How to Clean Common Problems of Thrifted Leather Jacket Easily

Thrifted leather jackets are awesome, they come with a lot of history. It’s also a great way to find good leather jackets without spending too much. Some people have even found $500 jackets and above for less than $20! They might come with a bunch of problems though and you will need to clean them up. Here’s how to deal with problems you might encounter.

Common problems with thrift store leather jackets

It’s very hard to find perfect-condition items when it comes to thrifting. You will be able to find them occasionally, but most of the time, there will be a few things you’ll have to look out for and deal with.


Stains are one of the most common issues you’ll find in thrift store jackets. It can vary from oil stains, ink stains, food stains, and the like. Some are near impossible to deal with, but some can be removed. This is especially bad on suede leather as it can absorb stains deeply.


Rarely do thrift stores ever do deep cleaning or even wash the clothes they sell. Your leather jacket will most likely smell quite bad. Leaving body oils to sit and accumulate will let bacteria grow near the armpits, cuffs, and neck areas. Bacteria that grow in those areas are the most common cause for bad odors.


Mold grows under specific conditions. Warm, damp, and dark environments are perfect for mold to grow, and those are the conditions your leather jacket probably went under. If you see green or white spots on the leather, that’s probably mold. Besides contributing to the smell, it can also be quite dangerous to breathe in.

Dry leather

If it’s in a thrift store, it probably isn’t constantly maintained. Without proper maintenance, the leather will be stiff, and it will need conditioning. Dry leather can also lead to severe creasing and even cracks.

Creases and folds

Thrift stores usually dump all their clothes into a pile before sorting them. Chances are, the jackets you’ll find will be very creased due to the lack of conditioning and improper storage . This isn’t that difficult to fix, but if the leather is very dry, it can lead to cracks. You’ll have to be careful with handling it until you’re able to condition it.

Peeling leather

Faux leather isn’t meant to last very long and used faux leather jackets are most likely very old. This means that the synthetic material might start to peel away. If peeling has begun, stay away from it as it will only get worse. Unless you plan to use it for a specific aesthetic, it’s not going to last much longer.

How to clean your thrifted leather jacket

Cleaning your thrifted jacket should be the first thing you should do after bringing it home. If you don’t plan on wearing it yet, then at least place it in a separate storage location to avoid contaminating your other clothes.

Getting rid of smells and cleaning the lining

Getting rid of the smells from the lining will involve disinfecting the jacket in order to get rid of the bacteria causing them in the first place. If you want to get rid of the smells, you might as well also clean the lining properly while you’re at it.

Lemon spray:

Lemon juice has great odor-stopping capabilities because it is very effective at killing odor-causing bacteria. Mix one part lemon juice to one part water in a spray bottle. If you don’t have a spray bottle you may also use a toothbrush and brush it on the lining of your jacket.

Mild detergent:

Ideally, you should wash the lining after killing the bacteria with lemon spray. As it is from the thrift store, there will be more than just smells on there. Mix about a tablespoon of the mild laundry detergent into 2 cups of water and use a fabric brush to lather the soap onto the lining.

Don’t use this mixture for the leather though, only the lining. We will get to the leather below.

Cleaning the leather on your jacket

Leather is a very delicate material, and we’re going to assume that your leather jacket is made of real leather, since it’s very unlikely for you to find faux leather jackets in good condition.

To clean the leather, we highly recommend saddle soap, following it up with condition afterwards. This method requires very little water, which is ideal for leather as exposing leather to too much water is not a good idea. Saddle soap also has oils in it that are good for softening the leather and moisturizing it.

To use saddle soap, it’s also best to use a horse hair brush. If you do not have this, then use a very soft bristled brush like a toothbrush. It might take a while though as toothbrushes are quite small.

Dab the brush into water and rub it onto the saddle soap to pick up soap on the brush. Lather the brush onto the leather and it should start to bubble up nicely. Work in sections to avoid letting the soap sit too long on one section, it’s still soap so it poses the risk of making the leather dry.

Wipe off the soap with a clean cloth, making sure to get all the corners as well. Take your conditioner and rub it into the leather in circular motions. Don’t use too much conditioner, but if you did use too much, spread it all over the sections you haven’t put conditioner yet. You only need a little bit of conditioner on your jacket, or else the conditioner will ooze out of the leather’s pores and make it very sticky to touch.

Getting rid of stains

Stains on the lining

If there is a stain on the lining of your leather jacket, you can remove it by using a stain remover pen. Stain remover pens are precise tools that can help you remove stains without risking getting bleach on the leather. Getting bleach on leather will stain it permanently, and we’re trying to remove stains, not add any more.

Dab the stain remover pen onto the stain and let it sit for a few minutes, or as indicated on the instructions of the pen. Ideally, you shouldn’t leave it for more than 10 minutes. After leaving it for a few minutes, use a toothbrush and dip in a bit of water to scrub the stain out. You can then wipe it clean and let it dry inside out in a well-ventilated room.

Stains on the leather

Getting rid of stains on the leather might means you’ll also have to strip away some dye or the protective layer on top. Unfortunately, if the stain has gone too deep into the leather, it will be almost impossible to remove it.

You may use acetone (always test in an inconspicuous place, first!) with a cotton ball for ink stains. Acetone will remove some dye, especially on brown leather, so you will have to redye it with the matching dye color. You will also have to recondition quite well as acetone will dry the leather out.

If you are dealing with oil or grease stains, you can use a baking soda paste. Mix a tablespoon of baking soda with enough water to make it a paste. You can then use a toothbrush to rub it on. Leave it for 2-3 minutes to absorb the oils, then wipe it off with a cloth. Recondition accordingly as the baking soda will also dry out the leather.

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Getting rid of mold

Getting rid of mold isn’t a very difficult thing to do. However, it might require you to use alcohol, which will dry out your leather jacket even more. Conditioning is very important if you’re going to use alcohol.

You may also use lemon sprays and wipe it down if you want to stick with natural ingredients. Check out our article about how to remove mold if the problem is severe. We go over it in complete details including how to prevent your leather jacket from growing mold again.

Dealing with creases

Creases and be softened up and lightened with various oils and leather conditioners. You can even use olive oil! Rubbing the oil or conditioner onto the leather with a soft cloth and massaging out the creases will help lessen the appearance of the toughest creases and remove lighter creases completely.

We have written an in-depth guide on how to remove creases and wrinkles in another article if creases are a big problem on your jacket.


Getting a good deal on a leather jacket from the thrift store is a great way to save money. You could even buy multiple pieces for the same price you’d have to buy a brand-new leather jacket for. We hope this guide will help you clean your leather jacket and give the leather jacket a new life.


Do you wash thrift store clothes before selling?

If you plan to resell thrifted clothes, it’s best to clean them up yourself and make them look as good as possible so you’re able to make more profit rather than just reselling them straight from the thrift store. Good-looking clothes are more attractive than ones that are still dirty.


  • Luke

    With a 14-year journey dedicated to preserving and enhancing leather goods, his unwavering passion continues to fuel his expertise. When he's not immersed in the world of leather, you can find Luke enjoying exhilarating bicycle rides or exploring nature through invigorating hikes.

  • Ralf

    Ralf is a multifaceted creative enthusiast with a deep passion for various crafting hobbies, including sewing, pottery, and the captivating world of leathercraft.