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How To Clean Stained Leather (Just In Time For Boot Season!)

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SqualorJolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist. She’ll be here every week helping to answer your filthiest questions. Are you dirty? Email her.

This week, a plaintive reader email:

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My God, I just love everything about this. Its brevity in no way detracts from its poignancy. I can feel his anguish.

I can also help with this one, no problem.

There are three ways to treat a water stain on leather, and these instructions are the ones to use regardless of whether the water-stained leather is covering a boot or a coffee table. I’ll lay them out in order of easiest and cheapest to hardest and most expensive, because if the easy and cheap thing you try first works, it would be silly of me to tell you to go out and buy some specialty products that you don’t really need. Okay so!

Method 1: Fight Fire With Fire

This is going to sound like it shouldn’t work, but the first thing to try — and it may well work, seriously! — is to apply more water to the water stain. I know, I know! It sounds all wrong but the idea is to use water to blend the existing water stain.

Now, you can’t just go dumping water on the water stain and POOF! All better. There’s a technique here, and this is what it is: You must use a SOFT CLOTH and that SOFT CLOTH must be WHITE. The reason for that is that dye can transfer easily from a colored soft cloth onto the leather. So! White. Soft. Cloth.

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Wet the white soft cloth with water, then wring it out so that it’s damp but not sodden. Then, rub the cloth gently in a circular motion over the water stain, repeating until the area appears uniform in color. Allow it to dry and check to see if the water ring is gone. If it is, great! You’re done. If not, it’s time to move along to Method 2.

Method 2: Raid the Fridge

This is so weird but I promise it’s a real thing: Fats, like butter or mayo, are excellent at removing water stains from various surfaces. There’s a thing that involves mixing ashes (cigarette, cigar, fireplace, Granny, etc.) with soft butter or mayo to remove white water stains from hard surfaces like wood, which isn’t exactly what we’re covering today but hey, we’re here so I mention it!

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When using fats to clean leather, you can skip the ash part — go ahead and put Granny back in her urn! — and just use straight up soft butter or mayo. You will once again be reaching for your soft cloths for this operation: Apply a small amount, maybe about a half a teaspoon, of either butter or mayo to the cloth and rub it into the water-stained leather in a circular motion. Then, use a clean section of the cloth to buff the fat away. Keep buffing until there is no remaining fat residue and check to see if the water ring is gone. If it is, great! You’re done. If not, it’s time to move along to Method 3.

Method 3: Actual Leather Cleaner

If the water rings remain after trying the more at-home remedies, it’s time to bring in the big guns in the form of leather cleaner and conditioner. And actually, leather cleaner and conditioner is a good product to invest in, just generally, if you own any leather goods, whether they be bags or shoes or jackets or furniture.

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There are many good brands of leather conditioner; the brand I use is Cadillac, because it was recommended by the shop where I buy my leather totes.

To use leather cleaner and conditioner you will once again reach for your soft cloth, to which you’ll apply a small amount of the cleaner. A little bit truly goes a long way! Rub the cleaner and conditioner on the stain, once again working in a circular motion. Then, switch to a clean section of the cloth, buff it away and check to see if the water ring is gone. If it is, great! You’re done. If not, it’s time to get a good divorce attorney.

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About the author

Jolie Kerr

Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert, advice columnist and the host of the podcast Ask a Clean Person