our everyday life

Making Leather Less Stiff

by Melissa King

Soft, supple leather looks and feels luxurious, but it often turns dry and stiff as it ages. This tends to happen if an item wasn't lubricated regularly or if it was exposed to UV rays and high heat. Even brand-new leather items may feel too stiff for your liking. If your leather lacks flexibility, you can soften it up. Softening leather may also give it a distressed appearance that you might like if you prefer a vintage look.

Wipe the leather item with a damp cloth, then allow it to dry completely. Using small, circular motions, rub a light coat of leather conditioner into the item. Let the conditioner soak in for 30 minutes, then apply another coating. Repeat this process until the leather is as soft as you want. The ideal conditioner to use depends on the product you're treating. For example, you might use a lanolin-based conditioner to soften smooth leather boots or a rawhide cream for light leather items. Use a suede conditioner for suede, nubuck or any leather with a nap. If your item is made from exotic leather, use a conditioner specifically formulated for that type of skin. In general, use a pH-balanced conditioner and avoid products made from petroleum or mineral oil.

Warm the leather item by setting it outside in the sun for 10 minutes. When the leather feels warm, massage it with a few drops of coconut oil. Cover the entire item with the coconut oil. The leather will soften as the oil soaks in.

Dip a cotton ball in rubbing alcohol. Dab the rubbing alcohol on a small, inconspicuous patch of the item, then wait a few minutes for it to soak in. If the alcohol damages the leather's finish, do not use it to condition the item. If it does not react, rub the rest of the leather with the alcohol-soaked cotton ball. Using your fingers, rub a small amount of petroleum jelly into the leather. The alcohol loosens the leather, and the petroleum jelly softens it.

Items you will need
  • Cloth
  • Leather conditioner
  • Mild detergent
  • Coconut oil
  • Cotton balls
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Petroleum jelly


  • Coconut oil may darken your leather.
  • Even if rubbing alcohol does not damage your leather item at first, it may have a negative effect over time. Apply rubbing alcohol very sparingly if you use it at all.

Photo Credits

  • Visage/Stockbyte/Getty Images