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You just bought the perfect leather briefcase, and oops, a co-worker spills their morning coffee on it! What to do?

Leather accessories are an investment in style and panache. Leather communicates your commitment to quality and eye for detail. But, you don't want taking care of your leather items to be a job in itself. Here's a quick round-up of how to keep your leather goods looking like they just came off the shelf.

When Your Leather Item Is Brand New

As soon as you get your leather item home, use a high-quality water and stain repellent to help prevent water stains and soiling. Re-apply every two or three months to keep your item at its best. Note: It's a good idea to test any protection and cleaning products on a hidden area of the leather before you get started.

- Keep your item supple and crack resistant with a high quality leather lotion. (Not to be used on leather with a nap, such as suede.)

Ongoing Leather Maintenance

- Leather dislikes dust. Dust settles in creases and acts as sandpaper, rubbing off the finish with every movement. Wipe your leather items regularly to avoid dust.

- To keep your leather item from stretching out of shape, avoid keeping bulky, pointed or heavy objects in the pockets.

- Avoid schpritzer-sheen - don't apply hairspray or even perfume when your leather item is nearby. However, hairspray has been known to be a good solvent for removing ink and pen marks. See "removing spots" section below.

- While it may be obvious not to poke holes in your leather with brooches or pins, also avoid adhesive name badges or tape that can leave residue on your leather items.

- Wrinkles and creases in leather should hang out. If ironing is necessary, place heavy brown paper over the leather and use a cool to medium iron. Take care not to overheat the leather, which will cause it to shine.

- If you need to repair a hem, try a dab of rubber cement.

Removing Spots From Your Leather Item

- Fresh stains from things such as blood and food can be cleaned up quickly with a damp cloth.

- Many spots and marks on leather can be cleaned off with a pencil eraser, especially on white leather.

- Hairspray makes a good solvent for removing ink and pen marks. Just blot it on with a paper towel.

- Spots can also be removed with a solution of 1/2 white vinegar and 1/2 water. This solution is particularly effective on sugar or alcohol spots.

- Oil and grease can be cleaned with a spray-on spot remover. Rubber cement is another good oil spot remover. Apply over the spot, let dry and then rub off (do not use this treatment on suede). Another method is to grind up ordinary blackboard chalk, sprinkle it on the area, and leave the powder on for twenty-four hours. (Resist the urge to rub the powder in.) Then, simply use a leather care brush to remove the powder.

- To remove mildew from leather, create a mixture of one-cup rubbing alcohol per one-cup of water. Wipe the mildew area with a cloth dipped in the diluted alcohol, then allow it to dry.

When Leather Gets Wet

- Let your leather item dry naturally, away from any direct heat source. Remove any dirt, mud, or other stains with a cleaning agent, then condition while the pores are still fully responsive.

- For shoes, stuff the toe area with paper towels or a shoe tree to absorb moisture and help retain the shape.

- Winter salt can stain your leather, so wipe with a clean, damp cloth and dry naturally.

- If your garment has faux fur trim and the fur gets wet, dry it with a hair dryer set on the lowest temperature. Shake fur during the drying process to maintain loft and maximize appearance.

Storage

- Leather items ideally should be kept in a well-ventilated, cool, dry place. Avoid hot areas, such as attics, or damp areas, such as cellars, or exposing leather to direct sunlight or heat for prolonged periods of time.

- Because leather is a natural material, it likes to be surrounded by breathable cloth rather than plastic, so cover your leather with those extra cotton sheets when storing. Plastic coverings encourage the growth of mildew and bacteria and will ruin leather. If the leather item is a garment, store in a breathable bag.

Caring for Special Leathers

- Calf and hide: Wipe away surface dirt with a damp cloth. Feed the leather from time to time with a neutral cream. Don't use abrasive or solvent cleaners, which can damage the surface.

- Nubuck: Spray with a nubuck protector as an added safeguard against stains. Surface dirt can be removed with a brush.

- Oiled nubuck: With the same closely napped, silly feel as nubuck, oiled nubuck has noticeably more oil tanned into the leather. Scuffmarks and dirt can be removed with a stiff brush.

- Suede: Apply three coats of non-silicone protection spray before wear. On a regular basis, use a good nylon brush with a spray of suede cleaner to clean. Another remedy is to rub cornmeal in a circular motion, let stand overnight, and then brush. Allow wet suede to dry naturally before brushing away any water marks. Treat grease stains with a dusting of chalk. Leave the chalk powder to absorb the grease for a couple of hours before brushing it off.

- Waxed/oiled leather: Remove any dust or dirt and clean with a suitable cleaner, restorer spray or wax leather cream. Wipe over lightly with a clean cloth. Surface scuffs can be easily work out with the fingers.

- Patent leather: Clean with a soft damp cloth. Remove fingerprints with vinegar.

- Smooth/napa leather: Use a soft cotton cloth with a neutral cream polish to keep as good as new.

- Lizard, alligator, and snakeskin: These leathers are usually drier than cowhide and have an irregular surface. They need more conditioner, in thinner coats and more often, to prevent splitting. They are also more vulnerable to dust settling in creases.

- Ostrich: This exotic leather is especially soft, supple and strong, and must be treated as accordingly. Brush off regularly and use leather cleaner along with a neutral cream polish.

With proper care, your new leather item should become an old friend. Oh, and what about that coffee stain? Like all liquid spills, all you need to do is blot with a clean cloth.
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