Use on gloves, boots, purses, leather furniture, and saddles to restore luster to leather goods. Natural, nontoxic, easy application. Soaks in, hydrates, moisturizes leather.
May leave tacky residue after applying. Could deeply darken lighter leather products.
Removes old scuff marks, and a little goes a long way. May increase lifetime of leather item. Protects leather from soil and mold growth.
Application time is lengthy process and requires a lot of elbow grease. Takes time to dry thoroughly.
Leather looks like new again after just one application. Returns items to soft, supple texture. No greasy film or shine. Only small amount needed.
Strong acidic smell after first application. Could leave leather much darker and discolored from original shade.
Revitalizes cracked leather, breathes new life into items needing some TLC. No glossy finish; cleans dirty leather and restores leather like new.
Could leave car seats feeling slippery. Has odd odor that smells fruity, pungent.
Good for cowhide and natural leather restoration. Cleans and conditions. Saves time and money. Non-greasy residue and comes with applicator. Has attractive, sweet smell.
Hard to apply, applicator could be better. Leaves sticky finish, may remove dyes and leave white residue.
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If you’ve ever been impressed by the rich color or supple condition of a well-cared-for leather sofa, chances are its owner has kept the leather in top shape by regularly applying a leather conditioner. Whether you’re investing in a new leather sofa or caring for a favorite pair of shoes, a leather conditioner is essential to renewing and prolonging the life of leather goods.
However, not all leather conditioners are the same. Some are expressly designed to be used with leather furniture, while other conditioners are best for shoes, and still others for leather coats. Leather conditioners keep these expensive goods supple and can protect against water damage and mildew while imparting an attractive patina to the leather. Some conditioning products are combined with leather cleaners or leather protectants, too.
At BestReviews, we want to make sure you know the differences between leather conditioners, and which types are best for the leather items that you want to protect.
Match the conditioner to the leather
The type of leather conditioner you choose should be formulated specifically for the leather goods you will use it on. A leather conditioner for a sofa might contain very different ingredients than one made to condition leather shoes. And even the correct conditioner can have an undesired effect on the item it’s used on – it might darken the leather or leave an unwelcome sheen.
This can be very pronounced on nubuck and aniline leather, which absorb liquid much more easily than other types of leather. Pigmented or protected leather, on the other hand, is more water repellent and less likely to change color when a conditioner is used.
Furthermore, leather conditioners can darken your leather item – and you won’t know to what degree until you apply the conditioner to it. With some leather, this darker hue only lasts a few months, but if you apply conditioner regularly, eventually the color change will be permanent. Some owners love this effect, while others will be disappointed.
Conditioner plus cleaner
Some leather conditioners include a leather-cleaning component as well, which can save a step when protecting your leather goods. Just make sure the cleaning chemicals in the product are safe to use on your leather item.
Frequency of application
Leather conditioners should be applied every three to six months, depending on the manufacturer’s recommendations. It’s a long enough period that you’ll have trouble remembering when the next application is due, so you might want to add a reminder in your calendar.
While leather conditioners offer some protection to leather, they don’t make a leather item waterproof. You’ll still need to protect the leather against water, and the degree to which you do this depends on how the item is used and how often it’s exposed to the elements.
Just as not all leather goods are alike, not all leather conditioners are the same. Their ingredients can have very different effects; for example, a conditioner that contains lanolin might soften a leather item too much.
Pigmented or protected: These types of leather have an exterior coating of either silicone or polyurethane. “All-around” leather conditioners are just fine for these because they’ll work well without damaging or discoloring the leather.
Aniline: This rich and supple leather is very susceptible to staining, fading, and wear if not conditioned regularly with a product designed specifically for it.
Nubuck: With a “distressed” or suede-like finish, nubuck is somewhat easier to maintain than aniline, but it is essential that you use a leather conditioner specifically formulated for this type of leather.
Furniture: Conditioners for leather furniture might contain a UV protectant to keep sunlight from fading, drying, or cracking the leather over time.
Bags: Leather purses, briefcases, and other bags are often vegetable-tanned with tannin and can discolor and shrink when they get wet. Higher-end bags often require a specific leather conditioner, so check with the manufacturer or the retailer.
Shoes: Shoe conditioners are often part of a combination cleaner/conditioner solution.
Clothing: Consider using a naturally derived conditioner to keep your leather jacket or other garments supple and soft.
Creams and lotions: These leather conditioners are simply rubbed in with the fingers or with a soft, lint-free cloth. A microfiber cleaning cloth is a good choice for applying the leather conditioner and then buffing the leather.
Spray: These leather conditioners are delivered through either a pump- or trigger-action spray bottle or aerosol spray bottle.
Wipes: Convenient cloth or paper wipes treated with leather conditioner are wiped across the surface of the leather item.
Use caution if you’re trying a two-in-one cleaner/conditioner or three-in-one cleaner/conditioner/protectant. The chemicals and waxes in some of these products might not be right for your leather goods.
Inexpensive: Combination leather cleaner/conditioners are among the lowest-priced products for conditioning leather, starting at around $10.
Mid-range: Easy-application conditioners, such as spray bottles, cost around $12 to $14, but these might not be the best choice for more delicate leather.
Expensive: For more delicate leather, consider conditioners in the premium price range of $18 to $20.
Q. I heard that lanolin is the best conditioner for any type of leather. Can I safely condition my shoes with it?
A. Lanolin, a natural secretion found in sheep’s wool, is very good at softening leather – it makes just about any leather more supple and soft. But it’s probably too good because what’s great for leather jackets and some handbags isn’t necessarily a feature you want in a pair of sturdy shoes. In that case, lanolin could weaken the leather.
Q. Does leather conditioner also make leather waterproof?
A. Leather conditioner doesn’t make leather waterproof, but it can impart some protection to the leather. Conditioners are formulated to penetrate leather and keep it moisturized. Most small leather goods made today, such as shoes, bags and jackets, have a protectant added that offers some waterproofing.
Q. Do I really need to condition leather every three to six months?
A. That’s a guideline rather than a rule. In dry climates, you might want to condition your leather items every three months. For temperate climates, every six months is fine. Owners who have leather items with a “rugged” look often wait a full year before conditioning.