As the old saying goes: History repeats itself. In other words, if it’s happened before, it will likely happen again. Just look at the fashion world. Over the past few years, clothing and accessories that have been laying dormant since the ‘90s and early ‘00s have made their comeback. And now, patent leather—a staple of the ‘50s and ‘60s—is seeing a resurgence. The high-shine textile is popping up in patent leather pumps, patent leather leggings, and even patent leather nail art ideas. Suffice to say, the material is no longer a relic of the past, which means it’s high time we learn how to care for it to ensure that our patent leather purchases aren’t just another drop in the fast fashion bucket.
To learn how to effectively (and carefully) clean patent leather, we chatted with TikToker Tanner Leatherstein, whose main mission is to inform his over 700,000 followers how to better enjoy (and care for) their leather.
Meet the Expert
Tanner Leatherstein is a leather creator, expert, and content creator. He educates his 700,000 fans on leather quality and value.
First Things First, What Is Patent Leather?
In order to effectively care for your patent leather, it’s important to first understand what sets it apart from regular leather.
“Patent leather is a type of leather which is finished with a thick layer of coating that usually has a high gloss—although the shine can be done at various levels depending on the design requirements,” Leatherstein says.
While these coatings—which Leatherstein says are typically polyurethane- or acrylic-based chemicals—add the shiny factor to patent garments and accessories, he says that they also make leather goods more durable, helping to protect against outside elements, such as water, dirt, and everyday wear and tear.
But that’s not all. Since these heavy-duty coatings add so much in terms of protection and finish, Leatherstein says that they also conceal the quality of leather beneath, which is why it’s often easier to find patent goods at lower prices. “[Notably] lower-grade grain leathers can be used for producing patent leather,” he explains. “In fact, faux leather (PU leather) can also be finished with the same finish and will provide an incredibly close end product, making the distinction almost impossible from the outside surface of the product.” (Though, he notes, that doesn’t necessarily mean that more affordable/lower-quality patent products will hold up as well as high-end creations.)
All this to say, patent leather stands apart for its glossy appearance and durable wear, yes, but also its (potentially) considerably lower price point. (Though, don’t let that fool you into thinking that all patent leather is cheap or even affordable since it will depend on the brand you go with.)
“Once the coating gets scratched, it is almost not possible to recover its original look," says leather expert and TikToker Tanner Leatherstein.
Okay, so How Do You Clean Patent Leather?
Now that you’re brushed up on all the reasons why patent leather has become so popular once again, it’s time to learn how to care for your patent garments to ensure they have their longest, best-looking life.
“Patent leather [is] waterproof to a significant degree and [is] quite easy to clean with damp, soft cloths,” Leatherstein says, recommending lint-free microfiber cloths for the process. So long as you wipe down your patent after each use, he assures us that it will maintain its like-new shine for years to come.
Scratches and scuffs are another story, though. “The most important care needed for patent leather is to keep the leather from scratches and scuffs since this finish can be similar to a car finish, [making it] prone to scratches when impacted with sharp objects,” Leatherstein says. “Once the coating gets scratched, it is almost not possible to recover its original look.”
Still, if you find that you’ve scuffed your patent leather, first try to clean it with a damp soft cloth. If that doesn’t work, Leatherstein says to try using a mild soap. After buffing it into the scuff, immediately wipe it off to see if the blemish has disappeared. If it was superficial (i.e. not a chunk out of your bag or boot), that should do the trick.
What Not to Do When Cleaning Patent Leather
If you ever feel inclined to add a patent leather cleaner to your cart, Leatherstein says to be wary. “There may be some cleaners or creams on the market for patent leathers but they must be used with caution, as they may cause an unexpected result given the unknown nature of the chemicals in the finish, which may react differently to certain conditioners,” he warns. “If you need to apply a product, always try it in a discreet place to ensure an undesired reaction is not caused [in plain view] by the applied product.”
Another ill-advised patent leather cleaning tip? To use nail polish remover. “Some resources recommend nail polish cleaners but I would be cautious about trying that since it may change the glossy appearance of some finishes,” Leatherstein shares.
How to Care for Patent Leather
In addition to not being too rough on your patent, Leatherstein says to be mindful of how you store it when not in use. “Do not leave patent leather exposed to excessive heat and store it away from direct sunlight as the colors may get impacted by the light,” he says. He also emphasizes the importance of keeping patent—especially lightly-colored patent—from touching other garments.
“Ideally, store [your patent] in a natural, light-colored dust bag in a dry room, temperature [controlled] environment,” he adds, noting that lighter patents can absorb colors from other materials.
While the idea of cleaning and caring for patent leather may seem stressful, Leatherstein assures us that it doesn’t have to be. “A well-made patent finish will not scratch with hand interactions but all patent finishes can be scratched permanently with heavy and rough usage, just like a car body,” he says. In short, just be mindful of how you wear (and/or carry) the textile.
When it comes to cleaning patent leather, Leatherstein says that it’s best to stick to the basics. “Most patent finishes today are water-based, so the ideal and safest way to clean them is to use a damp microfiber cloth to wipe the surface off gently and let it dry,” he reiterates. “Never leave it wet, moist, or exposed to liquids for too long—wipe it off as quickly as you can once the contamination happens.”