Can Leather Get Wet? (and Will It Shrink?)

As a seasoned leatherworker, I’ve often encountered the concern about leather getting wet. It’s a legitimate worry, as water can significantly impact leather’s integrity. Let me guide you through my insights and experiences on this topic.

Main Points:

  • Initial Interaction with Water: Leather initially repels water, causing beading on the surface. However, water can bond with the natural and added oils in the leather, drawing them out and weakening the material.
  • Impact of Rain: Rain can age leather prematurely, leading to cracks and potential rot. It is a significant threat to leather’s longevity and appearance.
  • Drying Process: If leather gets wet, it should be air-dried over a period of 12-24 hours, away from direct heat sources like hairdryers, which can cause further damage. Natural air circulation is recommended.
  • Wet Leather Care: The process includes blotting off excess water, drying until just damp, applying a quality leather conditioner evenly, reapplying conditioner, and gentle buffing once fully dry.
  • Waterproofing: Using a waterproofing spray on leather items can offer long-lasting protection against moisture, making it a valuable preventive measure.
  • Addressing Water Damage: In case of water damage, focus on thorough conditioning and drying, and massage the leather to restore suppleness. Patience and careful layering in care are crucial. For alternative leathers like pleather or vegan leather, which have inherent water resistance, the approach is different.

Leather’s Reaction to Water: A Complex Affair

The Initial Interaction: Beading and Oil Stripping

Initially, leather doesn’t directly absorb water. Instead, you’ll notice water beading on the surface. But here’s the catch: water starts bonding with the natural and added oils, drawing them out. This process weakens the leather, leaving it unprotected and more susceptible to damage.

Rain: A Leather’s Nemesis

Rain, while it seems harmless, can be quite detrimental to leather. It can prematurely age the material, leading to cracks and potential rot. I’ve seen many fine pieces lose their charm due to unexpected rain exposure.

The Drying Dilemma: Time and Technique Matter

After accidental wetting – which happens to the best of us – air drying is crucial. This process should take about 12-24 hours, or longer, depending on the leather’s thickness. However, avoid direct heat sources like hairdryers, as they can cause further damage. A soft, ambient airflow is your best bet.

Pro Tip: While tempting, avoid using a hairdryer or heater for drying. Instead, opt for natural air circulation.

Essential Steps for Wet Leather Care

Caring for wet leather is an art in itself. Here’s my go-to process:

  1. Blot and Wipe Off Excess Water: Using a soft cloth, remove as much water as possible. This step is crucial for effective drying and conditioning.
  2. Dry to Just Damp: Place the leather in a warm, dark space, away from sunlight or direct heat, until it’s just damp.
  3. Condition Evenly: Apply a quality leather conditioner evenly across the item. This step is vital for restoring the stripped oils.
  4. Reapply Conditioner: After the initial coat has soaked in, apply another layer to ensure thorough moisturization.
  5. Gentle Buffing: Once fully dry, gently buff the leather with a trusted leather brush to restore its natural luster.

Waterproofing: An Ounce of Prevention

Waterproofing your leather items is a wise decision, especially if you’re likely to encounter moisture. A good waterproofing spray can provide long-lasting protection, making it a worthwhile investment.

Addressing Water Damage

If water damage occurs, focus on thorough conditioning and drying. Massaging the leather can also help restore its suppleness after proper drying and conditioning. Patience and layering in your care approach are key.

Fake Leather: A Different Story

For alternative leathers like pleather or vegan leather, water resistance is usually inherent due to their plastic content. This feature makes them more forgiving when exposed to moisture.

Concluding Thoughts

While leather’s encounter with water is a complex affair, understanding and proper care can mitigate most risks. From my experience, treating leather with respect and attention post-wetting can restore its glory, preserving the charm and durability that we all cherish in this magnificent material.

Andre from leatherninja.com

Andre is a passionate leatherworker who spends his spare time working with leather. He loves the smell and feel of leather, and he takes great care in selecting the right pieces of leather for his projects. Read more here.