Can leather get wet? Sure, leather can get wet - but it’s not a great idea. The main problem when leather gets wet actually arises as the leather dries. When leather gets wet, the oils in the leather bind to the water molecules. As the water dries and evaporates, it draws out the oils with it. The leather’s loss of natural oils causes it to lose its supple quality and turn brittle.
Although it’s not ideal, wet leather is not a hopeless loss—but it needs to be addressed right away. If you’ve been caught in the rain, and your leather messenger bag, briefcase, boots, or shoes are soaked, try these steps to prevent the leather from becoming brittle.
1. Gently wipe off any standing water, and allow the leather shoes, boots, or backpack to dry naturally, to the point of being damp - but not completely dry. (Do NOT apply unnatural heat, like from a blow dryer.) For a leather jacket, hang it on a wide, padded hanger. For leather shoes, boots, or bags, stuff them with crumpled newspaper to help hold their shape.
2. While the leather is still damp, apply a coat of leather conditioner. Use a soft, clean cloth to massage the conditioner into the leather. Using small circular motions, apply the conditioner evenly over the entire surface of the leather. Leave it to dry for several hours or overnight. The conditioner will penetrate the leather through the pores left open from the evaporating water and will replenish the stripped oils.
3. If the leather still seems overly dry in places, apply additional conditioner to those areas and buff the entire surface of the leather. If you prefer to make your own conditioner, check out our blogfor a simple DIY.
After you’ve taken care of the wet leather situation, it’s time to make that leather water-resistant—before it gets wet again. Thankfully, the ingredients of a quality leather conditioner are not only restorative but also protective. If you are dealing with a leather bag or jacket, it’s likely that the conditioner you applied in the previous steps included enough protection for peace of mind. However, if you are working with leather shoes or boots, those tend to face much more exposure to the elements and may require more protection to keep them water-resistant. Consider applying a waterproofing spray or a beeswax cream for added protection.