Is your precious leather wallet showing signs of age? Is it garnered with stains and marks from its many years in use?
Then step forth as we explore why it gets so dirty and how to go about remedying that problem.
Why do Wallets Get Dirty in the First Place?
Before you learn how to clean wallet leather, it will be useful to know exactly why a leather wallet gets dirty in the first place.
Anyone who has already read anything about leather will surely know that leather is a soft and porous material, primarily because it is the repurposed skin of a deceased animal. This means that it will absorb any adjacent moisture or oil from whatever surface it comes into contact with.
Seeing as we are likely to handle our wallets multiple times a day - not to mention have them pressed up against our legs in our pockets - it is no wonder that the oil from our bodies is impressed upon the wallet's porous grains and absorbed into the fibers.
Contrary to what you might assume, this oil is actually good for the leather and keeps it supple and loose for years to come. However, there is a downside in that it attracts dirt particles, acting as a magnet for them, occurring over time and continually attracting dirt until the surface becomes dull and loses its natural luster.
Can You Wash Leather Wallets?
If something is dirty, then the first instinct is typically to wash it with water. Though this is a great idea for the removal of dirt on other surfaces, this does not work as well for leather items.
In fact, doing so would gravely affect the leather's soft and supple luster. Sure, the wallet would be rid of stains, but it would also be left dry and brittle, having been robbed of its natural oils. Leather that is dry and brittle is then prone to cracks.
Of course, there are plenty of leather surfaces that are coated with protective surfaces against water, making it a bit easier clean with a wet soft cloth or moist swab. This still is not recommended by leather aficionados, certainly not in cases where a thorough cleansing is needed.
Rather, it is recommended that a leather cleaner is used instead of a damp cloth, for these are formulated for the express purpose of cleaning leather.
How to Clean a Leather Wallet
So, without further ado, let us get into it and explore just how to clean a leather wallet well and properly.
1. Empty the Wallet
The first thing to do - even before getting your clean cloth and leather conditioner ready - is empty the wallet of all accessories and comestibles. Yes, that means your entire wallet, including all cards, receipts, and cash. And, if your wallet has a coin pocket, you will need to empty this as well.
Why not take this opportunity to properly organize your wallet and sort through all the miscellaneous bits and bobs that you have acquired over the years? You don't have to be a hoarder to keep hold of a bunch of random business cards in the hope that they are one day of use.
Still, there comes a time when you need to actually sort through them and make space for new ones so that you can perform the whole cursed cycle all over again, on and on until dusty death.
2. Identify the Stains and Varieties Thereof
Now the wallet is ready to be cleaned - and still before you get your dry cloth and saddle soap ready - you can proceed to identify the types of stains on the wallet. While this step seems unnecessary at first, it can be a helpful way to manage your expectations, whatever space they might already occupy. After all, not all stains can be so thoroughly cleaned and so some compromise might be necessary.
The most common kinds of stains are those where dirt is absorbed by oily fibers, though this is thankfully the easiest kind to remove.
If the wallet is made from full-grain leather or other top-grain leather and has been used for a long time, then there is a chance that it has come to develop a patina around the edges and hard corners.
This is a dark-colored layer that develops as leather ages, one of the unique characteristics of leather's aging process and a sign of graceful aging. Those less in the know might mistake this patina for staining, but it actually is not. Once you have cleaned the outer layer of dirt from the wallet, then this patina will remain and will likely look rather beautiful.
Another kind of stain occurs from permanent paint or ink marks from pockets. These are rarer to come by and harder to remove, though if you are persistent enough with your efforts, you should be able to completely remove them.
3. Clean the Stains
Now you can actually get around to cleaning the damn thing!
If the stains you have identified are dirt stains, then you will need to use soap water to remove the surface layer of dirt ideally without removing the patina and oils.
- Mix unscented shampoo or soap with slightly warm water in a bowl.
- Take two microfiber cloths - one for cleaning and the other for drying - any soft cloth or cotton swab will do.
For more stubborn stains like paint or ink, then you are going to need to use a stronger solvent for the job, likely rubbing alcohol. Alcohol is a fantastic anti-bacterial agent and has long been called upon to kill most viruses and bacteria, so using it on an entire leather wallet would not go amiss.
- Start with one side of the wallet and take one at a time.
- Dip the cleaning cloth into the solution (either soap water or rubbing alcohol) and gently rub the surface in a uniform circular motion, ensuring that you don't apply too much pressure on the surface.
- Slowly move from one edge toward the other until all of the dirt has been removed and the surface can be seen.
- Repeat this step for the other side of the wallet and all the internal sides and pockets, drying the surfaces with the second cloth (or a dry paper towel) when you are finished.
4. Air Dry
Incredibly important to remember is not to expose your wallet to direct sunlight during the drying process, something that can easily destroy your wallet and any other leather item.
Thankfully, there are two ways you can go about drying your wallet properly:
- Gently wrap the moist wallet in a clean hand towel, folding the towel to cover the wallet fully from all sides. Ensure that you do not apply any pressure so that the wallet is wrapped in its original shape, and kept in a well-ventilated area for at least 12 hours for the moisture to slowly evaporate.
- Cover the wallet with a single piece of tissue paper (no baby wipes) to avoid dust deposition and place the wallet in a well-ventilated area. The passing dry air will take out the moisture and leave the wallet dry in around 12 hours.
Forget the nail polish remover, now you can see about restoring the original shine and suppleness with a suitable leather conditioner, like this one for example.
Apply an even thin layer of the conditioner on all the surfaces that you have cleaned and leave it to soak in for up to 10 minutes. Buff the extra layer with a clean cloth until you see the shiny leather surface through all of the gooey muck.
So, there you have it! Hopefully, you are now feeling ready and able to clean your leather wallet, safe in the knowledge of why it gets dirty in the first place and what to do if it does in future!
FAQs How to Clean Wallet Leather
HOW DO YOU CLEAN A LEATHER WALLET WITHOUT DAMAGING IT?
Being made from the skin of animals, the surface of leather is both soft and porous, something that can make it difficult to clean. If done improperly this can even result in extreme damage to the leather wallet. Leather will acquire oils that keep it supple over time which, if cleaned off, will result in a dry and cracked piece. To clean a leather wallet properly, you will thus need to use proper cleaning materials for the job.
WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO CLEAN A LEATHER WALLET?
The best way to clean a leather wallet is to go into the process knowing what kind of stains you are working with. Knowing this can help you to manage your expectations and allow you to progress with the right hope and desires of the process. High-quality leather will develop a patina over time, something that no amount of cleaning is likely to be able to remove. Ink and paint stains, while rather difficult to remove, can be removed with the right amount of effort and elbow grease.
HOW DO YOU GET STAINS OUT OF A LEATHER WALLET?
This will depend on the severity of the stains. Often, the stains on a wallet are nothing more than the accumulation of dust on the oil that has clung to the porous and supple surface of a leather wallet - soapy water will suffice. Sometimes, though, these stains might be caused by something a little more severe like ink or paint, in which case stronger solvents like rubbing alcohol will be necessary.