True Quality CleaningStraight talk about caring for fine garments & household textiles from an expert who calls it like it is. In plain English.

Suede and leather garments: what you need to know before taking them to the cleaners

SuedeLeather gent2Unlike regular garments, suede and leather garments are exempt from the Federal Trade Commission's care labeling regulations. In other words, care labeling on a suede and leather garment is voluntary on the part of the manufacturer, whether domestic or foreign.

Furthermore, many manufacturers who voluntarily sew care labels into their suede and leather garments have not tested the serviceability (i.e. the cleanability) of their garments prior to production and sale.

In addition, there are inherent defects in the skins used in the construction of suede and leather garments, as well as in the tanning and dyeing techniques used by the processors of such skins.

As such, clients ought to be fully informed as to the likely results that can and cannot be expected from the cleaning of an animal skin.

What follows is a listing of some of the more common issues unique to the cleaning of suede and leather garments.

Color Loss

Due to poor tanning, poor dyeing, and the use of drycleaning solvent-soluble dyes, many suede and leather garments will lose varying amounts of color during cleaning. This problem is particularly acute in pigskins and lambskins.

SuedeLeatherGirl1While a skilled suede and leather cleaner can refinish or restore the color in a garment to a close match, all too often it is impossible to refinish the garment to the exact original color. It is for this reason that you should always clean matching pieces at the same time.

Dye Crocking

Because of the porous nature of animal hides, and their poor dye affinity, dye crocking can be a problem. Abrasion from the tumbling action found in the cleaning process, and even from normal wear, can cause localized discolorations or fading.

Change In Texture And Feel

During the tanning process, the hides are impregnated with fats and oils that add suppleness and texture to the hides. Some of these fats and oils are lost during the cleaning process. While a skilled suede and leather cleaner can restore the suppleness using special additives, it is not always possible to restore all the fats and oils. This can lead to a noticeable change in texture and feel.

Furthermore, most suede and leather garments require refinishing after processing. The added "surface" from refinishing can change the texture of the hide, or cause it to lose some suppleness.

Relaxation Shrinkage

During manufacture, skins are stretched to obtain a uniform surface. Furthermore, some manufacturers overstretch their skins to maximize surface area (i.e. production output).

SuedeLeatherGent2During processing, the skins may relax, resulting in shrinkage, puckering and distortion. Skins cannot always be stretched back, or blocked, to it's original size.

When buying a suede and leather garment, particularly tight fitting pants, skirts and dresses, consider purchasing a slightly larger size to accommodate the possibility of relaxation shrinkage.


It is very common for a suede or leather garment to gradually mold to the body lines of the wearer. After cleaning, this molded body line is often lost and straight lines predominate. This could lead the wearer to believe that the garment has shrunk in cleaning, when, in fact, it has not shrunk.

Mismatched Skins

Color and texture in a suede or leather garment may vary if the manufacturer uses skins from different parts of the animal. If the garment contains skins that are mismatched, the color and texture of the garment may become uneven after processing.

Oxidation Fading

Suede and leather garments have poor resistance to fading from light (natural and artificial) and from atmospheric gases. This is very common in vibrant colors such as pinks, blues, purples, greens, and even in some browns and blacks. Pre-existing damage due to fading may be hidden by common soil. Once the garment is cleaned, the fading can reveal itself.

A skilled suede and leather cleaner can often restore the color in skins that have a smooth finish. However, restoring the color in a lambskin and pigskin suede is often a challenge.

Hide Defects

SuedeLeatherGirl2Most animal skins have imperfections or defects. These are natural characteristics of the animal. Defects in the skins such as scars, vein marks or insect bites may be masked or hidden during manufacture by the use of masking agents, such as fillers.

After cleaning, these masking agents, or even the skin defects themselves, may not accept the refinishing dyes as well as the adjoining areas. Furthermore, the masking agents may be drycleaning solvent-soluble and dissolve during the cleaning process, revealing the underlying irregularities in the hide.

Belly Wrinkles

Hides taken from the stomach area of the animal are of poorer quality. These skins are often uneven in texture and are wrinkled, a condition that becomes more apparent after cleaning.

Thin Skins

Skins taken from an animal vary in thickness. In order to obtain a uniform thickness, these skins are shaved of "scythed".

Improperly scythed skins will result in hides that are too thin. This will cause the hide to develop weak areas that could possibly rip or tear in the cleaning process.

Soluble Adhesives

Manufacturers often use glue adhesives when constructing suede and leather garments, particularly in areas such as cuffs, collars, zippers, buttonholes and edges. Many of these adhesives are soluble in a variety of drycleaning solvents, as well as in water. When these adhesives dissolve, they will often discolor the hide by bleeding through the outer skin. It is almost impossible to tell if a garment has a soluble glue problem until after the garment has been cleaned.

Multicolor Dye Transfer

Many suede and leather garments have multi-colored panels. If any of these colors are drycleaning solvent-soluble, there is the possibility that the darker colors may transfer or bleed onto the lighter colors during processing.

All colors in a multi-colored suede or leather garment should be tested for dye stability prior to cleaning. Nonetheless, even after testing, these garments may not always show the signs of dye transfer or bleeding until after the cleaning process has been completed.

Protein Stains

Protein stains, like milk, egg and blood, are very difficult to remove on a suede or leather garment. Some damage to the color or the skin may occur when aggressive attempts are made to remove these types of stains.

Improper Storage

Skins may loose some of their vital fats and oils due to improper storage in a hot, humid environment. This could result in a loss of suppleness, or in shrinkage as much as 15%.


Spots and stains on pigskins are difficult to remove for two reasons: first, there is very little nap in a pigskin and, second, the fiber structure of a pigskin allows spots and stains to penetrate deep into the skin. You can identify a pigskin suede by the little tiny holes in the skin. These holes are the hair holes, and when stains have penetrated deeply into these holes, it is difficult to lift the stains from the skin without causing damage to the skin or color.

Split Cowhides

Cowhides have a rough texture and are difficult to refinish. Cowhides may also exhibit greater color and oil loss during cleaning than with other leathers, creating a harsher feel after the cleaning process. Cowhides that are extremely soiled and show wear lines of soil, may still show these wear lines after the cleaning process, but the wear lines will be clean. Cowhide will also show more shading lines after the cleaning process that cannot always be "disguised" by refinishing.

Antique or Distressed Skins

When a solid black or brown suede or leather garment is cleaned, the soil is removed and the garment is then refinished to a new even color.

By contrast, when antique and distressed leather is cleaned, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to duplicate the exact original finish through refinishing. This naturally leads to the question: should an antique or distressed leather garment be cleaned? And, if so, what results can be reasonably expected?


So what can you expect from your cleaner?

You'll never find perfection. Perfection on the cleaning of animal skins is next to impossible to achieve.

What you should aspire to is the very best achievable results.

How can I help you?

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