Machine wash a leather jacket? Oh yes you can.
During the annual Labor Day International Street Fair in Orange, I checked out a few of the shops that line the streets of the charming downtown — mostly to get out of the heat. Turns out it was my lucky day — in the Antique Depot on Glassell Street, I found a brand new leather jacket for $24.
A black leather jacket had been on my wish list, mostly inspired by the iconic Francoise Hardy photo, 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 at home, the jacket had filled my closet with an overpoweringly sweet, musty stench — no bargain was good enough to justify that smell.
Armed with my research, I decided to take the $24 risk. Spoiler alert: glad I did.
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.