Quick Guide To Vegetable Tanned Leather Care

Vegetable Tanned Leather

Did you know that most belts and bags, to name a few, are products made from vegetable tanned leather? However, extra care is needed to ensure a lifetime of appreciation and usage flexibility. Another thing, this kind of leather is also the most eco-friendly and natural than most other leather types.

Another benefit to using this leather type is that it is made out of 100% vegetable tanned sides. These are also considered very clean and most ideal for linings, wallets, bags, straps, belts, as well as most personal leather items. Favored characteristics include its smooth tight and full grain nature, plus it is without any dye or pigmentation marks.

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So, what is tanning?

Tanning is the method of converting any animal skin into leather. An animal skin is first turned into a hide by way of degreasing it entirely and removing all of its hair.

This is viewed as the initial pre-step before tanning can be started. This step is very important because if the animal skin is not treated accordingly, the skin would harden itself and end up putrefied.

Remember that it is an organic material? So, the tanning process was developed to prevent the animal skin from decay. And this is done by turning animal hide into leather, then leather into those beautiful, sturdy goods we have come to use today.

How the leather tanning process came to be

Taning Leather

The process of tanning leather was an idea handed down from generations of Italian artisans, who did the tanning process by hand and taking up to more than a month to produce such exquisite type of leather. The process of vegetable tanning includes the use of raw materials, which would then result into high quality leather with rich tones from natural to warm browns. Natural tannins as raw materials include the following:

  • Chestnut wood - Castanea sativa
  • Tara pods - Caesalpinia spinosa
  • Chinese gallnut - Rhustyphina semialata
  • Valonia Oak - Quercus macrolepis
  • Myrobalan - Terminalia chebula
  • Mimosa or Wattle bark - Acacia meamsii
  • Catechu - Acacia Catechu
  • Turkish gallnut - Quercus infectoria
  • Oak wood - Quercus sp
  • Sumac - Rhustyphina coriaria
  • Gambier - Uncaria gambir
  • Quebracho wood - Schinopsis lorentzii

While vegetable tanning is the friendliest way to produce high quality leather products, it has its advantages and disadvantages:

PROS

  • Vegetable tanned products are recyclable
  • Very skilled craftsmen produce and dye the leather
  • The use of natural tannins prolong the life of its products

CONS

  • The vegetable tanning process is lengthy and can take up to 2 months or 1 year
  • Iron can stain vegetable tanned products easily
  • Its products are sold at a higher price than chrome tanned leather products

Nowadays, these factories have already adopted the use of some chemicals, to speed up the tanning process (without hurting the overall quality of the product). The end-products are then shipped to exclusive designers who transformed the tanned leather products into customized accessories, thickness between 2 to 5 mm. In the next section, we will help you care for your vegetable tanned leather products to maintain its look for a longer period of time.

Still, the underlying principle to leather tanning has even been dated back to be performed by Indus Valley peoples during 6,000 BCE. What is kept in mind is, that the collagen (a protein) in the skin of animals is modified to twist together and produce fiber bundles, as seen in really good quality leather.

Vegetable tanned leather VS Chrome leather

We now have an idea what vegetable tanning is and how it is done. But, there's also a thing called Chrome Leather. The opposite of vegetable tanning, chrome tanning was developed as a process to minimize the expense, time, and complex nature of tanning leather using vegetable tannins, according to Carryology. Vegetable tanning also involves using much water plus a lot more tanning agents, thus adding to the longevity of the said process.

Here's a short comparison between vegetable and chrome tanned leather:

Vegetable Tanned

Chrome Tanned

Colors: natural, earthy tones (brown)

Colors: can be available in a number of desired colors

Ageing: tends to grow darker and softer over time,

Ageing: the color of the leather stays uniform throughout use and time,

acquires a patina depending on usage

the leather doesn't result into a patina in the same manner as that of vegetable tan leather

Usage: More durable and strong with proper care,minimally scratch-resistant

Usage: the material becomes more supple and softer with longer use

Smell: has a sweet, earthy, fragrant aroma ("au naturel")

Smell: chemically-treated

Heat and water: can dry or cause cracks on the leather; water marks or spots become part of its patina

Heat and water: more resistant to stains, heat, and water splotches;its leather fibers aren't seen in the same quality as vegetable tanned products

Tips to cleaning vegetable tanned leather

First of all, dirt and unwanted marks on your leather product sometimes don't easily come off with the use of a rag or piece of cloth. Over the years, the use of saddle soap products that contain leather conditioner or lye have been discouraged by leather care experts for long-term care of your leather goods. These experts recommend the use of soap treatment (such as castile soap or regular dish washing liquid soap) diluted in 1:10 parts water.

The leather item is allowed to fully dry and then treated next with conditioning treatment. Best preferred by leather care experts: 

When applying a conditioning treatment for your veg tanned leather products, take note that the leather would slightly darken in color after application. Fun fact: repeating the conditioning treatment a few more times can result in a darker shade for the leather, which most users find more beautiful to look at. Popular leather conditioning treatment formulations available today include

Before leather conditioner treatment application, here are the easy DIY steps to remember

With your chosen leather conditioner formula, prepare two clean rags and the veg tan leather products for cleaning. Next, dab a light amount of leather conditioner on the product with the use of a rag, and let it stay for a few minutes or hours, if desired. Once completely dry, use the second dry rag to wipe excess any conditioner off the leather product. Repeat the same steps if necessary.

What's common in all these leather conditioning treatment formulas? Their ingredients are all-natural and mostly plant-based. Thus, using these formulations can lead to more durable and waterproof leather goods.

When are the best times to apply leather conditioning treatment on veg tan leather products?

Once a year, your favorite leather handbag, belt or boots are already protected when applied with the right amount and care of your preferred leather conditioning treatment. Also, the natural oil from your hands are already a good form of leather conditioner when using your leather accessories regularly. However, if the leather good is used mostly for the outdoors - remember to apply the conditioning treatment every other 3 months especially if the leather starts to look dry or wear off.

What is vegetal? How is this leather made?

This type of leather doesn't come from cowhides; in fact, it is also called Treetap or couro vegetal leather. This leather type actually comes from rubber trees frequently found in the Amazon. Also known as Hevea brasiliensis (the Pará rubber tree or sharinga tree), this kind of leather is produced after its sap is being extracted by indigenous tree trappers, who then filter and layer the milk/sap on a cotton backing.

The process to produce authentic vegetal kind of leather includes curing it (via smoke), at least six or more times. Afterwards, these get sun-dried for the natural latex component to set. The Treetap product is then used to make purses, briefcases, shoulder bags, or even footwear.

For instance, Birkenstock product users can attest to that. Although Birkenstock products are made in a combination of natural and synthetic leather materials, most of its natural material come from animal leather products.

Caution! Wipes and Peanut Butter are a No-No to Vegetal Leather

Baby Wipes

The Leather Repair Company expertly recommends avoiding the use of wet wipes (baby wipes) and believe it not - peanut butter, in particular. Of course, these quick fixes are very handy and easy to store in your leather-made bag, but these also tend to destroy the quality of your leather product. The company also advocates cleaning common and leather-resistant stains on leather products need a leather conditioning treatment formulation that would bring a fresher look to your leather items.

As such, they offer a Premium Leather Cleaner & Protection Cream treatment kit, which is suitable for almost all leather types. The kit serves as a barrier and waterproof-protector against chemical or solvent damage. With a mixture of naturally-blended waxes and oils, it also prevents your leather good from any normal wear and tear.

Keeping extra and consistent care to your leather goods needs time and utmost patience as well. With proper leather cleaning treatment as an essential item in your to-do list, any type of leather goods you own (old or new) can last for a stretched period of time. And the longer it lasts, the more valuable it becomes - just like antiques.

We are positive this brief guide to taking care of tanned leather products would well serve its purpose. Also, don’t forget to share your own experiences taking care of your valued leather goods. Do let us know by posting your thoughts in the comments below!

    M.K

    My name is M. K, owner of this awesome blog. Passionate on leather forces me to write this blog. Hope you can find a lot of good information. Enjoy.

    Click Here to Leave a Comment Below
    Roberta - October 23, 2016 Reply

    I’m so glad that the intenret allows free info like this!

      M.K - October 28, 2016 Reply

      Thanks Roberta,
      Let’s wait for next great topics about leather stuffs 🙂
      Cheers

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