In this blog post, we speak to Kaehler1920, a family based business from Chicago with a reputation for manufacturing the finest leather bags, cases and luggage. Founded in 1920, the Kaehler tradition combines true craftsmanship with locally sourced materials to produce leather goods of the very highest quality. As a long respected voice within the industry, here they show us how best to care for your valuable leather luggage to ensure it’s ready for the road and will stand the test of time.
Elegant, timeless, and practical – leather has always been a firm favorite of luggage manufacturers. In fact, leather was a key material used within the construction of the archetypal suitcase, a design intended to replace the unwieldy trunks that were popular during the early days of tourism. Chosen for its ability to provide just the right balance between durability and desirability, leather remains as glamorous today as it was in the 19th century, with the years only adding to the glorious patina of this material’s well worn path.
Today, leather luggage is increasingly in demand, particularly as vintage trends persist, and well cared for cases are passed down from generation to generation. And this final point is key: a carefully crafted, lovingly maintained, and regularly cleaned leather bag or suitcase should last, not only your lifetime, but also that of your children and possibly even grandchildren. With this in mind, we look at how best to clean, condition, and care for your beloved leather cases to ensure they provide you with many years of service.
The Three Cs – Clean, Condition, Care
Looking after leather in any setting doesn’t need to be overly difficult, and there’s certainly no need to be intimidated by the process, even if your luggage is expensive. In fact, caring for your leather luggage can be split into three simple stages that should cover everything you need to keep your leather looking great.
Firstly, a word on materials. You will probably find that most pieces of travel luggage are crafted from leather using a vegetable tanning process. Other tanning processes – including chrome tanning and re-tanning – yield different results and are used to give the leather different qualities. However, you will find that caring for your leather bags is much the same whatever type of leather used, with just a few things to be aware of during the lifetime of your product.
Cleaning Your Leather Luggage
Cleaning your leather luggage should done on a regular basis, forming the largest part of your leather care routine. It is also the simplest part of caring for your leather luggage, requiring only the removal of dirt and dust with a cloth, warm water, and a liquid cleaner suitable to the type of leather your bag is made from. This should be complemented by wiping away any dust with a soft cloth once or twice a week, helping to preserve your leather and develop a unique patina.
Additionally, you should take note of these points when cleaning your leather bags and luggage:
- Always take care of stains as soon as possible. Don’t let them soak further into the leather grain where they may be harder, or even impossible to remove at a later date.
- Be careful to avoid buckles, straps, buttons and other hardware. It’s possible that these could be tarnished by whatever cleaner you are using.
- Rub away stains and dirt with light pressure. If you begin to press too much you may remove the finish and damage the underlying leather.
Conditioning Your Leather Luggage
Conditioning your leather luggage should also be done on a regular basis, although not as frequently as cleaning. This will ensure the leather does not dry out over time. There are plenty of off-the-shelf products on the market designed to be used on specific leather types, including mink oil and neatsfoot oil. However, recipes containing natural oils such as orange, cedarwood, and citronella can also be used, plus they have the additional benefit of helping to remove strong leather odors on new bags. It is important to allow these oils to dry thoroughly before you wipe off any excess. After conditioning the leather, it is also a good idea to weatherproof your bags using something like beeswax cream.
Additionally, be aware of these points when conditioning your leather luggage:
- Olive oil also makes a great conditioner, and plenty of recipes include it as a core ingredient. However, recently the use of natural oils on leather has become controversial, so take some time to do a little research before you commit
- Always spot-test any DIY recipes – preferably on the inside of the bag – before you commit. That way you can be sure not to damage the leather.
- Work slowly and methodically with a soft cloth to ensure equal amounts of whatever you are using is worked into the grain of the leather for even coverage.
Caring for Your Leather Luggage
A core component is of the 3 Cs is the general, everyday care of your leather. For instance, while not regular occurrence, any scratches to the leather must be dealt with quickly – otherwise the underlying leather could become damaged and compromise the integrity of the whole bag. Storage is also important, and if your bag is packed away for any length of time then you must make sure is neither too dry or too damp. Remember also that leather is a natural material and, while it might look fantastic, that trip to the arctic circle to experience the Northern Lights might not be the best idea considering the weight and water permeability of your bag.
Here then, are a few final points to remember when caring for your leather luggage:
- Avoid temperature extremes at all costs, both heat (including direct sunlight) and cold (below freezing point) can damage the leather of your luggage irreparably.
- Store in original packaging where possible and include a handful or rice (or the original silica bag) to remove any moisture. Additionally, pack the bag with unprinted paper (not newspaper) to maintain its shape.
- If your bag becomes wet or waterlogged, always allow it to dry naturally and never use a heat source to speed up the process
Caring for Your Leather Luggage – Final Thoughts
Naturally, there are as many pieces of advice on how best to look after your leather as there are pieces of luggage traversing the globe. However, we hope that these simple rules will help guide you on your journey in the proper care of your bags and cases. And remember, a well cared for piece of leather luggage is a great way to pass down your memories to your kids and grandkids, so make sure you take your time to do it right.