Restoring antique leather is a delicate task requiring patience and attention to detail, but the rewards are well worth the effort. Whether you're spiffing up a Hermes handbag, bringing new life to a flea-market club chair, or rescuing a saddle that languished too long in your grandfather's barn, the principles are the same. Clean, restore, condition and maintain. Just be careful not to overdo your restoration. The imperfections and aged patina of antique leather are part of its charm.
Assess the leather's condition, taking note of any special problems. Are there mould spots? Ink stains? Cracks or cigarette burns? Gather the products you'll need to repair these issues before beginning your restoration. Preservation Solutions and United Kingdom-based Furniture Clinic are excellent places to order leather restoration, refinishing and repair products online.
Remove surface grime from the leather with a dry white cloth or a soft-bristled brush. Wipe the entire surface with a soft white cloth to remove dust.
Wash the leather with a foaming water-based leather cleanser or a product specifically formulated for antique leather. Never use leather wipes or furniture polish on antique leather, as they contain elements that damage delicate finishes.
Inspect the cleaned leather, and consider whether you can live with its appearance. Refinishing antique leather can decrease its value, but if the piece is unusable, refinishing the leather may be the best option. Skip to the last step if you are content with the leather's patina.
Apply cures for mould, stains, cracks and holes in the leather, following the manufacturer's instructions exactly.
Rejuvenate faded, mottled, or scratched leather with a re-colouring cream. Rub the cream into your antique leather in a circular motion, then buff to a shine with a soft white cloth. Severely discoloured leather can be stripped and dyed, a process usually left to professionals, but ambitious do-it-yourselfers can purchase kits to dye leather at home.
Apply a high-quality leather conditioner such as Preservation Solutions Leather Saver with a soft white cloth, and you're done. Be careful: never use furniture polish, car care products, or any oil, wax, or silicone-based leather conditioners not formulated specifically for antique leather.
Maintain your antique leather by keeping it out of direct sunlight, dusting the leather regularly with a soft white cloth, and applying a mild leather cleanser and conditioner every three to six months, depending on use.
Never use oil, wax, or silicone-based products that have not been formulated specifically for antique leather. They can cause the leather to darken, crack, or disintegrate. Never use saddle soap on antique leather. It will darken the finish.