Your once pristine jacket, suit, pants or gloves look like they have been rolled in dirt, dragged up the road and then had an entire insect colony gound into them. Here’s how to clean your motorcycle leathers.
There are two options you could consider. The first is to go to your local car wash. Slip the attendant $5 and get a friend to pressure wash you down, while you just stand there. It should work out OK but just remember to skip the hot wax cycle at the end. You can then air dry them on your bike as you ride home. Job done.
Or you could do what sane, rational people do.
Essentially leather will dry out over time and the stitching can rot and then everything will fall to pieces. Depending on how often you ride and how dirty your leathers get, you should consider cleaning them every three to four months.
Although actually washing leathers is important to keep them clean and looking good, the real secret to all of this is to condition the leather as often as possible.
Many of today’s high tech suits have a combination of materials, plastics, carbon fiber and polymers. But leather is the one used for the greatest proportion of a motorcycle suit and requires the most attention.
It is, after all, animal skin and like your own hide needs to be kept supple and flexible and not just left to dry out and crack. By keeping the leather conditioned you’ll also find them easier to put on and take off and a lot more comfortable to ride in.
Here’s what you need to do to keep them looking good.
Take your leathers, put them on a clothes hanger and hang them on some thing like the back of a door. Next get a bucket of warm (not hot) soapy water, something as simple as dishwashing detergent is good enough, and with a micro fiber cloth wipe your leathers down. If they are really dirty you should you use Saddle Soap. This a leather cleaner that has been around for years and was originally designed to clean horse harnesses and saddles. It also contains a form of mild soap and softening agents such as neat’s-foot oil, glycerin and lanolin. All of which is perfect for leather as it’s gentle, and it cleans as well as conditions.
Alternatively, you could put your leathers on and go and stand in the shower and wash yourself down with hand soap as a friend of mine once did. His wife came home unexpectedly and he had a difficult few minutes explaining what he was doing standing in the bathroom in a soaking wet leather suit.
The problem with going down my friend’s route is you’ll also have to leave the leathers to dry a lot longer if you haven’t just rubbed them down with a cloth and soapy water.
And remember to rinse the cloth in clean warm water, because if you don’t you will be just putting the road dirt you just took off back on the suit again.
Once you’ve got most of the grime off, hang the leathers in a well-ventilated area to dry over night. Never, ever use an artificial heat source, such as a hair dryer, to speed up the process. All this will do is damage the leather and actually make it shrink and crack.
It’s really important that your leathers are 100% dry before you even start to condition them. If you skip the first stage of wiping them down and just rub conditioner in, all you are doing is trapping the dirt in the leather, which will make your leathers deteriorate even faster.
Assuming your leathers are now clean and dry, you can now start to condition them. RideApart recommends Pecard’s Motorcycle Leather Lotion, which is sold by Aerostich. Using a dry cloth rub a small section of leather with the cream. Pay particular attention to seams and stitching, which dry out very quickly after getting wet in the rain and can rot. Start with the suit’s chest area and then move onto the arms, back and legs.
Pecard’s and other high quality leather lotions are made from natural ingredients and actually ‘feeds’ the leather helping to make it more supple and flexible. Use your fingers as well to rub it into the leather as this generates heat and helps the leather absorb the cream faster and better.
Once you’ve worked over the entire suit, put it back on the hanger and let the leather absorb the conditioner. This should take around half an hour, but maybe longer depending on how much conditioner you have used and how dry your leathers were in the first place.
If you want to take the cleaning and protection process of the leather to the next level you can also apply water proofing at this point, providing the conditioner has all been absorbed by the leather. Use the same technique that you did with the conditioner and work it well into all of the suit’s seams and stitching. Once you have finished wipe off any excess with a dry cloth and now leave them hanging up to air dry over night.
To do this job properly we suggest leaving a good 45 minutes to an hour to clean, condition and waterproof. The results will surprise you and if you can do this on a regular basis several times a year not only will you look good but also your leathers will feel good and last you a lot longer.
Day-to-day, if you just want to remove a bug smear or other similar contaminant, just grab some unscented baby wipes. They’re as good for cleaning and conditioning your leathers as they are a baby’s butt. You won’t find them adequate for significant or all-over cleaning and they don’t condition as well as applying dedicated leather lotion, but they’re a quick, easy go-to for daily upkeep. No particular brand is best, just avoid any of the scents unless you want more awkward looks from your significant other.