How to machine wash leather and keep it soft

Have you ever wondered if it’s possible to machine wash leather items, like your favorite leather jacket, purse or pants, without totally destroying them? I certainly have! In fact, experimenting with just that cost me a very expensive handbag… It was a lovely blush pink suede leather handbag that I refused to let go…

Lots of research later I can happily announce that not only have I found a way to keep my clothes look their best for years, I am now also able to wash leather without fear! As with a lot of things, there is not just one secret to that but it’s really a series of steps I follow for success.

A few months ago I thrifted a leather jacket which originally retailed for over 200 USD. But since I always wash everything that’s thrifted, of course said leather jacket had to be washed as well! For me there was no way around that!

How to wash leather step by step
This is the jacket in question! It looks and feels awesome!

if you are not comfortable washing leather yourself you can take your item to a dry cleaner. Lots of them accept leather items as well. But from my experience it’s super expensive. My quotes were high enough to basically buy a brand new jacket. Not the point really, when you have to spend more on getting your leather jacket washed than what you spent when purchasing it… So instead I decided to try my luck with a new method and specific products that were WAY cheaper than what they wanted to charge me at the dry cleaners! But before we get started, let’s get the following out of the way:

Disclaimer #1: Every leather item is unique, so what worked for mine might not work for yours. I also haven’t tried my method on suede yet. I only tried it on smooth leather. If in doubt, try on an invisible corner of your item.
Disclaimer #2: Product links are likely to be affiliate links. That means that, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission if you happen to click through the links and purchase something.

With that being said, let’s get rollin’!

How to machine wash leather step by step

Wash your washing machine

I’m not crazy, hear me out! Most people use waaaay to much laundry detergent and over time there will be a build-up of detergent in your washing machine. (Side note: this can also be the reason if your washing machine smells a bit weird). Regular laundry detergent will hurt your leather as it basically strips it from its natural oils. So you want your washing machine to be as clean as possible before you wash leather. To achieve that, simply run it empty and without any detergent. I did a quick run, it took less than 30 minutes and I felt more confident that my washing machine was indeed clean and ready to wash my precious leather jacket.

Prep your leather item

Make sure the pockets are empty. Turn your item inside-out. It’s as simple as that.

Use the right detergent to wash leather

The make it or break it point is to use the right kind of detergent when you want to wash leather! You don’t want anything that strips your leather off it’s natural oils. It is skin, after all, and skin feels best when it’s moisturized. Therefore look for a detergent that adds moisture (oil) as opposed to stripping it. I used MATTES MELP detergent for lambskin and sheepskin products. My bottle contains 250 ml and so far I’ve only used about 1/5 of the bottle. At this rate I expect it to last me a long time!

If it’s sold out on Amazon you can of course look for something similar by a different brand. I bought this one because someone in the field recommended it to me and it worked like a charm, so I’m happy. It also comes with instructions in several languages: French, English, German and what looks like Polish (I’m no expert on Polish, so don’t take my word for it). That’s another reason for me to recommend it.

When washing leather make sure you follow the instructions on the bottle! As for the settings, I used the program for wool.

Dry smart

It’s not only important how you wash leather, it’s equally important how you dry it!

  • Lay it flat to dry, don’t hang it as it would change its shape On a this note: please, please, PLEASE let your leather air dry! Never dry washed leather in a tumble dryer, I beg you!
  • Keep wet leather away from direct sunlight, fire, heaters and other sources of heat. It will dry out your leather
  • Don’t forget to let it dry inside-out for a bit, too
  • Depending on the item, knead it to help it dry soft

I found a nice video about kneading a new leather bag on YouTube.


Condition, condition, condition!

Once your leather item is dry, it’s time to condition it. Think of it as applying body lotion to your skin after a shower or bath. In fact, I recommend conditioning your leather regularly as part of your leather care routine and not only when you wash leather.

When you buy products for conditioning leather I recommend going for natural ingredients. I personally prefer leather oil over balms as I feel they get absorbed more easily and I don’t have to waste so much time buffing it off. The oil I use is B&E Brilliant Leather Oil and I apply one or more thin layers of it using a soft cloth. (You can also use an old tee or an old sock to apply leather oil or leather balm.)


In regards to the ingredients, the bottle says: “Premium leather care with natural ingredients: avocado oil, jojoba oil, almond oil, soya oil, neatsfoot oil and pure beeswax”. It has a soft, almost neutral scent.

One last tip

I do not recommend using shoe products on leather clothing (other than shoes) but to invest in a good quality leather oil (or balm) instead. You (and everyone else) will smell the difference!


How to machine wash leather step by step

How to wash leather step by step How to wash leather

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