Leather is among the most stylish and versatile fabrics on the planet. Being that it’s made from animal hide and not a synthetic/man-made material, it possesses certain qualities that aren’t found elsewhere. For instance, leather is supple, smooth, and has a natural “grain” that enhances the wearer’s appearance. But it’s not uncommon for certain types of leather to become stiff. This isn’t something that happens overnight, rather months or even years of usage may stiffen the material to the point where it is no longer comfortable to wear. So, what can you to to soften leather?
What Causes Leather to Become Stiff?
Before we reveal the steps to softening leather, let’s first discuss what makes it stiff in the first place. There are a few possible causes of stiff leather, one of which is simply its quality. Not all leather is made equal, as some varieties are made with higher quality hides and craftsmanship than others. Products made with full-grain leather tend to yield the highest quality, simply because the hides from which they are made have not been buffed, sanded or snuffed, whereas split and corrected-grain leather are two of the lower quality varieties. You can expect to pay more for high-quality full-grain leather, but this is instance in which the mantra “you get what you pay for” holds true. Even though you’ll spend more for high-quality leather products, the cost will be returned in the form of greater longevity and protection from stiffness and damage.
Leather may also become stiff when improperly stored. I think most people are guilty of tossing their coats, jackets, shirts and other garments in the closet without considering the environmental conditions and how it will affect them. Even if the air feels comfortable, it could be harboring a significant amount of moisture vapor, in which case certain garments, such as those made of leather, could become saturated to the point where they damage. It’s not just high humidity that can damage leather, but low humidity can damage it too. This is particularly true when speaking of stiff leather, as dry air will literally suck the moisture content out of leather, making it hard and stiff.
These are just a few of the possible causes of stiff leather. Whether it’s a jacket, dress, skirt, shirt, pants, shoes or a belt, however, there are certain steps that you can take to soften leather.
Store Leather in 40-50% Humidity
Ideally, leather garments and products should be stored in a climate-controlled environment with a relative humidity of approximately 40-50%. This is the sweet spot, so to speak, that will keep leather moist enough to prevent it from drying out, but not so moist than it promotes the growth of mold and mildew. If you don’t know the humidity level of your home, purchase a monitoring device from your local home improvement store. Most of the major home improvement stores sell them for about $10 bucks a piece, which is a small price to pay for knowing whether or not your home is suitable for storing leather.
If one of your leather garments feels stiff, check the humidity level of the surrounding environment to see if it’s too low. This is probably the single most common cause of stiff leather. Assuming the monitoring device reads lower than 40% relative humidity, you’ll need to raise the humidity level to help soften your leather and protect it from future stiffness and drying. Among the easiest ways to raise the humidity level in a home or building is to use a humidifier. As the name suggests, this device is designed specifically for this reason. It works by releasing moisture vapor into the air; thus, raising the humidity level. Just remember to set your humidifier to 40-50%, as going beyond this limit may cause additional problems for your leather garments and products.
Condition Your Leather
In addition to storing your leather garments and products in a climate-controlled environment with a 40-50% relative humidity level, you should also get into the habit of conditioning them on a regular basis. Doing so will soften stiff leather by giving it essential moisture. Leather conditioners are designed to help soften and protect against drying out, which is exactly what you need for stiff leather. Simply apply the conditioner by gently rubbing it into the surface until it is no longer visible. The conditioner will seep down into the pores of the leather, moisturizing and softening it from the inside out.
If you are in a bind and don’t have access to a leather conditioner, you can use olive oil as an alternative. Simply pick up a bottle of extra-virgin olive oil from the grocery store, and apply it using the same technique as a conditioning product. Gently rub the olive oil into the surface of the leather until it is no longer visible, at which the leather should feel softer and less stiff. Some people have also reported success when using coconut oil or even avocado oil to soften their leather. If you are going to use it on a high-quality leather garment, though, it’s best to stick with either a conditioning product or extra-virgin olive oil, as these are these two safest and most effective solutions available.
Tips to Prevent Leather from Becoming Stiff:
- Don’t settle for low-quality leather garments and products. Choose premium, high-quality leather, such as the variety sold here at LeatherCult, to protect against stiffness.
- Don’t leave your leather sitting in the sun for long periods of time. Prolonged exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays may cause it to fade, dry out and even crack.
- Never place your leather garments or products in the dryer
- Condition your leather approximately once every couple of months to help maintain adequate moisture levels while protecting against stiffness.
- Choose products that are made of either full-grain or top-grain leather.
- If your leather feels dry, apply a small amount of extra-virgin olive oil to the surface, gently rubbing it in until it’s no longer visible.
- Read the care label of your leather garment for more instructions on how to keep it soft and supple!