How to Remove Mildew From Leather Jackets

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Man wearing leather jacket and using payphone.
Man wearing leather jacket and using payphone. (Image: David De Lossy/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Ever since Marlon Brando donned one in 1953's “The Wild One," the leather jacket has been cool. Mildew, on the other hand, has been around since the dawn of time, but has never been known for coolness. Although you expect the occasional slime on the shower curtain, spotty mildew is an especially unpleasant surprise. You can keep your jacket mildew-free with proper storage, but if mildew does rear its ugly head, use a multi-pronged approach to breathe life back into your leather.

The Alcohol Approach

As alcohol penetrates the fibers of leather to kill living mildew, it serves as a time-tested tactic. First, take your jacket to an airy outdoor area and brush the entire surface with a leather brush; available at shoe stores, this is a handy item to have for leather care -- mildewy or not. Focus on the mildew patches, removing as much as you can with a dry brushing. Combine a half-and-half solution of denatured alcohol and clean water, then dampen -- but don't soak -- a lint-free cotton rag with the mixture. Thoroughly dab any visible mildew spots, refreshing the rag with more of the solution as needed, then allow the jacket to air-dry completely.

Conditioning the Mildew Condition

To optimize its suppleness and lifespan, your jacket needs regular conditioning, just like your skin needs moisturizing. Track down anti-mildew leather conditioner at your local shoe store or leather specialist, and rub about a dime-sized amount of the product onto your jacket's leather surface, moving a lint-free cloth in a circular polishing motion. Allow the jacket to rest overnight, which lets the conditioner penetrate its fibers. Wipe off any excess conditioner with a soft leather brush and buff the garment with a clean cotton cloth.

Think About the Future

The best way to treat mildew on your leather jacket is to prevent it from showing up in the first place. To ward off the green stuff, apply a spray-on leather mildew inhibitor, also available at shoe stores, to all leather surfaces on the jacket. Typically, you'll coat the jacket with a fine layer of the spray, holding the can about a foot from the garment; allow it to air-dry. Look to the manufacturer's instructions for detailed application information. After application, store your jacket in a dry, temperate area with low humidity and dampness to prevent mold and mildew from occurring.

More to Know

Treating suede and dyed leather with alcohol may discolor the material; use this mildew treatment only for smooth, naturally hued leather -- leave suede and colored leather to the dry cleaners or leather specialists. Likewise, do not saturate your leather jacket with alcohol, as it may dry out or damage the material; go easy on the alcohol and dab the mildew -- don't soak it. Always test a single, inconspicuous spot before applying alcohol, conditioners or mildew inhibitors to the rest of the jacket.

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