How to Soften Leather?

With leather goods being so prevalent in today’s society, it’s hardly surprising that most of us have leather in our homes, cars, and clothing, not to mention footwear.

We use leather for many reasons. It looks great, and it’s super hard-wearing. It can be resistant to chemicals and the harshness of day-to-day life where other materials are not up to the required standard.

Leather can be both practical and luxurious depending on how the leather hide is treated and the required end product.

Leather can be used for work men’s boots with all the toughness desired or a glamorous pair of shoes adorning a delicate foot. And everything in between.

Leather products can be cheap and also some of the most expensive items to be found in fashion.

Leather can be essential in garments for protection or converted as an item of desire.

I don’t think any other fabric has reached the heights of versatility as leather.

We drape our home furnishings in soft sleep leather. We use it in supercars for its flawless appearance.

The fact is leather is everywhere., and for a good reason. Leather takes on dyes to make exquisite colored products. It can be molded, and it can be trained to give a more rugged look.

However, sometimes leather can be a little still and requires softening. 

Why Does Leather Become Stiff and Hard

Because we use weather predominantly as shoes and jackets, we can assume that we live in a climate that is not always temperate if we use these outer garments. We use the jacket for warmth. Just as much as a fashion statement,

In the same vein, our shoes usually are robust depending on the weather and occasion. The leather shoes protect our feet from the elements and, of course, from being damaged by the terrain, we live in, mainly hard surfaces.

Consequently, from time to time, footwear and outer garments become wet from rain or snow. When leather becomes wet, its natural tendency is to contract. This contraction is the process that stiffens our shoes and jackets to the point that they can become uncomfortable.

As the leather dry’s the leather does not return to its original shape or suppleness, leather has a feeble memory of getting wet and pretty much stays in its new form if we don’t do something about it.

Fortunately for us, leather does give and stretch a little so that we can form our shoes and jackets back to their former glory with a bit of love and persuasion.

First, we need to dry out wet leather products, and to be honest, the best way of drying sodden leather shoes is the way you were taught when you were a kid. Crumple that old newspaper and stuff those shoes tight. 

After a night in a war room, the shoes will be dry or dry enough to start the process of softening and bringing back to life.

For the Leather Jacket, hang in an appropriately hot area, just an average temperature area.

Let the Jacket dry naturally. It may look disheveled and have some watermarks but rest assured, we can make it look new again with a few little tricks.

Leather often gets a white stain from the salts used in the tanning process, don’t worry, these can be removed easily.

It pays to have a good Ph-neutral leather cleaner at hand and a clean white cloth. I like to use white because I can see exactly what’s going on with the leather and removed.

We don’t want to remove color, that’s a bad sign, and dying leather is specialized.

Let’s start with the Jacket.

Lay the Jacket on a flat surface and prepare your cleaning solution and clean cloth. If the jacket is old and has been treated before, it may be a good idea to wipe gently with diluted alcohol, the type of alcohol you sanitize your hands with.

Always start with a test piece in an area that is not visible when you wear the jacket, like a hem somewhere.

My number one choice to rejuvenate this jacket is good old olive oil. The olive oil will return the leather jacket to its former glory and a little better in terms of softness,

Now we will not bathe the jacket in olive oil. Just a light application is all that we need to start the process.

If you find streaking, don’t worry, we can give a second count and comer more evenly. Expect your jacket to be thirsty for the oil and absorb it.

When covered completely, leave until the oil is absorbed. If the jacket is looking fine and regains its supple feel, then we have done the job. If we need a second coating, then proceed.

Leave the jacket hanging in a ventilated warm room so it hangs under its natural weight. The jacket should be perfect when dry.

How Can We Soften Leather?

There are many techniques for softening leather. Some are very harsh that require scrapping and thinning of the material. But, How can we soften our leather products?

The first thing we need to do is identify what is stopping our leather from being soft, is stitching or a fold?

Has something being absorbed from a spill, or maybe it’s just getting old.

If the stiffness is from a spill that’s been absorbed, we need to tackle this problem head-on with a Ph-neutral water-based cleaner. If you haven’t got this, don’t worry, a few drops of mild detergent in a bowl of water will suffice.

First, you need to understand the type of leather you have. Sprinkle a few drops of water onto the leather and observe what happens. If the water sits on top, you know you can be a little more aggressive with your techniques. Conversely, if the leather absorbs the water, then you need to take more outstanding care.

You can now apply your cleaning solution. Assuming the water was absorbed, you need to be careful not to leave any residue.

Finish this process with a light leather oil such as coconut oil, apply with a cloth to avoid streaking. Your leather product has just been cleaned and treated and should be feeling softer.

One of the most significant areas of leather that needs to be treated is shoes. Shoe leather is notorious for being hard, particularly around the heels where rubbing can occur.

Olive oil has been proven to have desired effects when it comes to softening shoe leather. Your shoes need to be prepared and cleaned thoroughly to allow the olive oil to soak into the leather and start doing its job of making the leather supple.

Apply the olive oil on a clean cloth and massage into the area that needs to be softened. At this point, it’s ok to prep the whole shoes and treat both shoes in this manner.

Be sure to use a gentle massage process. Aggressive action may scratch the leather. After massaging the leather with Olive oil, leave the shoes to rest and absorb the oil. You can repeat the action in a few hours if needed.

After you have massaged both shoes, the leather should have absorbed the oil fully, and now the shoes can be polished and buffed, returning their shine and luster.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil has been used for softening leather for a very long time. The properties of coconut oil are light which makes it the perfect medium for softening leather.

Prepare your leather by removing any surface contaminants with a mild Ph-neutral cleaner. If the color strat is to be removed, take great care, but this is rare, so proceed with caution. Some leather is delicate.

Apply the coconut oil to the leather with a cloth and apply in circular motions. Pressure is not required as the coconut will naturally be absorbed.

Coconut oil is renowned for its fast working action of leather, and the leather can be supple within thirty minutes, which is pretty incredible. I’m sure you will agree.

If your leather needs a protective coating, go ahead and use a therapeutic coating as needed.


As many of us know, Vaseline or petroleum jelly is well known for its use on chapped lips and nappy rash. The product is inert and is safe to use on leather surfaces.

The nice thing about Vaseline is that there is no residual odor from the product or very little worth mentioning.

As previously described, you will need to remove any contaminants from the leather you wish to soften. Neutral PH solution and a clean white cloth are the recommendations if you have these items at hand.

Massage the Vaseline gently into the leather, use the vaseline sparingly as the absorption of this product is not quite so fast as oils.

If you are using vaseline on shoes, I recommend gently wiping the shoes with alcohol to remove any barriers to the vaseline.

You can use any of these techniques on shoes and expect to get great results.

Another thing commonly used to soften leather is baby cream. Yes, you read it right, actually applying baby cream has some advantages because it’s easier to see where you have covered it.

Castor oil can also be used and provides excellent results. It’s all about adding moisture into the leather that the leather can absorb.

From what we see, it looks as if any lightweight oil could be used with the proviso. There is no residual odor.

Some oils are better than others, so why not use the tried and tested methods for the very best results.

Cleaning and Softening Leather Car Seats

You know what, you can spend hundreds of dollars on car leather cleaning products, and none of them do a great job, so why not use this method.

Car seats get very dirty just from general wear and tear, and until they look grubby, we tend not to pay them much attention. But, if only we took a few minutes weekly and once a month to treat the leather car seats, you would notice the benefits.

Brushing the leather car deaths with a PH neutral detergent is easy. It takes minutes and prevents the long term wear that ultimately ages  the seats and devalues the car,

After cleaning, wipe with the lightest coating of coconut oil. The oil will absorb quickly and leave no traces on your clothes, and The seat cover will keep supple and move with the body’s contours.

This is a straightforward leather maintenance process that gets overlooked.

Making Horse Tack Supply

If you are a horse person or workaround horses, you will know that leather is abundant in the equestrian world.

There is fancy leather and simple, practical leather for daily use.

Horse tack leather can be challenging, and the response from the horses when using soft leather tack is much better, and why not treat your horse to some comfort and softness.

Horse tack gets abused just because of its environment, but horse tack is expensive and well worth maintaining when you look at the bottom line. 

A good tip for breaking in horse tack is to use Hydrophane. It conditions the leather and waterproofs at the same time. This will make your leather easier to clean in the future.


So, we have learned how to soften and clean various leather items, and it’s an easy process. I did give an extreme example with the jacket just to let you know it can be done. Just because a soft leather jacket becomes wet, it’s not ruined and can be rejuvenated at home.

The products I used are general household products and can offer the best protection to leather, be it shoes or leather car seats.

Categories DIY