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You’ve got a set of leather gloves that have the flexibility of a two by four, are uncomfortable and no fun to use or wear.
There’s no need to suffer with stiff leather gloves when there are a lot of great ways to get them broken in quickly.
In this quick guide you’ll learn how to soften stiff leather gloves with a tried and true method as well as some crowd favorites. Let’s get this done!
It doesn’t matter whether you’ve just purchased a new set of motorcycle gloves to ride with or some other leather product, dealing with a brand new leather items is a rough experience when you first try to wear them.
A lot of riders (myself included) will tough out the stiff new leather gloves by just taking several rides and getting them broken in.
You’re going to want those gloves broke in before you start reaching for those shorty levers!
How To Soften Stiff Leather Gloves
The most common method to soften leather is a six step process:
- Place the gloves in hot water for about 10 minutes
- Put them on to stretch – wear for at least 30 minutes.
- Let them hang dry until no water is dripping from the gloves.
- Put them back on while damp, continue stretching.
- Apply Isopropyl alcohol on the leather
- Apply Leather conditioner
This method is one of the oldest and most common ways to soften leather gloves.
A word of Caution while using this method:
Do not use this method with Deerskin leather or any other type of leather except cowhide.
Although deerskin remains soft after getting wet, some leather experts have stated that using the method above on deerskin can make them stiff and brittle.
Best products to help Soften Leather
These products will not only help soften leather, but will keep your leather gloves (and other items) looking good. Using any of these products from time to time is just good maintenance for your leather items (amazon links).
- Leather Honey
- Leather Milk
- Neatsfoot Oil
The “Old School” Method For Softening Motorcycle Gloves
But here are the pros and cons with this old school method:
Leather gloves (specially cowhide) are stiff and can be uncomfortable while you’re riding trying to break them in. The discomfort can change your ‘feel’ on the handle bars and be somewhat of a distraction and make your fingers sore until you get the gloves fully broken in.
I’ve had new leather gloves that would pinch the skin around the joints on my fingers while I was riding or handling objects. Not fun.
It can take several rides dealing with the discomfort of having stiff gloves before you get them broken in the way you want them.
Of course, when you finally get your leather motorcycle gloves broke in to where you like them, they feel awesome and your hands feel naked when you don’t have them on. I’m so used to my gloves that on the occasions that I jump on the bike to run an errand around town and forget my gloves, it weirds me out to not have them on.
We’ll take a look at some ways how to soften stiff leather gloves and speed up the breaking in process, but first things first; You need to know what hide your gloves are made from and understand some basic differences between the two most common leathers used in motorcycle gloves.
Cowhide vs deer leather
If you don’t pay attention to the particular hide your gloves are comprised of, you run the risk of using the wrong method (no matter where you find it on the internet) and damaging your gloves. Damaged gloves mean spending more money – no Bueno.
Motorcycle gloves are made from several different leathers (kangaroo being one of the premium leathers) but the most common is cowhide and deerskin, so that’s what we’ll focus on.
Here’s a quick rundown of the differences between the two:
Has a generally smooth and soft grain
It’s a heavy leather which makes it strong and tough to resist abrasions.
Has good stretch.
Water and dirt resistant.
It’s easy to get, which makes it cheaper to purchase.
Cowhide is more durable than deer skin but not as pliable. It’s stiff initially, but can be broke in pretty easy.
All of these qualities are why a lot of people from motorcyclists, law enforcement to cowboys have used cowhide leather over the years. It’s just a good all around hide to work with.
Deer Skin Leather
Soft, supple and stretchable and breaks in quick.
Conforms to your hand/body over time
Naturally water repellent, and dries soft.
It’s breathable, less sweat while wearing it
Durable – It’s one of (if not the only) the leathers that get wet and still dry soft.
Does not have quite as much availability as cowhide leather.
Side Note: I’ve been using deerskin riding gloves for a couple of years now, and I really like them. They are only slightly stiff when you first get them and its true what they say about these gloves breaking in really quick.
Although they are durable, I have noticed that they don’t last as long as a good cowhide leather glove, but I’ve still been getting a couple years of wear out of them. As far as a straight up leather glove, I prefer deerskin over cowhide gloves.
The process to soften Motorcycle riding gloves
This process that was mentioned above is an old military trick to break in all kinds of leather products from gloves to boots. Additional steps have been added on over time to help condition the leather.
Note: I don’t recommend this process if your leather glove have some kind of liner like wool or other sensitive fabric.
I’ve broken this process into three parts with individual steps.
Fill the bucket with as hot of water as you can get.
Alternatively, you can boil some water in a pot. Be careful if you choose to boil water!
Put the gloves in the hot water and let them soak for a good 10 minutes. If you’ve used the hot water in the bucket method, keep the gloves in the bucket until the water cools down to a lukewarm temperature.
If you decided to boil the gloves in a pot, turn the burner off after about 10 minutes and let it cool down to the lukewarm temps.
You want the leather gloves to get good and soaked.
After the water has cooled down to a safe temperature, put the gloves on right away. Be careful of any residual heat that may be built up in the glove(s). It’s going to be a bit uncomfortable, but you’ll need wear the gloves for about a half hour to a whole hour.
Putting the gloves on right away helps to prevent the gloves from shrinking. I suggest opening and closing your hand to make a fist to help the gloves stretch and form fit to your hand.
After you’ve worn the gloves for the 30 to 60minutes, take them off and hang dry them.
Do NOT use a hair dryer or any other artificial means to speed up the natural drying process.
Excess heat from a blow dryer will more than likely damage the gloves.
When the leather gloves have dried to the point of just being slightly damp, put them on again. After you put them on you can speed up the process by holding your hands in front of a regular ‘ol electric fan – no heat!
Or if you have the time…
Go for a ride! Cruise down the highway and practice your waving skills.
For this next part, there’s really just one big step.
Now it’s time to use the rubbing alcohol and the towels.
Start by taking the rubbing alcohol and putting it onto a towel. Use the towel to apply the alcohol onto the leather surface of the gloves while you are wearing them.
Use the alcohol generously to and cover all of the leather. Don’t be stingy!
Don’t worry about the glove getting too wet as alcohol evaporates quickly and it won’t take long for the gloves to dry.
As a safety note, don’t smoke or use alcohol around a heat source or open flame due to its flammability.
After the alcohol has dried from the gloves, it’s time to apply a leather conditioner to each glove.
Grab one of your dry towels or rags and put the leather conditioner on it. Apply pressure using a series of small circles (if you’ve been in the military, think shining shoes with kiwi) and thoroughly cover the glove.
You’ll probably want to wear the glove during this process as it makes easier to handle and cover the entire glove.
While your doing this process, continue to flex your hand in the glove by make fists and grasping motions to continue to stretch the glove. This will help get the glove form fitted to your hand and get the glove conditioned quicker.
Crowd Sourced Tips To Soften Stiff Leather
If you don’t want to go through all of the drama with hot water, you can go right to using rubbing alcohol. Just apply the rubbing alcohol to the towel and then to the surface your leather gloves. You’ll need to do this several times.
Put leather conditioner on the glove.
Set the glove up with a baseball in the palm as if you were grasping the ball with your hand. You can use a large rubber band to hold the glove and ball in place.
Let it sit in the sun for 1 or 2 hours.
Open it back up, put it on your hand and flex it a few times. Once you do that put the ball back in and store it overnight.
Yep you read that right. While watch tv, put your gloves on and squeeze your hands into fists to work the leather. This is when you can’t just break them in by riding.
Get a set of wood dowels and wrap some tape (like duct tape) around the end of each dowel until the diameter is slightly larger the fingers on the leather glove.
Put leather conditioner on the dowel as a kind of lubricant, and then push the dowels in the fingers of the glove and let stand for a few days.
Get the leather gloves warm and apply neatsfoot oil to the gloves. After applying the oil, wear the gloves as much as possible to break them in. Neatsfoot oil will give the added bonus of making the leather gloves waterproof.
A lot people prefer using steam instead giving their leather gloves a full baptism. You can either use a pot of boiling water, or the steam from an iron. The trick here is to manage to use this method without suffering from a burn.
Just Use Them!
When all else fails, just put them on and ride. I would suggest at least giving some of the product ideas here a try to at least loosen up your gloves before you hit the road.
I’ve been using deerskin riding gloves for a few years and that’s what I end up doing. The difference is, is that deerskin is much softer when you purchase it than cowhide leather.
What methods are you using for your gloves? Got a great hack on how to soften stiff leather gloves? Let me know in the comments below.