Last week, I found a beautiful long leather 70’s ladies’ coat at the thrift store. Dark green, a wide green sheepskin collar, a long leather “skirt” to my knees… I felt like a female Shaft in that coat.
But it did smell like, well, l thrift store. And I figured it had not been washed in the last twenty years. So I looked up Wikihow and saw that most leather coats should be washable. There was no longer a label in the coat with washing instructions, so I thought: what harm could some water do?
So I filled the bathtub with lukewarm water and a tiny bit of hand wash detergent. I sloshed the coat with a firm hand through the water and hung it over a high chair to dry.
Now I wish I hadn’t. The coat is ruined.
It has tears in the leather everywhere. Inch wide tears at the armpit seams and at the hem. It seems to have swollen up, tore its smooth leather shell, and shrunk back. The sleeves are now to narrow for my eight year old son. The lining is visible at the edges, as if the edges have curled up.
If anyone knows if this coat can still be salvaged, I would like to hear of such magic.
For everyone else, learn from my mistakes and be careful with washing awesome leather coats from thrift stores.
That page also has a link to another page that gives advice on fixing cracked leather. It sounds like quite a process but apparently it is possible. It might be something you’d let a professional do, however, rather than trying it at home.
It’s likely permanently ruined - if the leather wasn’t conditioned, there’s no oils in it to resist water penetration, and the water will drive out a lot of the chromium salts, so you’re left with major shrinkage as you saw. There’s no undoing that while it’s still in coat form, I’m afraid. You can possibly recover individual leather pieces.
At the very least, it sounds like it wasn’t conditioned at all, perhaps ever. It is also possible it was bonded leather, although if it was as old as it seems, perhaps less likely?
If it makes you feel any better, even if you hadn’t washed it, the first time you wore it and sweated on it, or wore it in the rain, it likely would have had the same result (in a much less drastic fashion), unless you had taken it to a leather specialist and gotten some extensive (and expensive) TLC for it.
I’m so sorry. Old leather can be such a huge disappointment.
That Wikihow surprises me. I’ve never heard of soaking leather much less putting it in a washing machine. It’s not like I know much about cleaning leather, or expect Wikihow to be reliable, but it seems immediately suspect.
Noting the responses above, if it’s well treated leather then what would be the point of submerging it in water at all instead of the surface cleaning techniques?
Yes, it’s done. From the pix, I’d guess that the cracks were near-cracks at stress points when you bought the coat.
You did gain something from it. You can use the experience to your advantage. You didn’t say what you paid, but in the future you can shrug off some other mistake by saying, “Ah well, I’ve spent $XX on dumber shit than this,” and get on with your life.