Wetcleaning leather and suede

As weather gets colder, more leather clothes are coming in. With many leather cleaners’ closing, finding one is getting harder. I’ve always said wetcleaning is the best way to process leather and suede. Leather clothes are surprisingly easy to wetclean even though they are a premium ticket item. As long as you use the right chemicals and process, wetcleaning leather is easy and safe. Texas has relatively warm winter but our reputation is bringing in more leather and fur goods. Let me show you how I process them.

Chemicals used

  • Acidic detergent: EMC Aqua Master Detergent with pH of 1.5
  • Conditioner: EMC Aqua Master detergent with neutral pH
  • Grease Out: EMC Aqua Master oil remover with neutral pH
  • Stain Out: EMC Aqua Master with pH of 8.5


I recommend the spot area with water before applying spotting chemicals. This will help prevent color loss and ring. For spotting solution, mix 12~16 oz of Grease Out and Stains Out in 1 gallon of water. This solution is very versatile so it is very handy to have around as a wetcleaner. It is near neutral and won’t affect color and texture. Since it is diluted in a lot of water, it’s economical as well.

Light tamping with a soft brush is as far as you want to go. Stiff brush and spotting gun is not allowed. Stains on leather are usually deep in the material and complete removal without color loss is very difficult. Its difficulty is similar to stains on deep-colored silk. Luckily, most stains are beverages like coffee so wetcleaning process itself will remove them easily. In other words, don’t try too hard with spotting. I usually spray the spotting solution and be done with it.


An acidic detergent is the safe choice in wetcleaning leather and suede. As you know, leather is protein and an alkaline detergent will affect protein. On the other hand, an acidic detergent protects the surface and reduce color loss. Leather bleeds easily so it is best to use as little detergent as possible.

Black leather and suede

Probably a half of all leather goods are black. These days a lot of women’s garment has black leather trims. Black leather items are the easiest to wetclean. Treat them like a regular cloth and use double the amount of the conditioner in the final rinse.

Suede items require less conditioner. With too much conditioner, surface nap of suede tends to be flattened and create shining. Wetclean suede like regular items.

Strong extraction can create hard creases and wrinkles so medium spin is recommended. Leather items tend to hold onto water so a second extraction maybe necessary. After extraction, hang it dry for a day or so.

Brown leather and suede

 Leather items in other colors like brown, green or red require an extra step after extraction. After medium extraction, there are still quite a lot of water left and if you just hang it, water collects at the bottom and create a darker shade. This problem is even more pronounced with suede items. But a strong extraction will leave strong creases. So, I recommend blotting with a towel to remove excess water.

Post treatment with a conditioner

You need a post treatment with a conditioner to restore soft feel and gloss. It also helps restore faded color. After hang-drying for 2~4 hours, spray water and conditioner solution (1 to 1 ratio) on the surface and massage with hands.

Suede items like Ugg boots don’t need this extra step. As explained before, conditioners tend to flatten the nap of suede.


All leather items should be hang-dried for a day before tumble drying. Hang-drying until about 90% of moisture has been removed. You can hang in the boiler room but be careful not to dry it completely. Just like regular wetcleaning, leather items need some moisture to remove wrinkles and restore texture and sheen. If you feel they are too dry, just spray some water before tumble drying.

After hang-drying, leather items feel stiff and kind of look shaggy but it’s normal. Massaging effect of tumble drying will restore the feel and sheen. The drying temperature is 45~50 ℃.


When finishing leather items, hand irons and pressing machines are not recommended. They can deform the leather and cause local color change on suedes. Finishing is mostly done on a form finisher and some touch-ups on collars and pockets.

I can’t stress enough that wetcleaning leather is actually the best option. Items will come out cleaner and fresher than drycleaning. Just choose the right chemicals and follow some rules and you will be a happy camper.

Yangsoo Kim

Yangsoo Kim

The author is the developer of Aqua Master wet cleaning chemicals and is currently operating Green Life Cleaners, a 100% wet cleaning service. You can contact him by phone (201) 699-7227 or email at yangkim50@gmail.com.

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