How To Clean A Leather Wallet (And Protect It!)

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Whether you are looking to protect and preserve your wallet, or need an emergency wallet deep clean to restore it to its former glory, read on for our guide on how to clean a leather wallet!

how to clean a leather wallet

How Do You Make a Leather Wallet Look New?

Woah, hold on there. That’s the wrong way to look at this. The most awesome thing about a high-end leather wallet is that it looks better as it gets older and develops a patina. Regular use keeps your leather wallets soft and supple, and allows the natural grain and colors to come through. 

But leather does not reach that higher plateau of awesomeness all by itself — you have to nurture that rich, expensive look of your leather wallet through regular care.

real leather develops a patina

How To Clean a Leather Wallet

Emergency Care For Leather Wallets

The first step is to get rid of debris. Empty the wallet, turn it over, shake it, blow gently into the crevices, get all the loose debris out before beginning to work on the leather itself.

Why? If you don’t do this first you can make things worse by rubbing debris against the leather. Depending on what that odd fluff is made of … it could end up staining the leather more than before!

Once you’re down to just an empty wallet with nothing at all in it, you’re ready for the next step – gently cleaning the leather itself.

Using A Cleaning Product

The best product for cleaning a leather wallet is saddle soap, or leather cleaner like this one:

Leather Honey Leather Cleaner
We like this gentle, non-toxic cleaner for removing oil, ink, dirt and grime from all forms of leather. Never use household cleaners!

Apply a little cleaner to a very clean, lint-free cloth.

Start with an interior surface as a test, and wipe gently. Don’t start out scrubbing, or rubbing hard at the leather, wipe gently in smooth motions and see where you are.

You can apply a little more pressure if you’re not getting anywhere, but don’t start out that way as a good cleaner can shift a lot without potentially-damaging vigorous rubbing.

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How to Clean a Leather Wallet Without Leather Cleaner

If you don’t have any cleaner to hand you can use a cloth dampened with plain water to wipe dirt, debris, or liquid spills from your wallet. Do not apply any strong soaps or cleansers, as chemicals can be tougher to get out of leather than dirt.

In extreme cases, mild soap used sparingly is the most we’d recommend.

Once The Wallet Is Wet

If you get your wallet sopping wet in the cleaning process, let it dry at room temperature.

Do not use a hairdryer, hang it over a heater, or toss it next to a campfire — excessive heat changes the chemical structure of leather to make your expensive wallet look like a fat, old piece of beef jerky once it is dry.

Remember: keep your Slim Wallets slim by keeping your Cool Wallets cool.

A wallet tends to stretch or become lopsided when wet then it will keep whatever warped shape it was in when you dried it. Massage and mash a wet wallet into its original shape throughout the drying process.

We like to place one card on either side of the wallet to help it maintain its shape when the drying process begins.

DO NOT place all of the items back in your wallet, or even place a single card in EVERY card pocket.  You only want to use one card to simply give the drying wallet a little guide as it shrinks.

On the other hand, we wrote a whole guide if you actually want to shrink a leather wallet that has stretched out from use.

How To Prevent a Leather Wallet From Cracking

Stopping leather from drying out and cracking starts with realizing that as a natural product, it needs a little care and thought.

  • To start out, don’t let your wallet stay exposed for too long to direct sunlight. Store in a cool (room temperature is fine) place that gets some air.
  • Do not wrap a men’s leather wallet, or any nice piece of leather for that matter, in plastic. Leather needs to breathe or else it will develop nasty mildew that will ruin your wallet.
Chamberlain's Leather Milk
If your leather wallet does get too dry, rub a light leather dressing or cream onto it. We really like this Leather Milk leather conditioner from Chamberlain. Choose a natural, colorless product for best results.
  • When using any type of conditioner, less is more.  Seriously, a small teardrop size of conditioner can work on your entire wallet.
  • For best results, use your wallet every day.  Guess what conditions your wallet as well as anything?  YOU!  The oils on your hands can work their way into your leather to help it develop a fine, rich patina. That said, Keep your wallet away from makeup, food, and other oil-based products.
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A Few More Tips For Basic Leather Wallet Care

Don’t Overfill Your Wallet

Good care starts the first time you use your wallet. Leather always requires a break-in period where you loosen up the card slots and center pockets of the wallet.

Keep in mind that leather stretches out but never back in, so don’t cram all your cash and every card you own in it at once — fill it with just enough cash to flash and leave the rest of your stash at home.

Most wallets eventually work best with one to two cards in each pocket but START SLOW… don’t try to cram all of the contents from your old wallet into your new wallet. 

You really don’t need ALL of those cards and random pieces of paper in your wallet.  Your wallet and your pocket will thank you!

Can You Wash A Leather Wallet In A Washing Machine?

Leather wallets are not machine washable!  If you do happen to wash your wallet (which we all have – once).  DO NOT DRY IT IN THE DRYER.  We’ve seen plenty of wallets salvaged after being washed if you just let them dry “as is”. 

Meaning, don’t open them up, don’t remove all the cards, and certainly don’t dry it in the dryer.  Let the leather dry out as slowly as possible and feel free to rub a little leather conditioner on it while it’s still wet to help it dry more slowly. 

What actually ruins the wallet is the “fast” drying after it’s been wet.

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Final Thoughts On Cleaning Leather Wallets

Let’s get this of the way. Above all else – make sure you’re buying high-quality leather goods! Bonded Leather or other Faux Leathers just won’t do. 

You can do everything we mention above, but if your leather isn’t quality from the start, it won’t matter.  We prefer 100% Full-Grain or Top-Grain leather products…this includes wallets!

Types of Leather

From best to worst, these are the different types of real leather:

  • Full Grain Leather
  • Top Grain Leather
  • Nubuck and Suede
  • Genuine Leather
  • Bonded Leather

Yes, it’s weird that “Genuine” leather is low quality. That’s marketing for you …

If you’d like to read more – we have an article that covers the different grades of leather in more detail.

Remember – prevention is better than cure. Choosing high-quality leather goods, taking regular care of them (as you would a leather jacket, or a pair of leather boots) and not stretching them out will set you up for years to come.

A leather wallet should last years, if not decades, with proper use and care. Tell the world you take good care of your money with a well-maintained, high-quality leather wallet

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Last update on 2024-07-14 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API