfume, mildew or the “new leather smell” left over from the tanning process. Removing odors from leather may take some trial and error, and when in doubt, you can always choose to have the leather professionally cleaned to prevent damage.
Method 1 of 2: Using Home Solutions
Step 1. Dry wet skin immediately
If your skin is wet, or looks like it's covered in mold, you should address this moisture problem immediately. Moisture can permanently damage the skin and create an odor that is difficult to remove. There are several simple ways to dry the skin:
- Place the leather somewhere in the house that is exposed to indirect sunlight. Direct contact with the hot sun can cause the skin to crack, chip and wear. Choose a spot near a window that can filter out the sun or behind a screen.
- Use a dryer on a low heat setting. Do not place the nozzle of the dryer too close to the skin as this may cause the leather to crack or chip. Point the dryer at the skin from a distance to absorb moisture and prevent large water spots from forming on the skin.
- Use a clean, dry cloth to wipe the leather dry, especially on a pair of leather shoes, leather jacket, or leather bag. Forget about using alcohol-based products or scent-masking products, such as perfume, and use a clean, dry cloth to wipe your skin well. Chemicals in the product can seep into the pores of the skin and can damage your favorite items.
Step 2. Wrap the object made of leather with newspaper or special paper for packaging
Newsprint and packaging paper are porous, so they are excellent for absorbing unpleasant odors from inside leather items. Always make sure that the leather item is completely dry, and that the newspaper you are using is dry too. The loose fibers of newspaper make it softer and more absorbent than other paper options, such as office paper.
- Crumple up a few sheets of newsprint in the box and place a leather object in the box. Close the box and keep it tightly closed for one to two days.
- Check the leather item to see if the newspaper is effectively absorbing bad odors. You may need to leave the leather item wrapped in the newspaper for another day.
Step 3. Clean the skin with a vinegar solution
The acid in the vinegar will help neutralize any unpleasant odors and the vinegar scent, which some people consider a bad odor, will evaporate along with other unpleasant odors on the skin.
- Before using an acid-based cleanser on a leather item, do an area test to make sure the cleaning solution doesn't change the color of the leather. Mix distilled white vinegar and water in equal proportions. If there is no discoloration or cracking of the leather, you can continue to use the vinegar solution to clean leather items.
- Use a clean cloth to wipe the surface of the leather with the vinegar solution.
- You can also use a spray bottle to spray the vinegar solution, then wipe it clean with a cloth.
- If the smell is really strong, you can try moistening the entire surface of your skin with a vinegar solution and letting it sit for five to ten minutes. Make sure you dry the leather well after soaking it in vinegar to prevent mold from developing on leather.
Step 4. Sprinkle the skin with the baking soda solution
Baking soda is known to be effective at absorbing unpleasant odors and is safe to use on the skin. You'll need baking soda and a pillowcase or plastic clip bag large enough to hold the leather item you want to clean.
- Place a leather object in a pillowcase or plastic clip bag. Sprinkle a light layer of baking soda over the surface of the skin. You can also sprinkle baking soda on the inside of a leather item to get rid of any internal odors.
- Tie the end of the pillowcase or seal the plastic bag. Leave the leather item in the baking soda overnight, or for 24 hours.
- Clean the baking soda using a mini vacuum cleaner or a clean cloth. Gently wipe off the baking soda so you don't scratch the surface.
- Repeat the cleaning process using baking soda until the unpleasant odor is gone.
Step 5. Allow the skin to age so the smell lessens over time
The natural nature of leather allows odors absorbed in it, from cigarette smoke to “new skin” due to the tanning process, to gradually diminish over time. Instead of trying to disguise the smell using perfume or other odor-masking agents, which actually make the smell last longer, just use your leather object more often. If you can stand the smell, wear your leather jacket, leather bag, or leather shoes every day to help your skin age.
The aging process will also soften the skin, while effectively opening the skin pores, and releasing unpleasant odors
Method 2 of 2: Using Professional Products
Step 1. Buy a leather cleaning product
You can find professional leather cleaning products at your local household store or even at your local shoemaker/cobbler shop. Always use a cleanser that is made specifically for leather on your leather items.
You will need a clean, dry cloth to wipe the leather with the cleaning product. Most cleansers can help remove odors, maintain skin color and radiance, and protect skin from cracking
Step 2. Moisturize the leather item
You should always moisturize leather items after cleaning. Moisturizing the skin will help remove odors and maintain its color and shine. There are several options for moisturizing the skin:
- High quality linseed oil: this natural oil is very effective for moisturizing leather clothes and other leather items. Avoid using cheap flaxseed oil, as it will not give very effective results. Use a cloth to massage the flaxseed oil into your skin until it's absorbed.
- Shoe polish: the oldest way to moisturize leather is also one of the best. Use liquid shoe polish on leather shoes, leather jackets, and leather bags. You can also use solid shoe polish for leather boots and shoes. If you're cleaning natural leather, buy a shoe polish that contains carnauba wax and natural ingredients.
- Professional leather conditioner: this product can be purchased at your local household goods store. Most leather conditioners are sold in spray form. You spray conditioner on the surface of the skin and the chemicals in it will seep into the pores of the skin which will then work to remove odors and help bring out the shine on the skin.
- Avoid using saddle soap on leather items. This product requires you to rinse it many times and can make the skin look streaky or cause the surface of the skin to become sticky.
Step 3. Consider professionally cleaning and moisturizing your skin
If the smell persists after you've done cleaning with home remedies, it's time to consider taking the leather item to a shoemaker to have it professionally cleaned and moisturized. Depending on the type and severity of the odor, you may be able to seek professional help to remove unpleasant odors from your skin for a small fee.