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How to care for a leather briefcase

A quality briefcase is one of life’s great joys. If you’ve gone the extra mile to invest in a well-made leather briefcase, you will quite rightly want to care for it correctly. The temptation is to treat your briefcase like you would a pair of leather shoes, regularly treating and polishing, but looked after correctly your bag shouldn’t need as much care. Leather is naturally an incredibly durable material, so all it needs is a bit of a helping hand to last you for years, if not decades.

We’ve put together this guide specifically to care for a soft leather briefcase, but these tips are also helpful for other quality leather items. As long as it’s made from full-grain leather, you can also care for a messenger bag, laptop bag and any other man bag in this way.

One of the most obvious care rules is to keep your briefcase clean. Left to soak in, dirt and other spillages will likely stain your leather. However much like your own skin, your leather will also need to be treated with products specifically designed for that purpose. You should also store your briefcase correctly when not in use, which we will also cover.

Follow our easy 6-step process to care for your leather briefcase.

STEP 1 - LEATHER KNOWLEDGE

Before you can work out the best way to care for your briefcase, you need to know what kind of leather was used to make it. We’ve put this guide together for genuine full-grain leather as this is our speciality at Billy Tannery, so if your briefcase is made from suede or corrected-grain leather, then you should find instructions specifically for these materials. Suede or nubuck is fairly easy to spot due to the texture, but corrected-grain leather is sometimes very well disguised. If in any doubt, contact the maker to check. If you’re sure that your case is made from full-grain leather then you’re good to move on.


STEP 2 - CLEAN YOUR BRIEFCASE

Before getting out any treatments, first you should always clean your leather briefcase with water to make sure that you have removed any dirt on the surface. Find a large bowl and fill it with lukewarm water making sure that it isn’t too hot, as this could damage the leather. Soaps could also have a negative effect on the leather, so just use plain water.

You will also need a quality sponge and we’ve found that those found in saddlery shops are ideal as they are strong but don’t leave any residue on your briefcase. Using your clean sponge dipped in the water, gently clean down your case and remove any obvious blemishes without soaking the leather too much. Make sure to regularly rinse out the sponge in the water and refill it gets really dirty.

Depending on the colour of the leather, it may darken as it gets wet, but don’t worry it will get lighter again when dry. If you are concerned about darkening, then we would recommend testing on a hidden area of the briefcase beforehand. The areas that come into contact with your hands will need the most cleaning, so give the handles a good going over. 


STEP 3 - AIR DRYING

Now that your briefcase has been washed with water, it will need to dry naturally. we can’t stress the word naturally enough. It can sometimes be tempting to hurry the process along in a hot room, next to a radiator or even with a hairdryer. Don’t. Drying leather too quickly or with high heat will damage its structure and leave you with a really crispy briefcase.

There is a small risk that your case might get misshapen while drying, so I find stuffing it loosely with plain paper can help. 


STEP 4 - TREAT THE LEATHER

It may take a day or two, but once your bag is dry you can finally get to the treatment stage. There are so many products available that it’s easy to get overwhelmed, but I would always say that less is more. I also prefer using natural ingredients and many products use beeswax or other naturally occurring oils, which are perfect for full-grain leather.

Our go-to care product is made in Germany by Collonil and is called Wax Leather. This light cream not only helps waterproof your leather but also contains natural waxes that moisturise and keep it looking its best, without leaving a heavy layer.

Using a clean and dry cloth massage the cream all over your briefcase. The exact instructions might vary from product to product, but you want to make sure to spread it evenly and not too thick. As before, if you have any worries about how the product will react to your specific briefcase, find a small area that is hidden and test before you go for the whole thing. Once you have covered the whole bag evenly, leave it to dry again. Naturally!

STEP 5 - A FINAL POLISH

This next step is down to your personal preference for how shiny you would like your leather briefcase to be. Using a dry cotton cloth, gently remove any excess conditioning cream from the leather. As you would find with leather footwear, the more you buff your briefcase with the cloth, the shinier it will become. If your bag has any metal fittings, this is also a good opportunity to give those a polish if you wish.

Once this stage is finished your leather briefcase will be clean and also well protected from most day to day use. Certain products offer more waterproofing, but I find that these also tend to darken the leather more, so it’s about finding the best balance for you. In normal conditions, we would recommend that you follow steps 3 to 5 and clean and condition your leather briefcase every three to four months.

STEP 6 - STORAGE

If you’re anything like us, your leather briefcase is a daily essential and won’t ever need to be stored for long periods. However if you are lucky to have multiple bags in rotation or are using your briefcase less due to working from home more, you should make sure to store it properly. Most quality cases will be sold with a cotton dust bag that should always be used for storage. It’s a good idea to treat your bag before storing for long periods of time and make sure to store it somewhere that doesn’t get too much light, warmth or moisture. On a shelf in a closet or a wardrobe is always my go-to. Much like when you were drying your briefcase, fill it with some plain paper or leftover bubble wrap so that it keeps its shape while in storage.

If you have any questions about bag care please feel free to contact us. Alongside leather bags, including our signature laptop briefcase, we also stock a leather care kit.


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