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How to care for vegetable tanned leather

How to Care for Vegetable Tanned Leather_ The Complete Guide for Creatives

How to Care for Vegetable Tanned Leather: The Complete Guide for Creatives

As a craftsperson, knowing how to care for vegetable tanned leather will extend the lifespan of your leather creations and allow your creative prowess to truly shine. Learn everything you need to know here.

How to Care for Vegetable Tanned Leather

Vegetable-tanned leather is beautiful, sustainable, and durable, and that’s why there is true value in creating, selling, and buying a vegetable-tanned leather product. However, like everything else, its value is fleeting if not well taken care of. For instance, UV light from the sun can darken some parts of the natural leather. Daily handling, water, or rain, as well as polluted air, can also make the leather age faster.


On the other hand, well-taken-care-of leather usually ages properly; it is actually known for developing a unique patina through a natural darkening process as it ages. So, if you have been wondering how you can care for your vegetable tanned leather goods and materials from Stonestreet Leather, read on to find out.

Caring for Vegetable-Tanned Leathers

Vegetable-tanned leather products require constant attention and care. It is the only way to steer them towards durability and an elegant aging process.


Vegetable tanning is an age-old tradition. The leather is not treated with any chemicals, there’s no synthetic covering, and the leather pieces are furnished by hand. Therefore, they are often as natural as they can be.


Given that every hide is unique, most people tend to take the small marks or scars present to be faults. Such leather is in the best of conditions even with such marks. In fact, it’s valued more highly than processed leather because it has some character. So, don’t worry when you see small marks on your leather products. But, you should worry when the following starts to happen:

  • It starts to crack or break and develops a brittle texture. This phenomenon is referred to as dry rotting. It occurs when the oils of the leather evaporate, leaving the leather fibers to dry out.
  • Change in color. This can be caused by natural weather conditions like too much sunlight or rain.
  • Presence of stains. When chemicals come into contact with the leather, they can cause a reaction that produces stains. Also, oil from the skin or hair can penetrate the leather surface causing it to stain.

What Is Vegetable Tanned Leather?

What Is Vegetable Tanned Leather_

Before we look at how we can take care of vegetable tanned leather, let’s first understand what it is.


Vegetable tanning is the process of turning animal hides into leather. We call it vegetable tanning because the molecules that are used in the process are obtained from the plants. The commonly used organic materials include olive leaves, Tara pods, rhubarb roots, mimosa, quebracho, spruce tree bark, and oak.


These molecules used are known as tannins.


To make leather, the hides are soaked in tanning solutions for weeks or even months. As the hide absorbs the natural tannins, it turns into leather, which is shaved and used to make beautiful leather goods.


The tanning process is totally natural, and this is why proper care must be taken to ensure the durability and lasting beauty of the leather. If you’re an artisan who’s interested in purchasing vegetable-tanned leather materials from Stonestreet Leather, we have a few tips for keeping your leather in excellent shape. 

The Basics of Vegetable Tanned Leather Care

The Basics of Vegetable Tanned Leather Care

The best care for vegetable tanned leather is conditioning it. Conditioning is very important because it maintains the texture of the leather. It prevents dry rot and breakage. 

How to Use Leather Conditioner

There is no stipulated number of times to condition leather. You will have to closely observe your leather to make out if it needs conditioning. For instance, if it has superficial cracking, feels dry to touch, or is flaking, then it will need conditioning. Also, when it comes into contact with water, you may need to condition it.


It is advisable to use a chemical-free conditioner on your leather. One such conditioner is Oakwood leather conditioner. This natural leather conditioner is designed to soften, preserve, and protect leather from the elements, including wet weather and high temperatures. Above all, this conditioning treatment promotes water resistance to frequently-used leather products such as a leather bag as well as wallets, shoes, and more.


To condition, evenly distribute the conditioner throughout the leather surface with an applicator cloth. Then, use a horsehair brush to work the conditioner into the leather. Do it in a circular motion to achieve the best results. Afterward, let the leather sit undisturbed for about 20 minutes as it absorbs the oil. If the leather is too heavy, give it a day to fully absorb the conditioner oils. Keep it out of the sun.

Other Methods of Maintaining Vegetable Tanned Leather Goods

You can also wax your vegetable tanned leather to give it a waterproofing advantage. Waxing is also important when you regularly use your vegetable tanned leather product. It minimizes friction between the frequently moving parts. Our leather experts recommend applying wax approximately once every two weeks for a consistent polish. 


Another method of conditioning and cleaning leather involves applying a light coat of natural oils. Just about any natural oil will work, but popular options include olive oil, neatsfoot oil, and mineral oil. Just be sure to rub a small amount of oil on an inconspicuous area of the leather before using a new type of oil on the entire leather product. This will help you gauge how much oil the product needs and how much of an impact the oil will have on the color and texture of the product.

Preventing Damage to Vegetable Tanned Leather

Preventing Damage to Vegetable Tanned Leather

To achieve the best results for your vegetable tanned leather, here are some of the things you should and should not do.


Avoid spilling non-water liquids onto it. This includes juice, alcohol, or any other liquid that isn’t water. If you happen to spill some by mistake, use a soft damp cloth to remove it.


Avoid getting your leather product near sharp objects. You don’t want further scratching on your product. If you happen to get some scratches, treat them with your leather conditioner.


Store your leather away from direct sunlight. The UV rays can darken it. Also, keep your products from heat sources -- that includes drying them with a hair dryer.

Oil-Tanned vs Vegetable Tanned Leather

Oil-Tanned vs Vegetable Tanned Leather

Vegetable tanning leather is the most traditional method of tanning. It has been practiced for very many centuries. Oil tanning, on the other hand, is the modern method of treating hides.


Most leather we see today is oil-tanned. This is mainly because they are cheaper and take a shorter time to produce.


However, true vegetable tanned leather is rare. It takes time to produce, usually 40 to 60 days, while other tanneries may take up to a year to produce them. They are also made from purely natural products. The time required for this natural process to do its job is one of the biggest reasons why they tend to be more expensive than other types of leather, such as simple oil-tanned or chrome-tanned leather.


That said, vegetable-tanned leathers are more preferred among top artisans and their customers because of their ability to last decades of heavy wear. The leather ages very beautifully, as it acquires a unique patina and a smooth texture. Furthermore, it softens with time without ever cracking.


Oil-tanned, on the other hand, has a shorter lifespan. The chemical used in making them dissolves parts of the hide, making it crack and harden as it ages.


No matter which type of leather you choose for your next leatherworking project, rest assured that you can find exactly what you need at Stonestreet Leather. Our vegetable tanned leather selection is unmatched, so whether you’re looking for unprocessed materials or pre-cut belt blanks, we’re here to meet your creative needs. Browse our selection today and contact us if you have any questions about working with or caring for your leather products.