Leather watch straps are a great way to add extra style to your watch. It is important, however, to maintain them properly. If you neglect this, your leather strap ends up stained, greasy and smelly.
I regularly ran into this problem myself before I figured out how to properly take care of my leather watch straps. In this article, I will share what I have learned over the years and show you how to clean and maintain your leather watch strap at home.
What are the advantages of leather watch straps?
- Durability. Leather watch bands are genuinely durable, especially the ones made from high quality leather. The fine densely packed fibers of the leather provide a lot of resistance to wear and tear. While leather watch bands cost more than watch bands made out of other materials, with the right care and cleaning you can be sure they will last for years (if not decades), without losing their appeal.
- Style. In my opinion, a watch with a leather watch strap adds an element of quality and elegance to any outfit.
- Comfort. Leather watch bands can be very comfortable to wear. While a leather watch band is quite stiff when brand new, it begins to soften once it is worn. The porous leather absorbs oils from the skin and becomes more pliable as time goes on. After the initial rigid stage, the band shapes to the user and becomes like a second skin.
- Natural. Leather is also a natural material. This means that it can be worn and be in contact with the skin for a long period of time with a minimal risk of developing allergies or skin reactions.
I myself recently developed a skin reaction from the silicone strap on my Garmin running watch. I believe that with a leather watch strap this would have been a lot less likely to happen.
- Breathable. As a natural skin material, the leather also ‘breathes’ and does not have as much sweat build up under the strap as a silicone/artificial band has.
The main disadvantage of leather watch straps
Unfortunately, leather is overly sensitive to liquids. As the porous leather lets sweat and moisture through, it also absorbs it. The warm and moist leather is an ideal breeding ground for bacteria, and over time a funky smell develops. This especially happens when the watch strap is worn daily or around-the-clock.
Because of this, we need to periodically clean our leather watch band and avoid the appearance of the dreaded cheese smell.
In conclusion, because leather is different from other watch strap materials, we need to take special care to clean and maintain it. Further down the page I have described how to clean a leather watch strap, but first let’s get into how to keep a watch strap from smelling bad in the first place.
How to prevent leather watch straps from smelling
Leather is in many ways similar to our skin. And just like our skin, a leather watch band needs to air out and breathe regularly. Therefore, a good way to keep the band from developing a bad smell is to let the watch band rest more often.
The best way to let a leather watch strap rest is to take the watch off at night. Overnight, the watch strap should have enough time to breathe and air out.
Alternatively, if the leather strap has been exposed to a lot of moisture or sweat, it can be a good idea to let it rest for a day or two. That way, the strap has the opportunity to properly dry before wearing it again.
Making a habit of these methods will significantly extend the strap’s lifespan.
How to reduce a leather watch strap’s exposure to water and sweat
Aside from creating a medium for the growth of bacteria and smells, exposure to moisture can also alter the shape and color of a leather watch band. Because of this, it is best to avoid contact of the band with moisture as much as possible.
Some tips to keep the leather band dry:
- Take the watch off when taking a shower or when bathing.
- Be careful to not get water on the band when washing your hands.
- Remove the watch from your wrist when playing intensive sports that involve a lot of sweating.
If you prefer to keep wearing the watch when playing sports (for example, to track your heart rate or your location using GPS), then it is a good idea to wear a sweat absorbing wristband. That way, the majority of the sweat will be absorbed before it gets to the watch band.
Tips for caring for leather watch straps
Aside from reducing the exposure to sweat and water, you can do several other things to take care of your leather watch strap:
- Wear the strap loosely. A tightly worn strap gets stressed every time your wrist moves. This can cause the strap to degrade faster than it otherwise would. A loosely worn strap does not get damaged this way, and has as an added benefit that it also does not restrict the blood flow in the wrist (unlike a tightly worn strap).
- Keep cosmetics away from the strap. Take care when applying sun screen, perfume, skin creams or other cosmetics around the leather watch strap. These cosmetics can stain and discolor the leather when they come in contact with the band.
- Limit exposure to both sun and heat. Exposure to sunlight will darken leather, whereas exposure to heat can cause leather to dry out and crack. When the watch band has been exposed to moisture and it requires drying, make sure to air-dry it somewhere in the shade.
How to clean a leather watch strap
What you’ll need
Also known as a spring bar tool
Watch bands that are made from finished leather can be cleaned with a gentle hand soap, whereas watch bands made from unfinished leather should be cleaned with saddle soap.
You can tell the difference by inspecting the leather. Finished leather has a shiny protective coating, while unfinished leather is not shiny. Unfinished leather it also softer to the touch than finished leather is.
Detaching the strap
Before cleaning the watch strap, it is best if we detach it from the watch case first. This will help protect the watch case and its components while we clean the strap.
Not all watch straps attach to the watch in the same way. Most straps use spring bar pins. A lot of the more luxurious and sports watches use quick-release pins. Other straps are not able to be removed altogether.
Depending on the attachment type of the strap, different steps must be taken to detach it:
Removing spring bar pins
Removing quick-release pins
We can still clean and condition the strap if it can not be removed from the watch. In that case we do need to be more careful around the watch case and be careful not to get any conditioner in the buttons or the crown.
If you are unsure about how to detach the strap, it is always a good idea to check the watch manual or check with the manufacturer of the watch.
Cleaning the leather watch strap
Before cleaning the leather band, it can be useful to check the watch manufacturer’s recommendations and instructions for cleaning. While it is unlikely that the instructions differ much from the ones below, there are types of leather that need specific products for maintenance and cleaning.
This step can be repeated several times until the strap is clean. Switching to a clean section of the cloth and adding some new soap will help in getting all the dirt and grime off.
Once the straps are dry, you can condition the leather before attaching the straps to the case of the watch. This is not required, but conditioning the leather will add a layer of protection from water and sweat, which is always useful.
Reattaching the strap
To reattach the watch band to the watch case, compress the ends of the spring bar pins and, with the watch band attached, place the spring bar pins back in their designated position in the watch case.
For quick-release pins, slide the button to the inner side and place the strap in the watch case.
After reattaching the strap, check that the pin ends are properly inserted in their sockets.
A summary of the cleaning process:
- Detach the leather watch strap from the watch.
- Wipe down the watch strap with a dry microfiber cloth.
- Gently clean the strap with a damp cloth and a bit of soap.
- Remove any soap residue using a clean cloth.
- Allow the band to completely air-dry.
- Reattach the leather strap.
How to condition a leather watch strap
What you’ll need
You can apply a leather conditioner to the watch band to keep it supple and to prevent cracking of the leather. Over time the leather can lose its natural oils, causing it to dry out. Conditioning it with a leather conditioner once in a while will keep it in a good state.
The conditioner also helps by providing extra protection against moisture, making the leather less vulnerable.
The best time to condition a leather watch band is after cleaning, because the leather should be clean before conditioning it.
With regards to frequency, once a month is a good starting point. You can adjust this frequency depending on how often the watch is worn, the amount of sunlight and humidity it is exposed to, and so on. Your experience will be able to guide you after a while.
To condition the leather, I recommend following the instructions that come with the leather conditioner. In general, the steps are roughly as follows:
- Make sure the watch band is clean.
- Apply a tiny dab of conditioner to the leather strap and work it in with a microfiber cloth and gentle, circular movements.
- Use a new cloth to remove any excess conditioner from the leather.
- Allow the leather watch strap to air-dry before reattaching it to the watch case.
How to waterproof a leather watch strap
What you’ll need
Aside from conditioning the leather watch band, it is also possible to use a leather waterproofing spray to protect the leather from water or sweat stains. Personally I do not have any experience with this. It is a fairly straightforward process however:
- Make sure the watch band is clean.
- Apply the waterproof spray to both sides of the watch band.
- Wait for the leather to absorb the waterproof spray.
- Wipe down any excess spray with a clean microfiber cloth.
- Reattach the watch band.
As with the conditioning, I recommend to just follow the instructions of the product. It will have details on how much waterproofing spray to apply, and how long to wait for the spray to absorb.
How often should you clean a leather watch strap?
To keep your leather watch strap in a good condition, a good rule of thumb is to clean the strap every 2 weeks.
Leather watch straps that you wear less often do not need as much cleaning, because they are exposed to less sweat and grime and do not get dirty as fast. Watch bands that are worn in hot and/or humid climates on the other hand (pun intended) need cleaning more frequently.
Similarly, in the summer period leather bands will need to be cleaned more often than during the winter period.
In general, any time there is a lot of sweat or moisture, the leather should be cleaned more often to prevent sweat stains and smells from showing up.
As you can see, it is not too difficult to clean your leather watch strap at home. You can even condition the leather band in only a few more steps and give your watch band extra protection and care. Resting the watch strap overnight will ensure that the leather has time to rest and air out.
Making a habit of these cleaning methods can keep your leather band in good condition and give it a long life.