When was the last time you cleaned your fancy leather belt? Aha! Just as we suspected. It’s okay, most guys don’t put a lot of thought or care into their leather belts. It’s an accessory that tends to get thrown in a drawer, or left hanging in a belt loop, forgotten, until it’s needed again. The thing is, leather belts are just like any other leather accessory: you get out of them what you put in. And you can seriously extend the life of your leather belt with some simple care and storage techniques.
In this article, we’re going to run through a few ways to clean your leather belt, and how to store it properly.
Can you wash a leather belt?
Short answer: yes! And you should. Not every day, and not after each wear, but once a year is probably a good rule of thumb. Leather is a rugged natural material, but it’s not indestructible. You have to remember, leather is porous, and vulnerable to dirt, grime and moisture. If your belt is copping the elements more than usual, proper maintenance is essential.
How to wash a leather belt
1. Fill a basin with warm water
Find a good-size basin or bowl and fill it with warm (not hot) water. Your sink can work too, but make sure it’s not gross or slimy or covered in food scraps. We want clean water for this job. Add a capful of soap flakes and let them dissolve.
NB: gentle soap flakes are the only soap you should get anywhere near your leather belt, and you should only do this process once a year, max. Soap, in general, has a PH level that messes with leather over time.
2. Immerse your belt
Pop your belt in the basin and submerge it beneath the water. Use a soft cloth or washer to gently rub the dirt and grime away. Do this gently. The soap will do most of the actual work, and you don’t want to scour the leather. Just rub in small circular motions to dislodge any stubborn dirt.
3. Rinse and dry
We want to get that soap off before it has a chance to sink into the leather, so take your belt out of the basin and run it under some tepid water. Use a cotton towel or a lint-free microfiber cloth to get as much moisture off as you can. Avoid paper towels for this job, and don’t use a blow-dryer either. Leather doesn’t respond well to scorching heat. Leave your belt to air dry, out of the sun, overnight.
To keep your belt supple and strong, finish off with a good quality leather conditioner. You can find them in most shoe stores. This is really an essential step. If you keep washing your leather belt over and over without conditioning it, you’re actually speeding up the ageing process. Think of your belt as you do your hair: conditioner is just as important as shampoo.
How to clean a leather belt
You don’t need to fully submerge a leather belt in soapy water to keep it clean. If you’re after a faster, more leather-friendly method, you can use a leather shampoo or saddle soap.
This method is much simpler. Just dampen a clean cotton cloth, or microfiber towel, and apply the leather soap gently, working in long motions up and down the belt. You should see the dirt lift off, and the luster come back pretty quick.
When the belt is clean, use a fresh cloth to dry off any excess. Finish with a good leather conditioner and you’re done! Leave the belt to air dry overnight and it should be good to go for the next day.
For quick belt care on-the-go, just take some shoe cleaning wipes and give your leather belt a couple of good passes. This is obviously the fastest belt cleaning method, but it’s still effective. Giving your belt a quick wipe down once a month or so will mean you don’t have to do a thorough clean so often. A damp, cotton cloth will also work for this process. Just remember to dry off any excess moisture afterwards.
How to store leather belts
The best way to store belts is vertically. Don’t let anyone tell you different. You can roll your belts up into snakes and keep them in a drawer, but that will cause creases and cracks over time.
Temperature and humidity
You want a gentle, ambient room temperature for belt storage. Preferably somewhere with good ventilation. Humid environments can lead to mildew and discoloration, and you also want to keep your leather belts out of the sun – sunlight will dry and warp leather over time. Usually your belts will be in a closet, so this isn’t a big deal, but it’s still a good rule to keep in mind.
Just like shoe trees help with shoe storage, belt hangers are specially designed for belt storage. They can hang in your wardrobe like any other clothes hanger, and the belt buckle simple attaches to the top. Each belt can then hang vertically, with good air flow on all sides. If you don’t want to invest in a dedicated belt hanger, you can use a clothes hanger instead. Just make sure your belt is hanging by its buckle, not draped horizontally, halfway across.
The biggest belt storage mistakes are either a) leaving your leather belt attached to your pants, or b) rolling it up into a snake and sticking it in a drawer. Both of these methods will crack and warp your belt over time. Storing belts in drawers is particularly bad, as there’s no airflow in there. Think about it: would you rather be wound up like a spring the whole time, or hang loosely with good ventilation?
Also, just keep in mind that leather stored close to other leather can have some unexpected side effects. Storing a heavily dyed leather belt right up against a raw leather belt, for example, will cause the dye to slowly bleed across, staining and discoloring both belts. This goes for vertical storage, too. Another good reason to keep your belts loose and separate.
Belt storage boxes
If you have to keep your belts rolled up, at least invest in a good belt storage box. These are dedicated belt storage solutions, where each belt is kept in its own little cubby hole. Belt storage boxes usually have built-in ventilation, and sometimes special rollers to help your belt maintain its shape. We still prefer the vertical hanging method, but this is definitely a more compact way to store a large belt collection.