How to Soften Leather?

Last updated:
How to Soften Leather?

Leather in its natural state can be pretty stiff and uncomfortable. This stiffness comes from a couple of reasons including the one that it comes from animal hides, which are naturally tough and strong and top of that, the tanning process preserves the hide but can also leave it feeling rigid. Also over time, especially with improper storage, leather can dry out and lose its natural moisture content, which makes it stiff and more prone to cracking.

Softening helps address these issues and makes leather more desirable, enhances its comfort, durability, and aesthetics, making it a more versatile and user-friendly material.

Here are some effective methods to soften leather:

Using Natural Oils: Apply a small amount of natural oils like olive oil, coconut oil, or jojoba oil to the leather using a cloth. Rub it in gently and allow it to soak in. Test on an inconspicuous area first to ensure it doesn't damage the leather.

Applying Leather Conditioner: Use a high-quality leather conditioner suited for the specific type of leather. Apply it evenly with a clean cloth following the manufacturer's instructions. Allow sufficient time for the conditioner to be absorbed before buffing.

Moisturizing with Water: Lightly spray or wipe the leather with water using a spray bottle or damp cloth. Allow it to air dry naturally. Avoid excessive moisture and direct heat sources. Apply a leather conditioner after drying.

Using a Hair Dryer: Warm the leather with a hair dryer on low heat, holding it a few inches away and moving it in a circular motion. While warm, massage the leather with your hands to enhance flexibility. Apply a leather conditioner for optimal results.

Making a DIY Conditioner: Mix 1/2 cup white vinegar with 1 cup of linseed, olive or melted coconut oil. Test on a small area first. Apply the mixture in a circular motion and allow it to sit for a few hours before wiping off any excess.

Understanding Leather Types and Their Stiffness Characteristics

Leather is considered as a flexible and stylish substance which comes from animal skin and its quality and rigidity can greatly differ. The hardness of leather is dictated by a variety of elements, including the type of animal skin used, the procedure used to tan it, and the end process it experiences.

This material presents in several different kinds, each with their appearance and texture, and therefore, its hardness relies on multiple elements, including what kind of animal skin was taken, how it was tanned, and the finishing procedures carried out.

Types of Leather and Their Stiffness

Cowhide Leather: This is a natural material that comes from the hide of a cow. It is relatively stiff due to its thickness and density. The tanning process also affects the stiffness of cowhide leather, with chrome-tanned cowhide being stiffer than vegetable-tanned cowhide.

Lambskin or Sheepskin Leather: This type of leather is softer than other types of leather, making it a popular choice for items that need to be soft and comfortable. It has a natural sheen and is perfect for clothing, furniture, and other items that require a luxurious feel.

Full-Grain Leather: This is generally regarded as the highest quality among all types of leather. It is made from the top layer of the animal hide, which contains the strongest and most tightly packed fibers. Full-grain leather retains the natural grain, imperfections, and markings, giving it a unique and rugged appearance. It develops a beautiful patina over time and is often used for high-end products like leather belts, saddles, wallets, and premium footwear.

Top Grain Leather: This leather is sanded to remove imperfections, making it thinner and more pliable than full-grain leather. It is often used for high-end shoes, belts, and bags.

Genuine leather: A broader term encompassing leather that isn't full-grain or top-grain. It can come from various hide layers, including splits, and tends to be softer than the previous two. However, its durability can vary depending on the source and processing methods.

Split grain leather: Crafted from the lower layers after removing the top grain, split leather can be stiff or soft depending on the finishing process. It's a more affordable option and is commonly used for leather wallets, belts, and shoe linings.

Bonded leather: Not quite real leather, bonded leather is a mix of leather fibers and adhesives applied to a fabric backing. The least durable type, it's also the stiffest and is typically found in wallets or low-cost furniture.

Exotic Leather: This kind of leather is sourced from animals like alligators, crocodiles, snakes, ostriches, and more. Each exotic leather type has unique textures and patterns, making them highly prized for luxury items.

Factors Affecting Leather Stiffness

Moisture: Leather is often stiff because of the presence of moisture. Too much water can expand the leather, while too little can make it shrink and become brittle. In both cases, this will lead to a decrease in flexibility and an increase in stiffness.

Heat: When leather is exposed to high temperatures, the fibers within the material will start to break down, and the leather will become less flexible. Excessive moisture can also cause the leather to become stiff and brittle, as it will start to rot and deteriorate.

Age: Leather is often stiff due to age. The older the leather, the stiffer it will be. This is because as leather ages, it dries out and becomes less flexible.

Sun Exposure: Over time, the sun's ultraviolet rays can break down the leather's natural oils, causing it to become dry and brittle. If left untreated, leather may be challenging to maintain if it isn't cared for properly.

To sum up, an understanding of the types of leather and their stiffness characteristics is essential for making informed purchasing decisions and properly caring for leather items.

Factors such as moisture, heat, age, and sun exposure can all affect the stiffness of leather, making it important to store leather items in a cool, dry place and condition them regularly to maintain their flexibility and appearance.

Why Does Leather Harden?

Leather hardening can occur due to various reasons, including improper storage, excessive stretching, exposure to high temperatures, lack of use and the natural aging process. Here are some specific factors that contribute to leather hardening:

Improper Storage: Leather items should be stored in a room with a relative humidity of 40 to 50% as excessive wetness or dryness can damage the leather, leading to hardening.

Stretching: Stretching leather beyond its natural limits can cause the fibers to expand, leading to a loss of flexibility and suppleness, resulting in a stiffer material.

High Temperatures: Exposure to high temperatures, such as those found in dryers, can cause leather to dry out and lose its soft feel. This is because the heat can evaporate the natural oils present in the leather, leading to hardening.

Aging: Leather is a natural material that can deteriorate over time if not properly cared for, and as it ages, it can become less supple and more prone to cracking, which can be a sign of hardening.

Lack of Conditioning: Failing to condition leather regularly can cause it to dry out and harden. Conditioning helps to maintain the natural oils in the leather, keeping it soft and supple.

Type of Leather: The type of leather itself can also affect its hardness. For example, full-grain leather is known for being the hardest and most durable type of leather, while top-grain leather is softer and more flexible.

Tanning Process: The tanning process used to treat the leather can also impact its hardness. For example, chrome-tanned leather is known for being stiffer than etable-tanned leather.

Environmental Factors: Environmental factors such as exposure to direct sunlight, extreme temperatures, and humidity can also contribute to leather hardening.

The Best Ways to Soften Leather

There are several effective ways to soften leather, but the best approach depends on the type and severity of the stiffening. Remember! If you're unsure about the type of leather, you have or the best way to soften it, consulting a professional leather care specialist is recommended as only they can provide specific guidance to ensure you achieve the desired results without harming the leather.

Using Olive Oil and Vinegar

Using a mixture of olive oil and vinegar can be an effective DIY method to soften leather. However, caution is advised as olive oil may darken leather unevenly and leave a greasy residue, while vinegar's acidity can potentially damage some types of leather. Therefore, it's crucial to test the mixture on a small, inconspicuous area first. For best results and to avoid potential drawbacks, consider using a high-quality leather conditioner designed for the purpose.

Using Heat and Moisture

Heat and moisture work well to relax stiff or hard leather. Moist warmth, such as steam or a warm damp cloth, can soften the leather fibers and make the material more bendable, while oh the other hand, dry heat from a hairdryer, oven, or blowlamp can also help soften leather without adding dampness. You can also place the leather in a humid warm space like a bathroom during a hot shower for gentle softening. Meanwhile, another effective method is to spray the leather with water for absorption and wear it so it takes the shape of your body. Be sure to wipe off any excess water afterwards and use leather conditioner to keep it smooth and prevent dryness.

Using the Water Method: Hydrating Leather

This water method is a natural approach to leather care and can be effective in softening leather without using chemicals. However, it's essential to avoid excessive moisture, which can cause fading and damage. Begin by filling a spray bottle with water and evenly spraying the leather until water droplets form, and after that, wipe off any excess water using a soft brush or clean cloth and allow the item to air dry naturally in a cool, dry area. When the softening process concludes, apply a leather conditioner to maintain the leather's moisture and prevent it from becoming fragile over time.

Using Conditioner

Using a high-quality leather conditioner is the best and one of the most effective and safest ways to soften leather. When choosing a conditioner, select one specifically formulated for leather, avoiding natural oils like olive or coconut oil. Look for conditioners with natural ingredients like oils and waxes that have conditioning and hydrating properties, and choose a conditioner suited for your specific leather type.

Before applying the conditioner, clean the leather thoroughly to remove any dirt, dust, or grime. Apply a thin, even coat of the conditioner using a soft, lint-free cloth, paying attention to crevices and creases. Allow the conditioner to soak in for at least 24 hours before wiping away any excess with a dry cloth.

To maintain the softness and suppleness of your leather, condition it every 6 months. If the leather still seems stiff after one application, apply a second coat. Using a leather conditioner is the safest and most effective way to soften leather without risking damage to the material.


There are several effective methods to soften leather, depending on the type of leather and the desired outcome. Using natural oils like olive oil, coconut oil, or jojoba oil can help soften leather, but it's crucial to test on an inconspicuous area first to ensure it doesn't damage the material.

But, when it comes to caring for different types of leather, such as faux leather, dye leather, patent leather, vegan leather, PU leather, and white leather, it's important to use appropriate cleaning and softening methods.

In order to clean faux leather, vegan leather, and PU leather, a mild soap and water solution works well, while tough stains may require specific leather cleaners designed for these synthetic materials.

To clean a leather purse, start by wiping it down with a damp cloth to remove any dirt or debris, and use a leather cleaner for tougher stains. Removing ink from leather can be challenging and requires a leather cleaner specifically designed for this purpose. For cleaning white leather, use a mild soap and water solution, and a leather cleaner for tough stains.

Softening can be achieved with leather conditioners or fabric softener sprays, which help restore moisture and flexibility to the material. By using appropriate products and methods tailored to each type of leather, you can effectively clean and soften your leather items, ensuring they look their best and last longer.

FAQs - How to Soften Leather

How Do You Soften Stiff Leather?

To soften stiff leather, you can use methods like applying natural oils, using a hair dryer, moistening with water, or using a leather conditioner, as these techniques help restore moisture, flexibility, and suppleness to the leather, making it more pliable and comfortable to wear.

Will Vaseline Soften Leather?

Vaseline can soften leather, but it's not the best choice. It can darken the leather, attract dirt and can leave a heavy, sticky residue on the leather's surface. Therefore, leather conditioner is a safer bet.

What Is The Best Oil To Soften Leather?

The best oils to soften leather include neatsfoot oil, almond oil, lanolin, and mink oil. Neatsfoot oil is ideal for quick fixes, almond oil is plant-based and absorbent, lanolin deeply softens tough leather, and mink oil restores natural oils in dried leather goods.

Discover More View all