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

Vegetable-tanned leather is beautiful, sustainable, and durable. That’s why there is true value in creating, selling, and buying vegetable-tanned leather products.

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, rain, and 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.


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 it.

    Vegetable tanning is the process of turning animal hides into leather. We call it vegetable tanning because the molecules 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. 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 Leather Tanning Process - A Simple Primer

    The Leather Tanning Process - A Simple Primer

    The tanning process is the chemical treatment of raw animal skins or hides with tannin to produce leather. It can be performed on either wet-blue (wet salted) hides or dry-salted hides.

    Tanning converts the skin into a durable material by removing its hair follicles and natural fats while increasing its strength, thickness, and water resistance.

    Various chemicals are used in this process and some physical methods such as soaking in cold water, hot water, or oils; these are often mixed in various ways for different results in coloration and texture.


    Vegetable-Tanned Leather Care and Maintenance

    Vegetable-Tanned Leather Care and Maintenance

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

    The vegetable tanning process 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 as 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. Only get worried 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.


    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 critical 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, it will need conditioning if it has superficial cracking, feels dry to touch, or flares. 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 leather conditioner is designed to soften, preserve, and protect the leather from elements, including wet weather and high temperatures.

    Above all, this conditioning treatment promotes water resistance to frequently-used leather products such as leather bags, wallets, and shoes.

    To condition:

    1. Evenly distribute the leather conditioner throughout the leather surface with an applicator cloth.
    2. Use a horsehair brush to work the conditioner into the leather. Do it in a circular motion to achieve the best results.
    3. 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

    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.

    Be sure to rub a small amount of oil on an inconspicuous leather area 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.

    Does Veg Tanned Leather Fade?

    Unfortunately, vegetable-tanned leather can, in fact, fade because there is so little pigment dye added to the tanning process. This type of leather can have both patina and white patches due to reactive tanning agents and color loss over time.

    Generally speaking, it will take more than a year before major discoloration is visible on the surface of your vegetable-tanned leather bag or accessory.

    For longer-lasting wear, please remember these leather care tips:

    • Keep off direct sunlight as much as you can.
    • Avoid hot temperatures which accelerate oxide degradation (oxidization reaction leads to browning).
    • Try not to get your bag in water every day either—as mild soap will leave behind scuff marks that darken with time.

    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 hairdryer.

    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 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 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.

    Let Us Help With Your Leather Needs!

    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.