A leather bag not only looks luxurious and classy but it’s also designed to store some of your most essential items when you’re outside. Most leather bags are built to last, but not many people know that they require proper care.
Improper maintenance, such as cleaning, conditioning, and storage can cause your leather bag to stiffen and even show signs of cracking. This will affect its appearance and structural integrity, making it more susceptible to further damage in the long run.
As leather can naturally stiffen over time there are various natural ways to keep it soft and supple. In this guide, we’ll share the 5 most effective ways to soften leather bags using a leather conditioner, mink oil, coconut oil, neatsfoot oil, or a combination of alcohol & petroleum jelly.
You will also learn how to use these ingredients to soften hardened leather bags and the unique nourishing benefits each of these elements offer. We’ve also included a guide on best practices so that you’re able to achieve optimal results.
Why Leather Bags Harden Over Time
It may seem illogical to some that leather bags can harden over time, especially due to incorrect maintenance and storage. Since leather is a porous and sensitive material, its environment can significantly affect it.
Overexposure to Sunlight
Leather bags that are exposed to ultraviolet (UV) rays over a prolonged period draw out moisture, along with its vital oils. Direct sunlight can cause leather to dry out and cause your bag to harden.
Water absorption due to high moisture levels can also cause your leather bag to stiffen. This is common in damp and moist storage environments, causing the oils in the leather to evaporate, thus hardening your leather bag.
Another reason why a leather bag may stiffen is due to age. Leather needs to be conditioned regularly to prolong its durability. As a highly absorbent material, leather may absorb substances that deteriorate its natural oils throughout its lifespan.
Why You Should Soften Your Leather Bag
Softening your leather bag can make it more pliable and significantly enhance its texture and appearance. When you renourish it using natural methods, its durability is improved as the leather fibers are restored using natural oils.
This process is a crucial part of regular leather maintenance. Softening your leather bag also reduces the risk of it showing signs of wrinkling, creasing, and cracking, keeping it nourished, supple, and shiny.
Method 1: Leather Conditioner
A leather conditioner is a product that can soften stiff leather fibers and give your hardened leather bag new life. We recommend using a leather conditioner that contains natural and non-toxic ingredients.
Our favorite leather conditioner for leather bags is Leather Honey’s Leather Conditioner. It has a powerful nourishing and softening formula that is natural and silicone-free. It’s designed to rejuvenate old and stiff leather, making it suitable for softening leather bags.
No matter which leather conditioner you choose, ensure that it contains only leather-friendly ingredients and does not darken or discolor your leather bag.
How to Use A Leather Conditioner to Soften Leather Bags
Take a small amount of your preferred leather conditioner and pour it onto a dry microfiber cloth. Using the cloth, apply it to the entire body of the leather bag. Make sure to apply the conditioner on all flaps, sides, and handles.
After covering the entire bag with an even coat, let the product absorb into the leather for a few minutes. Using another piece of cloth (make sure that it’s dry), wipe the excess conditioner from the leather exterior.
If your leather bag is showing signs of peeling and discoloration, you may want to apply a few more coats. Moving forward, you should regularly condition your leather bag to keep it soft and supple.
Method 2: Mink Oil
Using mink oil is another effective way to revitalize dry and stiff leather bags. Mink oil is produced by processing the layer of fat underneath mink skins into a moisturizing solution, which has many renourishing properties.
Mink oil can replenish missing oils in leather and even lubricate its fibers so that your leather bag softens and remains supple over time.
We’ve tested a few and the best mink oil we have come across over the years is Sof Sole Mink Oil. The reason we prefer this is because it renourishes, conditions, and preserves your leather bag effectively.
While its ability to soften leather is a great benefit, certain types of mink oil can darken your leather bag slightly. Therefore, ensure that you test it first by applying a small amount to an inconspicuous area.
Although we’ve heard some people complain that mink oil will only soften your leather bag for a relatively short amount of time before it hardens again, we’ve not noticed any significant loss in suppleness.
How to Use Mink Oil to Soften Leather Bags
Apply a generous amount of mink oil to a dry cloth and begin applying it to the exterior of your leather bag. Ensure to cover the front, back, and sides of your leather bag carefully. If it contains leather straps, make sure to also apply an even layer.
Rub in the product using gentle circular motions so that the leather absorbs the oil more easily and evenly. You can apply multiple layers of the product if you feel your leather bag is still too hard or stiff. We don’t recommend more than two applications.
After completing the last application, allow the oil to set in the leather for two to three days before use. You will be able to notice a significant change as your leather bag feels more pliant and soft.
Method 3: Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is one of the best natural oils you can use to moisturize and soften your leather bag. Not only is it easy to apply, but coconut oil is hypoallergenic and can form a water-resistant layer on your leather bag that can be used to repel moisture to prevent it from hardening.
Although coconut oil can give your leather bag an attractive gleam, it may also cause the leather to darken by a shade or two. Therefore, we only recommend using coconut oil to soften leather bags that are tan, dark brown, or black in color.
If you have a light-colored leather bag, you might want to consider using an alternative method – for example, a leather conditioner or mink oil.
How to Use Coconut Oil to Soften Leather Bags
To achieve more consistent results, apply a light water and vinegar mixture to your leather bag before applying coconut oil. Lightly dampen a cloth in the water and vinegar mixture and apply it to the entire leather exterior of the bag.
Allow the mixture to dry on the bag before applying the coconut oil. Then, take a spoonful of room-temperature coconut oil and spread it on the leather bag using a dry cloth.
Use gentle circular motions to rub the oil in the leather as you work on the bag’s front, back, sides, and handles. After an even coating has been applied, allow the oil to absorb completely before your next use.
Method 4: Neatsfoot Oil
Neatsfoot oil is a viscous yellow oil that is obtained from the shin bones of cattle. It’s commonly used as a softening agent for leather, granted that you apply the oil evenly and correctly.
It can restore your leather bag’s original flexibility, softness, and shine and keep it well-preserved for use. As neatsfoot oil is acidic, it’s compatible with leather, which means that you won’t damage it in the process.
We prefer using Bickmore Pure Neatsfoot Oil for softening leather bags. One thing we love about this softening product is that it’s free from any petroleum-based ingredients and effectively manages to soften hard leather bags.
However, you’ll need to be careful that it doesn’t get into the interior lining, as cotton or similar materials are neutral or slightly alkaline. Therefore, ensure that you keep your leather bag sealed when applying neatsfoot oil.
Like coconut oil, neatsfoot oil can cause lighter-colored leather to darken as the product gets absorbed. It’s best to use this oil for dark-colored leather bags instead. Another disadvantage of using neatsfoot oil is that it may oxidize on certain types of leather.
To prevent any type of damage, perform a spot check on an inconspicuous area of your leather bag and check for any discoloration or oxidation – you’ll notice this through light peeling and flaking.
How to Use Neatsfoot Oil to Soften Leather Bags
Take a small amount of neatsfoot oil and rub it on the exterior of your leather bag or purse. As neatsfoot oil may slightly darken your leather bag, you should not use too much of it.
We suggest applying a light coat of neatsfoot oil first. Then, allow your leather bag to dry completely before use. If you don’t notice any significant softening and no discoloration or oxidation, you may want to apply a second coat a couple of days later.
Method 5: Rubbing Alcohol & Petroleum Jelly
If you do not prefer to use natural oils to soften your leather bag but are looking for a solution that can be conveniently used at home, you can try a petroleum jelly and rubbing alcohol mixture for similar results.
Rubbing alcohol (also known as isopropyl alcohol) can soften leather when it’s applied before using a petroleum jelly such as Vaseline. This mixture can also help seal the leather surface against moisture and give your leather bag a beautiful shine, while at the same time softening it.
How to Use Alcohol & Vaseline to Soften Leather Bags
Apply a generous amount of alcohol on a large cotton pad and rub it on your stiff leather bag. Keep applying the alcohol to the leather surface of the bag until an even shine appears.
This will mean that the bag has absorbed the highest amount of alcohol possible. After the bag has soaked up the alcohol, apply a light layer of your preferred petroleum jelly (Vaseline works well) to the leather bag to soften it.
Although the combination of rubbing alcohol and petroleum jelly works fairly well, we recommend softening leather bags using natural oils instead. Use the rubbing alcohol and petroleum jelly solution only if you don’t have other options available.
Best Practices for Softening Leather Bags
Are you interested in reading some more useful tips and tricks that supplement the softening instructions that we have shared above? If yes, then feel free to incorporate any of the best practices below, so that you’ll be able to achieve optimal results.
- Don’t Use Products that Darken – It is best to use leather-friendly products for this process that will not darken your leather bag or purse. Neatsfoot oil and coconut oil are conditioning solutions that may cause darkening. Therefore, it’s always best to apply any solution to an inconspicuous area of your leather bag. Stick with mink oil or a leather conditioner if you want to be extra cautious.
- Let Your Leather Bag Dry Naturally – Allow your leather bag to air-dry naturally in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated space. Applying heat to dry your leather bag can cause it to dry out and render the softening treatment ineffective.
- Remove Contents Before Softening – To make for a quick and straightforward procedure, ensure that you have emptied the contents of your leather bag beforehand. This will give you better access to specific compartments and avoid damaging your possessions as you rub softening products on your leather bag.
- Handle & Soften with Care – The pressure you use for rubbing any type of softening solution on your leather bag will impact its suppleness, color, and texture. No matter which product you decide to choose for the softening process, be careful to use gentle pressure to apply the product onto all external areas of your leather bag, including the straps.
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!