Leather is a durable and versatile material. However, it can become hard or stiff, particularly if it isn't given a little TLC. If your favorite leather boots, leather clothing, or leather furniture is feeling hard and stiff, you’re probably wondering how to soften leather. Taking steps to soften stiff leather are very important. When leather items are left stiff and hard, not only do they not feel as supple as you would expect, but they may also crack more easily. Use the tips below to help you learn how to make your leather supple and soft again.
Stiffness Can Vary Based on Leather Type
Leather is made from animal hides. And, while bovine leather is the type that people are most familiar with, it is far from the only type of leather out there. You can find leather made from the hides of many different types of animals, including buffalo leather, deerskin leather, lambskin leather, and goatskin leather, to name just a few.
As each of these animals’ hides are different, it makes sense that leather goods (jackets, shoes, leather pencil cases etc.) made from them will have different characteristics. For example, cowhide leather is much heavier and stronger than deerskin or lambskin leather. While cowhide leather is a popular choice for leather furniture, it may not be the softest option for those looking for leather jackets.
Beyond the differences caused by the type of animal hide, the softness of leather can also vary based on whether the item is crafted using full grain leather or top grain leather. Full grain leather is naturally harder than top grain leather because it is made using all the grains from the top layer of an animals’ hide. Top grain leather, on the other hand, is much softer because the skin is split and sanded during the production process.
Why does leather stiffen?
There are a few possible reasons why leather may stiffen over time. These can include:
- Improper storage
- Placing leather garments in the dryer or exposing them to other high heat conditions
How to Soften Leather
If you’re looking to soften a leather garment, your favorite leather shoes, or an old leather couch, there are a few different methods you could try. Read through the leather softening techniques shared below, and decide which will work best for the specific stiff leather good you have.
When you’re looking for how to soften hardened leather, natural oils are one of the best options to consider. Some of the best oils to try include mink oils, neatsfoot oil, jojoba oil, coconut oil, or olive oil.
Before applying any oil to your leather products, they will need to breathe for about 10 to 15 minutes. This will ensure that the pores are opened up so that the oil can be absorbed and perform as desired. Try to set the leather item out in the sunlight or near a sunny window for 10 or 15 minutes.
Then, dip your finger in the oil, and gently rub it over the entire surface. Repeat these steps a few times to coat your leather belts, shoes, jackets, and other items with numerous layers of oil. Take care to apply the oil evenly. After you have applied multiple coats, leave the leather to absorb the oil and dry.
If you don’t have any materials on hand or want to know how to soften hard leather without chemicals or oil, try using water. Fill a spray bottle with distilled water—tap water would deposit minerals and cause staining. Then, lightly spray the dry leather, working to wet all areas evenly. Dry excess water using a clean cloth and leave the leather item to air dry the rest of the way.
After the leather has dried, you’ll want to apply a leather conditioner to help maintain the soft finish and make sure the piece doesn’t become brittle.
Alcohol and Vaseline
Vaseline can be used for softening leather. Before applying Vaseline to leather, start by dabbing a small cotton pad with rubbing alcohol over the leather surface. You’ll want to dab each section of the surface until it starts to shine. Try to make the shine even across the entire surface.
Then, apply a light layer of Vaseline over the entire surface. In some cases, if it looks like the leather will absorb more, a second layer may be needed. Let the leather absorb the alcohol and Vaseline overnight, and it should be noticeably softer by the next day.
Whether you’re looking for how to soften new leather or old leather, a quality leather conditioner is always a good option to consider. You can find leather conditioners online or through many retailers who sell leather goods. These conditioners are formulated with oils that help soften the material, making it more supple and flexible.
Because a leather conditioner is specifically formulated for use with leather, you can feel confident that using it won’t damage or negatively impact the leather’s finish or lifespan. In fact, many manufacturers recommend using a leather conditioner with the items they sell and may even include one with a leather furniture purchase.
How to Keep Leather Goods Soft
Now that you know how to soften stiff leather, read through the tips below about keeping leather from stiffening. These tips can help you prevent your new leather items from becoming too hard and dry and help your freshly softened leather goods remain soft.
- Whenever possible, invest in higher quality leather products.
- Don’t put leather garments or shoes in the dryer
- Minimize UV exposure
- Pay attention to the manufacturer’s use and care directions for each leather good
- Condition your goods, whether it's a leather duffle bag or a leather messenger bag, with oil on a regular basis
Softening Stiff Leather
Have your questions about how to make leather soft again been answered? Hopefully, the methods and tips shared above will help you to breathe new life into your stiff leather items. Leather is an investment; when you take care of leather, it will last for a long time!
What is the best oil to soften leather?
Some of the best oils to use to soften leather include mink oil, neatsfoot oil, coconut oil, and jojoba oil.
Does Vaseline soften leather?
If you’re looking for how to make leather soft, you can try using Vaseline after dabbing the surface with rubbing alcohol. Follow the steps outlined above if you wish to try this method.