Leather is one of the most prized textiles in the world. Made from tanned animal hide (usually cow’s hide), it offers several unique characteristics that simply aren’t found in other fabrics and materials. Leather is soft, supple, strong, smooth and ultra comfortable. All of these reasons make it the preferred choice of material for jackets, coats and other forms of outerwear. But leather doesn’t come without its own caveats, one of which is the susceptibility to cracking. So, why does leather crack and what steps can you take to prevent it?
Before we begin, it’s important to note that leather has thousands upon thousands of small “pores” on its surface. While invisible to the naked eye, these pores play a key role in its characteristics. Much like wood, the pores on leather are constantly releasing or absorbing moisture, depending on the surrounding humidity level. When leather is placed in a humid environment, the excess moisture vapor in the air will settle on the surface, at which point it will be absorbed into the pores. On the other hand, when leather is placed in a dry environment, the opposite happens: moisture from its pores are released into the air; thus, the leather becomes drier. This is a natural phenomenon that usually causes no reason for concern — not unless the humidity surrounding leather is either too high or too low.
Now, if you’ve ever come across an old leather garment, you may have noticed how it developed small cracks. This doesn’t happen when leather is properly stored and cared for, but it’s still something that owners need to be aware of. Leather cracks as a result of it becoming too dry. Going back to the fundamentals of leather, this material has countless pores on the surface that absorb or release moisture. When leather releases too much of its moisture, it will dry up. And if dries up too much, cracks may form on its surface. Unfortunately, there’s no quick or easy fix for cracks in leather. Rather, you’ll have to take it to a professional leather repair company. Depending on the extent of the damage, they should be able to patch up the cracked section, after which they can blend it with the rest of the leather for a natural and seamless look.
While there’s no easy DIY fix for cracked leather, there are ways to prevent it. Whether you own a leather jacket, leather pants, leather shirt, or any other garment made of 100% genuine leather, you should take certain precautions to protect your garments from this phenomenon. For starters, maintain a suitable humidity level in the area in which you store your leather. Most people are familiar with the temperature inside their home, but few know the humidity level. You can buy a simple humidity reader for about $10 bucks, which is a small price to pay considering the impact high (or low) humidity has on leather.
So, what’s the right humidity for storing leather? A good rule of thumb is to keep it somewhere between 40 and 50% relative humidity. This means the air is holding about half the moisture vapor that it can hold. When humidity increases beyond 60%, problems like mold growth can occur. When it drops below 60%, leather can dry out and eventually crack. If you need to raise the humidity inside your home, consider investing in a humidifier. These devices work to raise the humidity level by releasing moisture vapor into the air. And if you need to lower the humidity, consider investing in a dehumidifier, which works by extracting moisture vapor from the surrounding air.
Choose Quality Leather
Another helpful tip to prevent leather from cracking is to choose quality leather. Just because two leather garments look the same doesn’t necessarily mean they are of equal quality. Some companies use low-grade leather in their products, which has a tendency to degrade more quickly over time. Cheap leather such as this is also more susceptible to cracking. So while you can probably save a couple bucks by choosing low-grade leather products, it will ultimately cost you more in the long run. This is why it’s better to spend the extra money on high-quality leather products. A high-quality leather shirt or jacket will offer countless years of enjoyment while reducing the risk of cracking — assuming you care for it properly.
In addition to maintaining a proper humidity level and choosing high-quality leather, you can also prevent leather from cracking by conditioning it on a regular basis. Why is this is necessary? Well, even with proper care, leather may still become dry. It probably won’t crack as long as you keep it stored in a climate-controlled environment, but the lack of moisture can make is susceptible to cracking. This is why it’s a good idea to condition your leather regularly. Using a leather conditioning product like Saddle Soap, you can keep your leather moist and supple, which in turn protects it against cracking.
Read (and Follow) the Care Label
We’ve talked about this before on our blog, but it’s worth mentioning again that you should always read and follow the care label on a leather garment. Most leather garments have a care label attached somewhere inside them. For leather shirts and jackets, the care label is usually found inside the neck collar, while pants have a care label attached inside the waistband. This otherwise simple piece of cloth reveals the manufacturer’s recommendations for cleaning and caring for the leather garment. Being that the care label is made by the manufacturer, it’s usually a good idea to heed this advice. Following the instructions on the care label should help to prevent cracking and other forms of damage.
These are just a few simple steps you can take to prevent your leather from cracking.