If you’ve carried your favorite leather bag for long or if you wear leather shoes regularly, you’ve undoubtedly scratched the leather. Sometimes (with leather bags for instance) this could be a look that you like, but other times you might want the leather to look as new and clean as possible. Scratches are inevitable. Thankfully high-quality leather—particularly vegetable tanned, full grain leather—is very resilient and tough, and won’t rip to shreds like many other textiles. So if you are in the predicament of trying to remove scratches from leather, how do you do it? Glad you asked.
First thing you need to do is evaluate the damage. How deep is the scratch? Many of the everyday scratches we encounter are just minor scuffs, but sometimes you could cut the leather deeper. Evaluate how bad it is first. That way you can form realistic expectations for the result. Scuffs can disappear, but cuts will unfortunately stay, though we can still minimize their appearance.
Next, make sure you clean the area from any debris or dirt, so we don’t make the scratches worse. First use a soft cloth to gently clean the leather. An important thing to note here: if you have vegetable tanned leather, do not use water to clean the leather. Even though it’s counter-intuitive to do this, water can damage vegetable tanned leather and cause it to shrink. So stay away from water.
Once you have the area cleaned, the first thing you can try is to just rub your fingers on the scratch. The goal with removing scratches from leather is to bring back the natural oils in the leather to bring the dye back to the surface. The oils in your fingers are a good first try anyway, though it might not be enough on the first go-around.
Next you can try adding some leather conditioner to the affected area. Good leather conditioners are great for cleaning, waterproofing, polishing, and restoring leather to its original glory. One of the things to look for in a good conditioner is that it’s made of beeswax and natural oils. You don’t want things that might chemically react to the leather in adverse ways. Jackson Wayne’s Leather Cream is perfect for this.
Take a clean cloth and rub a little bit of Leather Cream in the area—a little goes a long way—gently rubbing in small circles to work the cream into the leather. Let that sit awhile and dry. Once dry, take another clean cloth and buff out the dry residue. Most scratches can be fixed this way, but some scratches are persistent buggers, and you need to condition the leather a second time. The same goes for deep scratches and cuts. You’ll never get rid of a deep cut, but conditioning the area can mask the damage.
If after you’ve conditioned the leather, the area’s color looks slightly different from the rest of the leather, it won’t hurt to go ahead and condition everything while you’re there. It won’t hurt anything and will only help your leather age well. Over time, any treated areas will blend in nicely.