How to clean a leather jacket in washing machine

If you've have an old jacket or decide to buy a used leather jacket, here are a few tips to get it clean.

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You’ve got a leather jacket that’s developed a musty smell or maybe it’s your motorcycle jacket that has gotten dirty from the latest ride. You want to save a couple bucks, so here’s how to clean a leather jacket in washing machine in 7 easy steps.

It sounds a little counter intuitive stuffing it into water with detergent, but there are ways to wash it in a washing machine — safely and easily.

How to clean a leather jacket in washing machine

  • Wipe the jacket down and fasten all zippers and buttons
  • Turn jacket inside out
  • Place jacket in a laundry bag (for protection)
  • Put jacket in machine, cold water
  • Use short, Delicate cycle (no spin)
  • Hang dry away from direct sun and heat
  • Treat with leather conditioner when dry

Best Leather Conditioners

Whether you’re try to wash your leathers in a washing machine or you just want to keep it all maintained, here are some great options for leather conditoners that won’t break the bank.

Quick Disclaimer:
I’ve had success washing leather and vinyl in a washing machine using this method.
However, this is not my ‘go to’ method for cleaning my leather products.
I only use this method if I’m truly stuck without a professional cleaner or it happens to be a leather jacket that I won’t be afraid to lose my mind over if something bad happens.
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Can You Put A Leather Jacket In A Washing Machine?

A leather jacket can be laundered in a washing machine as long as the listed 7 steps are followed. The steps are a simple and easy process to follow, but we’ll break them down for you.

The cleaning process is similar to cleaning a textile motorcycle jacket but has some distinct differences.

how to clean a leather jecket in washing machine

Get the Leather Jacket Prepared

Kick the whole process off by taking a rag (cloth or microfibre) and wiping down the entire jacket. I prefer to use microfibre rags whenever I do any cleaning because they’re course enough remove materials but gentle enough to not leave any scratches.

Make sure that you wipe all of the exposed leather surfaces on the jacket. Don’t forget areas like the inside of the cuffs or under the collar.

The objective is to remove as much surface dust and debris as possible and ‘pre-clean’ the jacket.

You can incorporate some leather cleaner into this step if you want, but otherwise just wipe the jacket down totally dry.

Once the jacket is wiped down, make sure that you check the pockets in the jacket and close all zippers and fasten the buttons.

Fastening the buttons and zippers helps to avoid possible leather and fabric damage.

Turn the Jacket Inside out

After you’ve given the leather a wipe down and secured all buttons and zippers, turn the jacket inside out. Turning the jacket inside out helps protect the leather from being damaged by the paddles inside of the washer.

Now that you have the leather jacket inside out, take a look at the liner. You’ll want to note any special instructions for the liner that may subject it to shrinkage. However, if your following these instructions to machine wash leather, you should be good to go.

Place The Leather Jacket In a Laundry Bag

In addition to turning the jacket inside out to protect the leather, you’ll want to use a mesh laundry bag. Make sure that the mesh laundry bag is large enough so your leather jacket will loosely fit inside the bag.

This is especially important with larger, heavier leather motorcycle jackets.

A mesh laundry will not only help protect the leather but also allow water and detergent to pass through so that your jacket will be cleaned.

You may also want to consider pre-testing the jacket by lightly giving the buttons, zippers and seams a tug before you put the jacket inside the bag.

Pre-testing your jacket is fairly simple — while there are a few steps you can take, they all ensure your jacket’s quality will last.

For starters, If you’re using a new soap, you should test your jacket’s colors with a hidden-away area of your jacket to ensure colors do not bleed. In order to do this, you must first dampen a soft, white cloth — then simply rub it over a hidden area of your jacket.

If your jacket has a few different shades of the same color, the colors blend together when washed in a washing machine — leading to, of course, an undesirable outcome.

Put The Leather Jacket in the Washing Machine

Place the laundry bag containing your leather jacket into the machine. It’s best to place the laundry bag in the washing machine loosely by itself with no other articles in the machine.

You’ll want to use soap that is either designed specifically for leather or at the very least for delicate like sweaters (Woolite works well).

If your using a leather specific cleaner follow its instructions, but otherwise go easy on how much detergent you use.

I suggest not adding any more than about a quarter cup (1/4) of detergent to the machine. Too much soap may not rinse all the way out or damage the leather.

General Washer settings

When washing your jacket, there are very specific settings you need to keep your washing machine on. You cannot wash the jacket in warm weather.

If you’re going to be machine washing your jacket, always go for the delicate wash setting, with cold water.

Washing Machine Settings for a leather jacket:

  • Delicate or Gentle wash
  • Cold temperature
  • Small wash loadwashing machine settings for motorycle jacket

Before putting your leather jacket through your washing machine, it is, in most cases, best to put it on for the least amount of time possible.  It’s also recommended that you not put the leather jacket through a spin cycle for drying.

While it is, of course, completely safe to machine wash your jacket, leather does absorb water quite easily — meaning you’ll need to spend more time drying your jacket.

We’ll talk about dealing with that in a bit.

Drying Your Leather Jacket – Air Drying vs Machine Drying

Once you remove the leather jacket from the washing machine it’s time to get it dry.

If you were paying attention previously, I recommended that you don’t spin dry the jacket, which means you’ll be removing it from the machine dripping wet.

And you know what?

That’s ok and preferable.

To get the Leather jacket dry it’s best (at least in my experience) to find a place to hang the jacket up and let it dry out naturally.

When hang drying the jacket, keep it away from direct sunlight or any place where it may be excessively warm. If the jacket gets warm during the drying process, it’s more than likely going to shrink.

If you have a guest bathroom in your home, that can be a good place to hang the leather jacket. Guest bathrooms tend to not be used, and having the jacket hanging over the tub can contain any dripping water.

Otherwise, if you don’t have the luxury of an extra bathroom, you can simply hang it in the garage or outside. Again, as long as its not in direct sun and away from heat.

As your leather jacket is drying put it on from time to time to help prevent any shrinkage that may occur.

Alternative drying methods

A lot of people have recommended a couple of different ways to get the leather jacket dry. I’ve not used any of these methods (only hang drying) but I’ll list them for you.

Now, depending on where you look, people will suggest many different things. Jennifer Halloran, for example, machine dried her jacket on the lowest setting for her dryer — and it turned out perfectly fine.

In most cases, however, leather jackets can often shrink in the heat. (“Our Everyday Life”) Since leather can shrink in the heat, however it’s best to air dry your leather jacket like I mentioned previously.

Some other sources, however, say that you can tumble dry your jacket.

In order to machine dry your jacket, you’ll first need to gently pat your jacket dry with a lint-free towel — this will absorb any surface water that may be present on the jacket.

After doing this, they recommend putting your jacket in the air fluff setting if your dryer has it. The air fluff setting will dry your jacket with no heat – the most important part of this process.

Even if you are going to be using the air fluff setting, it is, of course, best to do it in short intervals. Doing this in short bursts will ensure that, if there are any complications, you can easily resolve them — and you can easily move the jacket to air-drying when you’re ready.

Anytime I’ve machine washed a leather motorcycle jacket, I’ve never used the the tumble dry method. I prefer to hang dry the jacket, it’s the safest solution.

Caring For Your Leather Jacket After Machine Wash

Once your leather jacket has dried that last step is to put leather conditioner on the jacket.

You can use saddle soap or any other leather conditioner as long as it’s a product designed specifically for leather.

Working the leather conditioner into the jacket is the most time consuming part of the process, but it’s also the most important to keep the leather in good shape.

You don’t want to skip the leather conditioner, because it helps to keep the leather soft, pliable and prevent it from drying out.

Leather conditioner is actually, in a sense, another cleaning agent for your leather. Leather conditioner can remove dirt and stains on your leather that you do not feel warrant going through the trouble of washing your jacket for.

The leather conditioner also acts as a sort of preservative for your leather — it will ensure your leather lasts longer and still looks as great as the day you bought it.

What about waterproofing?

Leather waterproofing, however, is a bit more self-explanatory.

As the name implies, this particular product will make your leather sustainable to water. Everyone has accidentally spilled their drink at some point in their life — so if this happens when you’re wearing your leather jacket, the liquid will essentially roll right off of your jacket — without any damage to your jacket.

Can you Dry Clean Leathers?

In most cases, dry cleaning leather products is not recommended. Dry cleaning has a lot of negative repercussions for leather products — the most prominent of which being shrinkage and color loss.

If your jacket has a particular finish, dry cleaning will often also strip your jacket of this finish — which may lead to you needing to apply a new finish.

There are, however, some dry cleaners that actually specifically work with leather. While you will need to research the dry cleaners in your area, it might be a good idea to use the dry cleaner as opposed to machine washing (which is what I normally do).

While you can very easily machine-wash your jacket, going to a dry-cleaner is an easier option – sometimes its best for the pros!

Other Leather Jacket tips

Don’t use ammonia based cleaners on leather

Ammonia will damage the finish and cause the leather to dry out. Once the leather is bone dry, it will crack. Once that happens, the leather is done.

Spill on your leather jacket? clean it up quick

Leather is very porous (some animal leathers more than others) and it will soak up whatever you spill onto it and cause it to stain.

If you need to treat the stain before washing, try using a non gel toothpaste and soft cloth to get the stain out.

Watch sharp or pointy objects

Leather can stretch. If you drape your leather jacket over the pointy part of a chair or any other object, you’ll put stretch marks on your jacket.

Be careful customizing your jacket like you would if you were putting aftermarket items like shorty levers and luggage racks. One wrong move and you may put a hole in your jacket you didn’t want. Extra holes will bring in moisture and dirt where you don’t want them.

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