How to Disinfect Leather?

How to Disinfect Leather?

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Leather is a noble material that can live a particularly long time if it is properly cared for. Disinfecting your bag or other leather accessory is therefore important to extend its life and to protect it from certain viruses such as COVID-19.   

Our bags come into contact with a lot of germs, bacteria and viruses during their lifetime, and it is impossible to see them with our bare eyes. With the coronavirus unfortunately present worldwide, it is important to take extra precautionary measures. Especially when it comes to the maintenance of your accessories. You might ask how to disinfect the leather. 🤔

Our leather items follow us everywhere we go. We take them with us on our everyday adventures. So it' s important to disinfect them regularly. Especially if they have been in contact with people who might carry a virus. Even though we know it, we are afraid of damaging our bags by disinfecting them in the wrong way. 

Don't worry! In this article, we will look in detail at why it is important to disinfect your leather equipment, how to disinfect your leather accessories, and how to prevent the propagation of coronavirus.

waterlooo leather backpack


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Leather School Backpack

I.How to disinfect leather?

How important is it to disinfect leather?

Our leather accessories can endure a lot of damage thanks to their natural resistance to abrasion, fire, tears, perforation, etc. But no material is without its faults. If a good leather bag can live for years, it can live even longer if it is disinfected regularly. 

Leather is an ancient material that is found in many areas, mainly in clothing and decoration. It is prepared from the skin of an animal, often the skin of a large mammal such as beef or pork, although other animal hides exist. Like all animal materials, this material is susceptible to damage or infection.

Contamination happens when you come into contact with contaminated objects or surfaces. The only way to avoid contamination is to regularly clean and disinfect your leather accessories.

In addition, a few bad stains and spills can ruin the overall look of a leather accessory. Especially if it is not treated or cleaned properly. Learn how to preserve the quality and beauty of your bag (or other leather item) for years to come with these simple guides to leather cleaning.

By the way, when a mark appears, clean it as soon as possible. The quicker you react, the better your chances of getting the mark off.

Now you know why it is important to look after your furniture. Now let's take a look at how the disinfection process works to better understand what happens when you clean your leather items. 😉

Disinfection in history

Disinfection is a preventive action that aims to stop or prevent an infection. The oldest known references to disinfection can be found in Europe in 800 BC during plague epidemics. Historically, the oldest way of disinfection was to boil water to kill germs. 

The concept of infectious and transmissible diseases emerges over the centuries, initially through intuitive knowledge, which can be found in the literature:

  • fumigation of medical instruments by Indian surgeons
  • Alexander the Great's army drank only boiled water
  • Aristotle drank boiled water and Ulysses in the Odyssey burned sulfur.
  • Hyppocrate advocated washing his hands

This intuitive knowledge was gradually confirmed by the scientific demonstrations that came with the Renaissance and progress:

  • discovery of the relationship between putrefaction and certain diseases (Boyle - 1600)
  • first observation of bacteria (van Leeuwenhoek 1676)
  • reduction of the mortality rate of women in childbirth by 90% in Vienna thanks to hand washing in lime water (Ignaz Semmelweis - 1848)
  • creation of the antiseptic surgical method (Joseph Lister - 1865)
  • establishment of the link between infectious diseases and antisepsis, disinfection and sterilization (Pasteur, Koch)

Until the 18th century and the demonstration of the role of micro-organisms, many methods of disinfection were developed. They can be grouped into 3 main categories:

  1. chemical disinfection, using mercury, copper or sulfur derivatives
  2. physical disinfection by filtration, fulmination or thermal elevation
  3. biological disinfection by burial and organic disintegration by the action of living beings.
disinfection scientists

Disinfection and science

In practical terms, disinfection is when the disinfectant gradually dissolves the protective fatty layer surrounding the virus, which then disintegrates.

The word disinfection is vast, it includes a set of 5 different words:

  • Bactericide: Product that kills bacteria
  • Levuricide: Product that kills yeast
  • Fungicide: Product that kills fungi
  • Sporicide: Product that kills bacterial spores
  • Virucide: Product that kills viruses

It is important to understand that disinfection only kills the microorganisms that are present during the operation. For this reason, areas at risk of contamination should be disinfected regularly.

When you disinfect, there can be 3 actions:

  1. inhibition of germ growth ;
  2. lethal action on germs and microbes 
  3. preventing germs from recolonising the cleaned surface

Before elaborating further, you may be wondering what the difference is between decontamination, disinfection and sterilisation. 

  • Decontamination is an operation designed to eliminate or reduce the number of microbes to a level that is considered safe (i.e. to meet utility standards).
  • Disinfection is the process of killing infectious germs outside the body, on the surface of the body.
  • Sterilisation is a complete elimination of microorganisms on a contaminated inert space. Unlike decontamination and disinfection, sterilisation is not limited to the duration of the application.

Now you are an expert in disinfection! 💪

Let's now look at how to properly disinfect leather without damaging it! 

Vatea leather shoulder bag



How to disinfect your leather accessories and with utensils to use? 

The first step to properly disinfecting leather is to use the right utensils.

Ideally, use a microfiber wipe, which is ideal for not scratching the leather. If you don't have a microfiber wipe, don't worry, you can use a clean cloth, an old t-shirt, or a tea towel.

Now that you know what to scrub with, you need to know what cleaning material to use. 

While isopropyl alcohol is great for cleaning many parts of your car, for example, methylated spirits are not recommended for leather because they can discolour it.

In addition, alcohol can damage leather over time by stripping it of its moisture. Finally, some leather items are coated with a thin protective layer to prevent discolouration and isopropyl alcohol will damage this coating and sometimes even remove the dye.

We also advise against cleaning your leather with disinfectant wipes or sprays, as this can damage the finishing of your leather.

Finally, do not use Javel water,, hydrogen peroxide or any other abrasive cleaner for your leather accessories for the same reasons... ❌

If I tell you that the best cleaning material is already in your home, that they are often cheap and very easily found! 

Soap is the best option for disinfecting leather. 

Why soap? Leather is made from the same material as your hair, so if you don't want to put a product in your hair, it is likely to be bad for the leather.

Soap is ideal because it breaks down the lipid (fat) bilayer of most viruses, dissolving the fatty membrane and killing the germs. Soap is also much gentler on leather compared to the various options mentioned.

There is one exception, do not use saddle soap! This soap is great for cleaning a saddle, but it is not adequate for dealing with soft leathers (backpacks, upholstery, coats...) 🧼

In reality, just lightly humidify the area and gently scrub in a circular fashion with soap for 15 to 20 seconds, then rinse with your microfiber cloth. If you're worried about damaging your leather accessory, you can even pat it down so don't rub too hard. Try to avoid excess foam and water. The leather will darken as the water penetrates, but it should dry normally without leaving a stain.

But that's not all! Leather, like most natural materials, is vulnerable to dryness. Leather can become less flexible and start to crack if it loses its natural oils. This is why it is advisable to apply a treatment product to reduce the drying effects of leather. 

🎯To summarise: 

  1. Preferably use a microfiber wipe.
  2. Do not use isopropyl alcohol, disinfectant sprays or Javel water
  3. Use soap and water to disinfect the leather.
  4. Do not rub to hard the surface to be disinfected too hard 
  5. Avoid excess of water and foam

Although the above instructions apply to most leathers, there are different leathers and not all can be cleaned in the same way. 

Panama Leather Travel Bag



Other disinfection techniques: 

Not all leather can absorb water, so to find out if you can wash it with water, first make sure it is absorbent.

To do this, lightly wet an invisible part of the leather with a few drops of water and wait a few minutes. If the water penetrates, then your leather is not absorbing water. 

In this situation, you can treat the problem at source and waterproof your leather with a quality waterproofing agent. Two to three applications per year will not only prevent moisture and stains in the long term, but will also protect the material properly.

Waterproofing your leather accessory is not the only option, you can also vacuum it if it is equipped with a HEPA filter. A HEPA filter stands for High Efficiency Particulate Air is a filter that is able to trap very small particles (about 0.3 microns, or 0.3 thousandths of a millimetre). This is an important requirement as more conventional hoovers catch the larger dust particles but allow the smaller parts of the dust to pass through. Viruses like COVID-19 are particularly small so a HEPA filter is much more effective. 

You didn't expect to learn anything about hoovers when you started reading this article, did you? 🧠

Vacuuming is a good option because viruses are not very sticky, which is why the coronavirus manages to spread so easily. This alternative actually works for other materials, not just leather. 😎

To finish with the other alternatives for disinfecting leather, you can use leather wipes or baby wipes. They remove dust, some viruses and give the leather a shiny effect. However, shiny does not mean clean, it does not really clean and it does not hydrate the applied area in any way. 

If your leather is waterproof, use soap and water as we have just seen. 

Now that you know exactly how to disinfect leather, let's find out the tips to get rid of the coronavirus more specifically! 

2. How to Clean Your Leather accessories form Coronavirus 

The coronavirus has been present in our lives for over a year now.... According to the World Health Organization, to prevent the spread of the virus, health professionals strongly advise regular hand washing and wearing masks, as well as disinfecting exposed objects before entering our homes when possible. 🦠

How long does the virus survive on surfaces?

Depending on the surface on which the virus is installed, it will not always survive as long.

COVID-19 is more resistant depending on the materials on which it lives.  COVID-19 can survive :

  • Up to 4 hours on copper
  • Up to 24 hours on cardboard
  • Up to 48 hours on stainless steel
  • Up to 72 hours on plastic!

Fortunately, the virus does not live very long on porous surfaces such as leather or wood, because the small holes or spaces in them trap the microbes and prevent them from spreading. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't disinfect leather! 

How to remove coronavirus from leather surfaces and with which utensils?

Most of the tips for disinfecting leather discussed above work for getting rid of the coronavirus on leather surfaces. That said, there are other tips and tricks that apply to getting rid of COVID-19 more specifically. 

To begin with, I suggest that you leave doors and windows open to allow for better air circulation. Whenever possible, put your accessories and other leather items outside in the sun to allow the air to circulate even more efficiently. Circulating the air is important because the virus is not very sticky as we saw in the section on hoovers. Increasing the heat in the house is also a good idea to dry out the gelatinous envelope of the virus. 🌞

When it comes to washing leather, use soap and water. The soap kills the virus, as does the friction of washing, so you don't give the damn virus a chance! The difference with the previous advice is that I recommend rubbing your leather with a very hot wipe to increase the chances of killing any germs.

After washing your leather item, you can use a hair dryer, but remember to keep it at least 30 cm away from your leather accessory to avoid damaging it.

However, if your leather is not waterproof, apply the non-absorbent leather tips to avoid damaging your material. 

covid sanitation

3. Tips on how to clean and disinfect your leather accessories

For those of you who have not followed the full article, here is a short summary of the tips covered in this article!

  1. Leave doors and windows open or put your leather accessories and other belongings outside in the sun.
  2. Make sure your leather is absorbent before wetting it.
  3. Preferably use a microfiber wipe. 
  4. Do not use isopropyl alcohol, disinfectant sprays or javel water.
  5. Use soap (not saddle soap) and warm water.
  6. Do not rub the surface to be disinfected too hard.
  7. Avoid excess water and foam
  8. Dry objects with a hair dryer at least 30 cm away from your accessory 
  9. And finally, wash your hands after disinfecting and cleaning your leather!

Wrapping Up

Keep in mind that most experts recommend cleaning leather furniture about once a month. Also, remember that in today's sanitary context, it is always better to overreact and clean leather when it is relatively clean than to underreact. You'll never hear someone say, "Damn, I shouldn't have disinfected my leather! 😂

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Baptiste is an adventurer with a passion for urban and wilderness exploration and adventure, and a lover of vintage objects with timeless charm. As a Founding member of the Eiken team, he tries to share his passion and expertise for travel and vintage fashion through his articles.

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