In our busy lives, we want to be able to throw all our dirty riding clothes in the washer and get out of the laundry room as quickly as possible. But any riding apparel that includes real leather requires special products and some special treatment to protect your investment in this expensive gear. Regular laundry products and techniques will quickly turn leather into board.
It costs more to buy leather-wash products at your tack shop than it does to reach for the laundry detergent you already have, but they’re worth every penny in extending the useful live of your breeches, chaps and gloves. It also takes a couple extra steps in the washing process before the breeches can go back on your body.
We test-washed the leather-wash products most commonly available: Leather Therapy, Velveton and Parzival. (Pepede is another popular product, but it is not currently widely available.)
Since some people wash their leather in Woolite or Murphy’s Oil Soap, we also planned to include them in our trial. In checking with their consumer divisions, however, we were told that Woolite should not be used to wash leather and that Murphy’s can be used for spot-treating leather before washing but should not be used in a washing machine as the primary wash product.
We were provided with leather and breech-fabric samples by Elizabeth Guffey of Conchas Dam, N.M., who makes custom breeches as Elizabeth G (505-868-2940). We did a season’s worth of washing with the three available products. In addition, we also washed samples in liquid All and Woolite for comparison. We finished by washing several different pairs of well-used leather full-seat breeches.
There’s no doubt that products designed specifically for washing leather keep the leather softer than regular detergent. That’s fine for chaps and gloves, but it’s only half the equation with breeches. That includes breeches that just have real-leather knee patches, as opposed to a full seat, if you want to keep the inside of your legs from chafing.
The problem is that you need to keep the leather soft while getting the fabric portion clean. While the leather-wash products do an adequate job of pulling dirt and sweat out of fabric, they make little impact on the typical stains that riders collect.
While stains can be a bother on the colored breeches you may wear at home, they are death on white show breeches. The best solution for white breeches is to keep them covered when not actually on the horse. We have tried using Scotch Guard on breeches and, while helping with basic grime to a certain extent, it doesn’t have significant protection against the serious stains.
We “treated” our breech-fabric samples with a rogue’s gallery of barn stains: Manure, mud, grass, sugar slime, hitch grease, black boot polish, blood and Kopertox. (OK, we didn’t expect anything to get out the Kopertox, but we were hoping for the best.) Even the detergent didn’t do much with these stains. The warmer the water, the better for removing stains, of course, but leather needs to be washed in cold or cool water.
What did make a difference was dabbing stains right away with a stain-treatment product, in this case Stain Stick. Most of the stains cleared right out. The boot polish and manure faded about halfway and, well, Kopertox is best handled wearing green pants to start with. We recommend keeping a stain-treatment stick at the barn and in your show kit.
1. Dyed-leather products should be washed by themselves, not with any other laundry. Dye bleeds out of leather more easily than from fabric.
2. Brush off any heavy dirt.
3. If washing by hand, fill a tub with three gallons or more of cool water. Mix in a capful or two of wash product and then add the breeches. Soak for a while, up to an hour if you wish, then rinse, squeeze out the water, wrap in a towel to get out much of the water, and hang to dry.
4. If using a washing machine, settings should be for: lowest water level; cold water for smooth leather or cool water for heavier leathers and suede (under 85?° F, which may be close to the “warm” setting, depending on your water heater); and gentle cycle.
5. Mix the wash product with the water before adding the leather item. If using a dressing, add it during the final rinse cycle.
6. If possible, stop before the spin cycle and wrap the garment in a towel before hanging to dry.
7. Stretch out the leather while still damp, which will loosen the fibers. If you can, slip damp gloves onto your hand or zip damp chaps onto your leg.
8. Sponge on a dressing, if desired, while the leather area is still damp.
9. Air dry away from heat or direct sun. Since it can take a day or more for leather to dry, you’ll need to plan ahead so you won’t be tempted to put your leather in the dryer or out in the sun.
10. Stretch again when dry.
One problem with leather-wash products is that the directions don’t always reflect the reality of a washing machine, such as using “three capfuls for eight pounds of wash.” It’s rare that someone would wash that much at once, since eight pounds is about four pairs of full-seat breeches.
Even the smallest water level in a home machine uses around 20 gallons of water, so it’s also difficult to tell how much wash product to use if you’re only laundering one pair of breeches. In addition, the hardness of water can vary widely. We were particularly impressed with the directions on the Leather Therapy bottle, which clearly related to the variables of using a washing machine.
Start with using the amount specified on the bottle in the smallest level of water in your machine, since the more water you use, the more you can cause the leather fibers to stiffen. Observe how much sudsing you get and then add more product if needed. Obviously, you’ll save money in wash product if you can wash several items together at one time (if the leather dyes match) because you may need up to double the amount of wash product to match even the lowest water level on your machine.
Be particularly careful with the darker colors of dyed leather, especially dark blue, so that they don’t bleed on other fabrics while damp. Bleeding can also depend on the characteristics of the leather.
We noted that Parzival seems to bleed more dye than the other products. It was also the only product we tried that made a dent in the boot-polish stain. While dyed leather needs to be washed separately, so-called white leather (which is closer to light gray) is bleached rather than dyed, so Parzival may be ideal for white breeches. And, since the fibers of bleached white leather are more at risk to stiffness, using a good leather-wash product is doubly important.
All these products did a great job at keeping leather soft and are much better than standard laundry products for leather riding apparel. We got the softest leather with Parzival, however there was more bleeding and we needed to add more of it than with other products to get some suds.
Next in terms of softness was the Leather Therapy Wash, so it gets our top nod. Plus, Leather Therapy Rinse and Dressing will enhance the softening effect of whichever wash product you choose.