how to repair water damaged leather

How to Repair Water-Damaged Leather: Guide & Prevention Tips

If your leather bag or favorite leather shoes have been left or caught in the rain, you need to act fast to protect them. Leaving water exposed on your leather over a prolonged period of time can cause water damage, which may lead it to lose its suppleness and smooth texture. 

Make sure to properly clean and dry your leather, if the water source may contain bacteria or other forms of impurities – especially from rain water. If your leather was exposed to water over a longer period of time and has caused it to become brittle, then the best way to repair water damaged leather is to properly condition it.

Here’s a quick summary of how to repair water-damaged leather. 

  1. Let the Water Dry on Your Leather
  2. Clean Your Leather
  3. Condition Your Leather
  4. Dry Your Leather Piece

After following these instructions, make sure that you check out our section on the most important tips to prevent water damage from happening to your leather products. This guide can be found at the end of the article. 

How Water Can Damage Leather

Leather has natural oils that help it sustain its softness and luster, but when water permeates it, it can cause the natural oils to evaporate with the water vapors. This effect causes the leather to become brittle and lose its supple quality. 

A major reason leather and water are not a good combination is that damp leather can foster mildew and mold growth. Mold growth can not only ruin the quality of the leather but can also affect the appearance of your leather wallet, shoes, or bag. 

Therefore, to prevent any water permeation into your leather products, you should ensure they are kept as dry as possible and free from moisture.

You should also pay special attention when it comes to rain water or water that contains impurities, as they are more prone to cause mold and mildew buildup. If that’s the case, then place special emphasis on the cleaning part of this process. 

1. Let the Water Dry on Your Leather 

The best solution to preventing any long term water damage to your leather products is drying them as soon as possible. For a leather bag, it is advised to wipe it with a dry cloth to remove excess water or moisture until it dries. If you have spilled a drink on your leather jacket, you should clean the jacket with a dry cloth then hang it to dry naturally on a wide hanger. 

If your leather product has been damaged extensively, we suggest drying your material with a fan. Although the process might be time-consuming, it will help in drawing out water to help prevent further damage.

Additional Tip: In order to speed up the leather drying process, you may also use a hair dryer by setting it to cold mode (or any non-heated mode). This speeds up the drying process significantly. 

No matter how wet your leather products may get, you must ensure that you keep them away from any direct sunlight. Direct UV rays from sunlight can cause the leather to lose its natural oils, leaving it dry and withered, which may ruin the quality of the leather irreparably. 

Once your leather has lost its natural oil, you’ll also see cracks on the surface that are extremely hard to repair. Therefore, the best way is to prevent this from happening in the first place. 

2. Clean Your Leather 

Water can cause stains on your leather products if you don’t act fast. We suggest cleaning your leather products just as they are slightly damp with a clean, lint-free, and dry cloth to remove any dirt or stains that might be there. 

If you have tougher stains that won’t get out with just water, try cleaning your stain with a very dab of leather cleanser such as the Leather Cleaner by Leather Honey or rubbing alcohol. Just take note that you should avoid using acetone on leather.

Although leather cleaners generally do a fantastic job cleaning your leather, it is best to take precautions and test the substance on a hidden or small part of the leather product (in case it discolors or damages the leather) before moving on to removing the stain. 

It is recommended to use a dabbing motion instead of a wiping one, so no excess water cleaning substance gets absorbed in areas that do not require it. You also want to ensure that you are not spreading the original stain as much as possible.

3. Condition Your Leather

Conditioning your leather is an essential step in helping you restore it and replenish your leather with the natural oils it has lost. When you rub a leather conditioner into your products, the substance seeps into the material and nourishes it from deep within to restore its suppleness, luster, and durability. 

To apply a leather conditioner, you can use your fingers or a lint-free clean cloth to massage the conditioner over the entire leather material, not just the parts that had been wet. 

If you notice certain areas that look especially dry, apply extra leather conditioner on those spots. We also suggest applying a water-and-stain repellent such as the Leather Milk Leather Water Repellent and Protector to avoid any future damage. 

A leather conditioner is also able to restore any leather product that has already been water-damaged over a longer period of time. Conditioning your leather can help mend cracks and brittle spots, as it nourishes its fiber structure and adds a layer of protection.

4. Dry Your Leather Piece

After applying the conditioner on the leather product, you should let the conditioner penetrate and leave it to dry for a couple of hours (without heat or sunlight). You can also leave it overnight for the best results. 

Once the leather product has absorbed the conditioner, you can remove the excess conditioner on the leather piece with a clean, dry cloth. This process allows the renourishment of the leather product and helps you polish and protect its surface.

How to Prevent Water Damage from Happening and Important Tips

Since water damage is common and can come unforeseen, it is not always easy to prevent it. You can try your very best to avoid any water damage to your leather products but can still get caught in the rain wearing your favorite leather boots. 

Nevertheless, just because it is challenging to protect leather does not mean that you cannot take steps to protect and promote its durability and water resistance.

  • Waterproofing Your Leather – To protect leather products from potential water damage, the best solution is to apply a quality waterproofing wax to their surface. A waterproofing wax helps repel water, prevents staining from water, and promotes durability and breathability. Feel free to check out our review of Nikwax Waterproofing Wax to see what type of benefits these products have on leather. 
  • Remember to Condition Your Leather – Leather conditioners can greatly protect leather materials from future water damage. Not only do they act as a barrier to water molecules, minimizing water penetration, but they can replenish your leather piece with the natural oils it had lost. 
  • Avoid Contact with Water – Be careful of getting leather products near water, rain, splashes, or accidental spills. Not only that but leather products should also be dried and stored carefully to prevent any chance of mold or mildew growth. Ensure that you are storing your leather products in cool and dry environments as far as possible.
  • Store Leather Products In Cool & Dry Environments – Outside of direct water contact, you want to account for natural humidity too. Storing your leather products in dry environments will not only speed up the natural drying process of wet leather products, it will also discourage the growth of mold or mildew. The cool factor (outside of sunlight) will also ensure that the leather’s natural oils are not depleted in storage.
  • Act Fast – Water that is not removed quickly may seep into your leather and darken it with a stain. Water damage can also cause mold if it is not addressed timely. If you ignore these water stains, they may cause your leather items to become brittle and dull in time and lose all their natural appeal.
  • Follow the Process – Although caring for leather may seem time-consuming and tedious, going through all cleaning and conditioning steps ensures you have a timeless and quality leather product that will last you for years to come. You should follow all conditioning steps and cleaning methods and ensure to let the leather material dry properly.
  • Understand the Type of Leather – Caring for various types of leather is essential, as they should be treated differently. For example, suede and nubuck are leather types that should not be conditioned as doing so can change the original texture of the material. It is best to test conditioning and cleaning products on a hidden or small area to check their reaction (darkening or texture change) before moving to other parts.

About Gerrit

Co-Founder, Researcher & Writer At Leatherskill

I’m a leather enthusiast who spends most of his free time crafting, researching, and writing about the many facets of this versatile material. Thanks for reading!