Machine wash a leather jacket? Oh yes you can.
Last Saturday we hit up the annual Labor Day weekend International Street Fair in Orange. The Yelp reviews were mixed so we weren’t quite sure what to expect, but we arrived early — pretty sure this is key — and had a great time. Lots of good music and food (all proceeds go to non-profits), but it’s really the people-watching that makes every street fair a goldmine for my photographer husband.
It was hot, even by Arizona standards, so after a couple hours I sought refuge in the shops that line the streets of the charming downtown. Turns out it was my lucky day — in the Antique Depot on Glassell Street, I found a brand new Banana Republic leather jacket for $24.
A black leather jacket’s been on my wish list for years (inspired by the iconic Francoise Hardy), and although this one wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, the price, quality and classic shape were too good to pass up:
But after just one night, my entire closet was filled with an oddly sweet, musty stench not unlike the guy at my gym who thinks cologne an adequate substitute for showering.
Clearly my ‘new’ jacket needed a hygiene lesson.
I remembered reading a while back that Vogue editor Meredith Melling Burke machine washes and dries all her leather jackets, so I dug around and found more info on machine washing leather here, here and here.
Since I knew I could never wear the jacket with that smell, I decided to take the $24 risk.
How to machine wash and dry a leather jacket:
Wash: I added about two tablespoons of laundry detergent to the washing machine, then filled with cold water on the smallest load setting. I threw in a couple pairs of black workout pants and a few dark socks to help cushion the jacket and absorb some of the water during the spin cycle (not sure it’s necessary, but it didn’t hurt), then zipped the jacket, turned it inside out and added it to the load. Finally, I set my machine to run for the shortest wash time (six minutes) on the “delicate” cycle.
Before drying: I inspected the jacket after the wash cycle to make sure it hadn’t sustained any damage. It looked perfect. Since the sleeves already ran a tad short on me, I stretched them gently and they ‘grew’ about an inch or so.
Note: From what I’ve read, machine washing and drying works best for full-grain leathers. Not sure I’d put anything with a coated or shiny finish in the dryer (it might crack), though Meredith M-B says even her jacket from Target did just fine.
Dry: I added everything to the dryer and tossed in three dryer sheets. (I’d seen several recommendations to add liquid fabric softener or even hair conditioner to the wash load to protect the leather, but since I was a bit worried about staining, I used Bounce sheets instead.) I selected the “medium” heat setting and turned on the dryer .
After 10 minutes I checked the jacket — still wet, but the lining was dry enough for me to turn inside out and try on. It fit pretty much exactly as it had when I bought it. I stretched the sleeves again, turned it inside-out and put it back in the dryer. In total, I dried it for about 40 minutes, trying it on and stretching the sleeves every 10 minutes.
When I removed it from the dryer it was still slightly damp, but the body and shoulders had shrunk (about an inch in both width and length) and since I didn’t want it to get any smaller, I laid it flat to finish air drying. (I was afraid I’d end up with weird pointy shoulders if I hung it to dry).
It worked! Machine washing got rid of the smell and gave the jacket a more fitted, lived-in look. It also took some of the shine off the leather, as hoped, but it still looks and feels supple.