Good quality leather can be much like a fine wine, it gets better with age. Recently a friend commented on my “new” golf shoes which were actually several seasons old. She looked surprised when I told her I clean and condition all my leather on a regular basis, not just my shoes. My equestrian background taught me the importance of caring for your leather which I now utilize far beyond the stable. Each season I clean and condition my leather purses, shoes and sporting goods just like I would any piece of tack. Treat your leather like your skin by cleaning, conditioning, polishing and protecting it to age gracefully.
Before cleaning any leather do a small test spot that you can’t easily see. My general rule is that the softer or lighter the leather, the more cautious you have to be. Leathers such as calfskin or lambskin are much more porous and therefore more likely to change colors than a heavy cow hide. Remember less is more when cleaning and protecting, start with the least amount of moisture and product necessary and adjust up from there.
To begin cleaning, lightly dampen a soft rag or sponge with warm water and apply a small amount of soap in a circular pattern till it foams up. Start with as little water as needed since too much can cause stains. I love to use these tack sponges with Fiebing's Saddle Soap
If you run into a bag with stains try the least abrasive measure first, organic makeup removing wipes are helpful in a pinch to spot treat a stain. If you have a more stubborn stain try a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, they really are magic, I’ve gotten pen stains out of white leather with this trick, just be gentle! The easiest way to maintain clean boots in my opinion is to carry Quick Wipes in my car so I can give them a quick wipe down before driving home. If you never let the dirt build up they are so much easier to clean, you’ll always be well turned out and you can use them on your car interior!
After your leather is dry go ahead and apply conditioner in small circles. Always apply the conditioner to the towel, never directly to the leather. A good leather lotion will keep it supple and prevent cracking or water spots. I like Cadillac Select Premium Leather Lotion.
Apply leather polish if you want your leather to look shiny and new, this will also make it slippery so be careful if you are using this for your riding tack or other sporting equipment. Polish is great for most shoes or for harder grain leather purses. Apply a small amount of polish in a circular motion before buffing and shining with a clean rag or shoe brush.
A good offense is the best defense. Ideally, you’ll want to apply protectant before you ever use your leather then once a year if you are cleaning it regularly. I prefer silicone-based sprays because they are more water resistant and tend to not darken the leather at all. My personal favorite is Garde Rain and Stain Repellent which dries clear and doesn’t change the texture of your leather.