How To Protect and Clean A Leather Wallet (Safely!)

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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!


Prevention is Better Than Cure

There are a couple of things to get out of the way right from the start. First and foremost – 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 below, 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!

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

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. 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!

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Emergency Care For Leather Wallets

  • Use a cloth dampened with plain water to wipe dirt, debris, or liquid spills from your wallet. Do not apply any soaps or cleansers, as chemicals can be tougher to get out of leather than dirt.
  • If you get your wallet sopping wet, 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.
  • 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. Never use household cleaners.
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Leather Milk Conditioner and Cleaner for Furniture, Cars, Purses and Handbags. All-Natural, Non-Toxic Conditioner Made in the USA. Leather Care Liniment No. 1. 2 Sizes. Includes Premium Applicator Pad

  • 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.

A Few More Tips For Basic Leather Wallet Care

  • 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.
  • 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.

Final Thoughts On Cleaning Leather Wallets

Remember what we said at the start – 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