How to Condition and Care for Leather Jackets

*A huge thanks to Fedora Lounge members Monitor, navetsea, Marc mndt, and handymike as well as Phil from Ashland Leather for some additional insights that helped with this article.*

By far the most common question that I get is “when should I condition my leather jacket?” This really is not all that surprising of a question if you think about it. Boots and shoes need to be conditioned regularly in order to keep them in good shape and extend their life. The exact amount depends on who you ask, the type of leather, the boots, and the amount/type of wear. In some cases, you should care for your boots once a month.  As such, you would expect leather jackets to also need to be conditioned fairly often as well. 

Boots need to be conditioned fairly often

The same is not true for leather jackets

However, you might be surprised to hear that leather jackets really do not need to be conditioned often at all. As much as I adore leather jackets, I cannot claim to be the world’s greatest expert on this subject, but I do know a thing or two about this and I can give some solid advice on the subject of leather jacket care and conditioning as well as point you in the right direction for more information. This article will cover when to condition a leather jacket, what to use, different leathers, how rain affects leather jackets, as well as other information on general maintenance and care. 

  1. When to condition a leather jacket

Without question, the biggest mistake that people make with leather jacket care is conditioning their jackets too soon and too often. 

Don’t make this mistake. I have never conditioned any of my jackets. I had my Freewheelers Caboose jacket for almost 4 years and when I sold it, it was nowhere near needing conditioning. That jacket got worn more than most leather jackets get worn, but even so it had no need for conditioning. 

After over four years of ownership and likely over 100 wears, this jacket had zero need for any conditioning

You can wait at least 10 years to condition most leather jackets, sometimes longer. In fact, depending on the jacket, how often you wear it, and the environment that you live in, you may be able to go 20 years before actually needing to condition a leather jacket. 

There are 2 main reasons why people seem to think that they need to treat their leather jackets far more often than is actually necessary. Number one is the fact that most guys who buy leather jackets have already bought at least one (and usually quite a few) pairs of quality leather boots first. In doing this, they learn that boots need to be conditioned often, especially if they are worn often. Boots are made of leather and so are leather jackets and therefore, people assume that leather jackets also need to be conditioned just as or nearly as often. 

This is not an unreasonable assumption, but it is incorrect. Leather jackets almost never get worn as often as boots do and even when they are worn, they are not worn in the same way. They do not get the level of abuse that boots do and they certainly do not get exposed to the same level of sweat that boots do either (unless you wear leather jackets in Indonesia or Thailand.) In addition, leather jackets do not get as dirty as boots do and do not get cleaned with any kind of cleaning agent as often as boots. As a result, leather jackets just don’t dry up and need replenishing of oils as quickly as boots do. 

Boots get kicked around and abused more than leather jackets do (and worn more in most cases), hence why they need to be conditioned more often

With this said, it does depend on the leather and how often/hard you wear the jacket. A naked vegetable tanned leather will likely need to be conditioned sooner than a leather such as Horween Chromexcel. CXL has a massive amount of waxes and oils stuffed into it, so it won’t need more for decades.

Also, if you are really wearing your jacket hard, then you’ll want to condition it sooner. However, I don’t think most people fit into this category. I wear my leather jackets more than most people do considering that I wear them pretty much every day to work from September through May, plus a lot after work and on weekends. Even with all that use, none of my leather jackets actually need any conditioning now or in the near future. 

This jacket is around 20 years old and likely has never been conditioned. It probably hasn’t been worn consistently for 20 years, but it certainly does not need conditioning now.

The second reason that so many people believe that they need to condition leather jackets sooner than they do need to is because they have seen people condition used leather jackets and bring them “back to life” by doing so. The problem with this way of thinking is that the people who are reviving these old jackets are… well, reviving old jackets. An old jacket that has been abused and sat around in poor conditions for long periods of time will need to be conditioned, but the vast majority of jackets are not in this condition, especially the modern jackets most of us actually buy. The situations simply are not equivalent.

There are exceptions, of course. Also, a truly raw, unfinished vegetable tanned leather jacket will probably need more conditioning especially if you expose it to a lot of sunlight like many people do with their Mister Freedom Campus jackets, but most vegetable tanned leather jackets do not fall under this category. Deerskin, on the other hand, probably should never be conditioned. Some members of The Fedora Lounge have reported that deerskin is basically ruined when conditioned. It loses its unique character when conditioned.

My deerskin jacket

Additionally, some jackets even have finishes that don’t even allow conditioners to penetrate them. In this case, there is essentially no point to condition them. On the other hand, If you get your vegetable tanned leather jacket rained on a lot, then you can condition it earlier. As you can see, there are a lot of differences between jackets based on the leather and tanning method. However, most jackets will not need to be conditioned soon after you buy them and on average, you most likely will not need to condition it for the first 10 years. Honestly, most of the time you will never condition your jacket as most people sell them well before conditioning is necessary.

  1. What do I use when I condition a leather jacket?

I am pretty definitive on the fact that you should probably hold off on conditioning a leather jacket. What I am not as certain of is what to use when actually conditioning the jacket. This is partly because I have only conditioned a couple of my older, cheap leather jackets that I bought when first getting into leather jackets. In fairness, I have conditioned most of my boots at least once and some of them many times and yet I don’t have a definitive answer for that either.

Frankly, this is due to the fact that there are so many products out there to condition leather and a lot of them are pretty good. For boots, my favorite is Saphir Renovateur, but I’ve used other products and those all worked well too. 

For leather jackets, there are many options to use including Pecards, Obenaufs, Lexol, Bick, Mustang Paste, McCoy’s horse oil, Smith’s leather balm, etc. Pecards appears to be the most commonly used product. However Lexol is also commonly suggested as well. Lexol is said to penetrate leather better than Pecards. When I do finally need to condition a horsehide or cowhide jacket, Lexol will most likely be the product that I use. When I conditioned my old cheap leather jackets about 10 or 11 years ago, I believe I used Obenaufs. For most jackets, I do not recommend this as it is a super heavy duty product that will darken the color significantly. For some cases, however, it may work well.

Also of importance is to mention that you should not overcondition a leather jacket. It is not just that leather jackets don’t need to be conditioned, but some argue that there are downsides to overconditioning. Deerskin will lose its unique, soft, spongy character if conditioned, especially with heavier products. Also, if leather is conditioned too often, you could change it’s character and lose the potential for developing beautiful grain or aging in the leather and could make it feel overly soft and damp.

  1. How do leather jackets handle rain/how to take care of a jacket that gets rained on.

Leather jackets handle rain much better than most people seem to think. They are not waterproof, but you absolutely can get a leather jacket wet without worrying about anything bad happening. Many people think that vegetable tanned leather jackets cannot get rain on them. This is not true. It is true that light colored or natural vegetable tanned leather jackets can get water spots on them, but this does not damage them. Additionally, if you get them fully wet, then the whole jacket will change color fairly evenly. 

I’ve worn this vegetable tanned jacket (and many others) in pretty heavy rain and you would never know.

Any more heavily colored vegetable tanned leather jacket will not face any serious discoloration in the rain. They also won’t get ruined in any other way. I have gotten rain on all of my vegetable tanned leather jackets and they have been completely fine. I specifically go out of my way to wear them in the rain because it helps set arm creases nicely. Two of my veg tanned jackets have gotten completely soaked in the water and suffered no issues. 

However, if you want to stay dry in heavy rain, veg tanned jackets are not your best option. The water will eventually soak through and you will get wet. The jacket won’t suffer, but you might. If you don’t have to be outside for a long time, I suggest you wear your veg tanned jackets in the rain at least once as it develops the leather nicely, especially in the sleeves. If you need actual protection from the elements, you are better off with something different. 

One other option is a chrome tanned or combination tanned leather jacket. They tend to resist water a bit more. Not all of them will do so perfectly, but some chrome tanned jackets have a thick finish that repels water completely so in some cases, a leather jacket could be a good rain jacket. 

If you want to stay dry in heavy rain, a chrome tanned leather jacket like this one is a better choice than a veg tanned one

No matter what leather jacket you wear in the rain, what is most important is what you do with the jacket after you get back inside. While rain will not damage a leather jacket, drying it too quickly while it is wet can damage the jacket permanently.  Just as you should not use heat to dry wet boots, you should not try to speed up the drying process of a wet leather jacket with heat. Just let it dry naturally. Also, you should not hang it while wet, it can deform the shoulders. Simply lay it out on a towel away from any heat source until it dries, then hang it up. If you get water spots on the jacket, you can wipe them down with a damp microfiber cloth which should help mask them.

That’s all the advice I really have in terms of leather jacket care. I know it doesn’t seem like there is all that much to do and that’s because… well, there really isn’t much to do. You don’t need to do shoe trees or a religious and extensive conditioning and polishing routine like with boots and shoes nor worry about specific washing routines and schedules that some people do with jeans. They’re really quite simple. Don’t condition them too much, if you do, use a decent conditioning product that I listed with a cloth or even with your hands, and don’t use heat to dry them after they get wet.

This is the topic I get the most questions about online. Ironically, it requires the least amount of explanation. In fact, the vast majority of people will never need to condition or do any special care with their leather jackets as they own them. There are exceptions as I mentioned before, but these are uncommon and you will likely be aware if your jacket is one of these exceptions. Most people just will not wear them often enough or keep them long enough. What do I need to do to take care of my leather jacket? Not much, really.

4 thoughts on “How to Condition and Care for Leather Jackets”

  1. Hello!
    Very good article on leather jacket care. Basically, keep it simple. I’ve learned to do this with my leather boots as well and it’s really paid off.
    I have a question regarding getting my first leather jacket.
    I’m a shorter guy that works out 5′ 9″ and about 210lbs. I’m around 48 to 49 inches around the chest and my waist is about 35 inches. Jackets for me can be difficult because I’m almost always in an XL to sometimes an XXL, thus being really big around the waist and stomach area. I want a leather, but I sometimes wonder if my bodyshape just won’t look good in a leather jacket?
    I’ve tried to have some of my jackets hemmed, but they never seem to look good when complete and I don’t think I’d want to try this with a quality leather jacket.
    If you have any thoughts or suggestions I would truly appreciate them.

    Thank you for your time!

  2. DAVID MACY – One possible suggestion would be to look into Five Star leathers, who will make a made to measure jacket quite cheaply. Huge thread about it on the fedora lounge, I would read that first before ordering.

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