How To Soften Leather In 5 Simple Ways

by Welcome to Outsons
Soften Leathers

Whether you want a new leather jacket, leather boots or a leather satchel, knowing how to soften leather is an essential skill.

There are a number of different techniques which will give you different results depending on the look you’re going for. But all of these methods are easy for any guy to do at home and achieve a great look without any hassle.

While some of these methods involve buying specialist products, most of them use products you may already have in your home for other purposes. Even the highest quality leather can be stiff and uncomfortable when you first buy it, and leather softening allows you to stay comfortable while feeling confident and chic. So here is your ultimate guide to softening your leather products.

Soften Leather
Image Credit: @brantdaugherty via Instagram

Coconut Oil

Coconut Oil
Image Credit: @benwhitephotography via Unsplash

Using olive or coconut oil to soften leather is a very popular method, predominantly because most people already have oil in their home. If you don’t have coconut oil, you can also use olive oil, avocado oil, neatsfoot oil or mink oil. But before you bust out your best oils, you need to do some preparation first. Even if the product is brand new, make sure you clean the surfaces thoroughly with water and a clean cloth. If it’s a particularly stiff leather, you may want to use a leather conditioner for this step. 

We all know coconut oil (or any oil for that matter) and water don’t mix well, so leave your leather goods to dry out fully before you start. Once you’re ready to go with the dry leather, leave your leather things out in the sunlight for 10 minutes. This will help the oil to seep into the leather better and it will soften more effectively. Don’t leave it drying in the sun for much longer than this, as prolonged exposure to heat and sunlight can cause discolouration or cracks. If you’re looking at how to soften leather shoes, make sure you take the laces out first so they don’t get oily. Then you can gently rub the coconut oil (or olive oil) into the leather. You only need a small amount of oil, but be sure to cover the whole item.

This is an easy and quick method for softening leather boots or other leather goods. However, the only problem with this method is that it can darken the leather considerably or lead to discolouration. If you’re worried about the colour change, find a part of the product that isn’t visible and test it there before you do the rest of the leather surface. 

Alcohol and Vaseline

Alcohol and Vaseline
Image Credit: @nordwood via Unsplash

Rubbing alcohol and vaseline on leather products can also be a great method for softening leather shoes or other products with stiff leather. As in the previous technique, clean the leather goods first with water and a clean cloth. Wait for the leather to dry completely before moving to the next step.

With a cotton ball or a clean cloth, apply the rubbing alcohol to all surfaces of your leather items. Rub the surface in circles to ensure an even coverage all over, and pay extra attention to hems, seams and creases.  You may need to treat it several times, if it’s a particularly stiff leather. After that, you can cover the item in petroleum jelly which should significantly soften your leather. While you should make an effort not to oversaturate the leather, you can be quite generous with the petroleum jelly. Some other methods can run the risk of drying out the leather, which can cause cracking or other damage. The Vaseline ensures the leather material gets the moisture it needs to stay soft and durable over time. 

Because of the moisturising effect, it can increase the durability of your leather garments and keep them in a better condition for longer. This method will generally not cause the leather to darken or discolour, so it’s definitely worth a try. 

Leather Conditioners

Leather Conditioners
Image Credit: @nordwood via Unsplash

There are many leather conditioner products, both in stores and online, that are specifically created to soften your leather items. Because of this, while it might cost you more, it’s certainly one of the more trustworthy techniques. They tend to be much stronger than the natural solutions we’ve given you, so if you need to know how to soften hard leather that hasn’t worked to soften your leather, leather conditioners may be your best bet. 

Some leather conditioners are created for specific things, so will tell you on the label how to soften leather boots, for example, or how to soften a leather belt. This is definitely something to check on the label. But most products will effectively soften the leather on any product. Like anything, you can get leather conditioners at varying price points, so do your research before you buy to find out what’s best for the specific garment you own. 

The one tip we can give you here is to read the label carefully to see what the manufacturer recommends. Follow their instructions as closely as you can and you should soften the leather safely and effectively. Depending on the leather conditioner, you may need to reapply every now and again to ensure your leather stays soft and doesn’t dry out.

Adding Heat

Adding Heat
Image Credit: @jediahowen via Unsplash

Heat can be an effective way of softening leather without any fancy products, but you need to be quite careful with it as you don’t want to burn the leather. There are a couple of ways to soften leather with heat. 

You can put the leather item into a tumble dryer, as this softens leather quickly. Try not to use this technique with older items as it may dry it out. Opt for a medium temperature and only run the dry for 10 to 15 minutes, as you want to avoid losing too much moisture from the leather. Adding a few tennis balls into the dryer with the item can also help to soften the leather more evenly. The spinning drum may give your leather clothing a weathering effect, so if that’s your style this is one of the best home remedies there is. 

If you’re worried about a dryer causing damage to leather, there are a couple of other options. Instead, you can leave your leather product somewhere that is dry and humid. You could put it in an airing cupboard or even hang it on the shower rail while you take a hot shower. This method ensures the leather doesn’t lose too much moisture and dry out, so this is a safer option than the dryer. You can also use a hair dryer, particularly if you want to target specific areas of stiff leather. Just ensure you’re not using too high a heat setting or getting too close, as you can burn the leather. 

For any of these heating techniques, it’s a good idea to follow it up with a small amount of leather conditioner to replace any moisture lost in the heating process. 

Water

Water
Image Credit: @nate_dumlao via Unsplash

Water is one of the most natural options, so if you have a very high quality leather, this is a good first method to try out. You’ll want to use a spray bottle so you get an even coat and make the leather soften evenly. Spray the item with water all over with your spray bottle. You should stop when the water starts beading up and rolling off of the leather. If you’re worried you’ve over-saturated the product with water, use a clean cloth to wipe away any excess. 

You may have to use this method more frequently than some of the other techniques, as it doesn’t add as much moisture back into the leather as oil-based products (like oils or petroleum jelly).

One of the main issues with this method is that many people use waterproofing products, particularly on boots and jackets. If you have used something similar, this method won’t work as the water won’t be absorbed into the leather. With a high quality leather, you might want to follow this method up with a quality conditioner as well, to keep the moisture in your leather and avoid dryness caused by the evaporation.

How To Soften Leather

Leather goods are a great way to add an edge to any outfit, but you need to know how to make leather soft if you want it to be comfortable to wear all day, every day. Here are some of the best products for softening your leather bags, jackets, belts, and boots. 

  1. Coconut or olive oil
  2. Rubbing alcohol and vaseline
  3. Leather conditioner (or another shoe leather softener)
  4. Heat
  5. Water

Feature image: nate_dumlao via Unsplash

You may also like