How to clean your leathers

Author: Phil West Posted: 29 Dec 2015

Keep your leathers in tip top condition on the inside and out

After your bike itself, your leathers, including boots and gloves, are often your second largest motorcycling investment. Top spec one or two-piece suits can cost well in excess of £1000 with boots and gloves adding hundreds to that all of which means that looking after them makes huge financial sense.

But you’d be amazed how few do.

Leathers are not only exposed to all the elements including rain, muck and road grime on the outside, they’re in contact with your sometimes hot and sweaty body (now there’s a thought) on the inside as well. So if you want to keep them in tip top condition and prolong their life as long as possible they need regular cleaning. And being leather, which can be prone to shrinking, cracking, hardening, fading and more, that means doing it with care, which is what we attempt to guide your through here. How often you do this depends on how much you use your gear and how many miles you rack up while doing so but as a general rule of thumb every three to four months should be enough.

Invest in some quality leather cleaner, it'll be worth it.

Stage 1: What you will need/preparations

Small plastic sponges or natural bristle nail brushes; cotton cleaning cloths or rags, clean water, kitchen roll and good quality leather cleaner for cleaning your leathers’ exterior; an old toothbrush (or similar) for cleaning awkward nooks and crannies on your boots; good quality leather food.

Work space. You’ll need a large, flat area in which to work ­– possibly the kitchen table or similar:

Before beginning cleaning ensure your leathers have had a thorough airing outside to make sure they’re dry. Hang them on a sturdy clothes hanger, open all zips as fully as possible and hang vertically for at least a couple of hours.

Stage 2: Getting started

Pick an area to work on. Start with the suit’s chest area and then move onto the arms, back and legs. Clean one panel or small section at a time. Using the foam sponge or nail brush dip it lightly in the cleaner and start rubbing the area in a circular action to clean the dirt from the leather. Once done, excess cleaner should be wiped away immediately using cotton rag or kitchen roll. Once the whole panel has been cleaned the surface needs to be wiped clean using a cotton cloth dampened in fresh water. Try not to get the leather too wet. Once done, rinse the cloth out.

Stage 3: Drying

Once you’ve cleaned the whole suit it needs drying out. This can be done as before outside or inside as long as it's left overnight. Don’t be tempted to try to speed this up by hanging near a radiator or similar as it could lead to cracking.

Dry it overnight but not over a radiator

Stage 4: Feeding

Once dry you need to condition or ‘feed’ the leather with the leather food. This is applied in a process similar to cleaning: going panel by panel use a clean cotton cloth, dab in the food and work into the leather in a circular motion. Don’t be tempted to over do it. Only a small amount of food is required. ‘Over-feeding’ will result in a greasy, sticky surface that will attract more dirt.

Stage 5: Buffing

Once the whole suit has been fed, go back to the beginning and with a new, soft, clean cloth gently buff each panel, one by one until you achieve a subtle shine. Finally leave the suit to air, as before, for a few hours.

Feed the leather then buff to a subtle shine

Linings

Most leather suit linings are today removable. Take out and wash in your washing machine.

Zips

Zips need to be cleaned too. Dust or grit can cause damage, a sticky operation and wear which will ultimately causer the zip to fail. Use plain water and a small nail or old toothbrush to scrub along the teeth. Don’t use lubricants as they can be sticky and attract more grime.

Boots/gloves

The same technique can be applied to leather boots and gloves although on a smaller, more fiddly scale. Modern boots and gloves tend to have extensive plastic or man-made fibre areas. These can be cleaned with soapy water and a cloth or scrubbing brush. Fiddly areas can be cleaned using an old toothbrush. Plastic sections can also be polished up to a shine using spray on polishes.

Leathers care: BikeSocial's tips for keeping your bike clobber looking good and functioning perfectly:

  1. Always ensure your gear is properly dried out and aired before being put into storage.
  2. Store your leathers in a dry place, preferably inside a leathers cover or similar. Any damp will lead to rot.
  3. If you can, invest in a proper, heavy duty suit hanger or commercial clothes rail – it’s important your suit is hung up properly and that air can circulate around it.
  4. Don’t leave your gloves inside your helmet. Dead flies and grime that you’ll have accumulated on your gloves will be transferred to inside your helmet.
  5. When cleaning oily spots off your leathers or boots use a cloth soaked in warm, soapy water to dissolve the grime.
  6. One good way of cleaning bugs and grim off your leathers in between major cleanses is to simply use unscented baby wipes and to wipe over your leathers after use and before putting them away.
  7. Waterproofing. If you want to go to the next level you can apply waterproofing after the leather food as long as you wait for all the food to be absorbed.
  8. Be careful of your choice of leather food as some can discolour certain leather colours.
  9. Clean or change your cleaning cloths frequently during the whole process or you’ll simply end up moving the dirt and grime around.
  10. Pay particular attention to the seams. Their shape makes them natural dirt traps while if rot sets in the stitching and seams will fall apart.

Any other tips or advice? Post them below.  

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