We often recommend so much for the care of our watches, but we almost never remember the care we should devote to our watch bands! The watch band, whatever the watch size, is a bit of its dress, and just as we don't walk around in ragged, dirty, and stained clothes, we should also apply the same care to our watch bands, and we often don't. So, here are some good tips for taking care of our wristbands, specifically the leather ones, which "suffer" the most! 

Can you clean a leather watch strap?

Not only can you, but you must! The leather on our straps is of natural origin, and every natural element continues to be alive, in a sense. So to prevent it from drying out and cracking, it is best to take care of it with specific products, just as we do with our skin. But this also applies to all other materials as well, since they, too, come into contact with an organic material during the day, which is our skin!

Not everyone remembers that our skin excretes sweat, which contains bacteria and other harmful substances that our body sheds away. These must be removed to prevent the skin of the strap - especially the inner layer, which is usually the most delicate - from soiling, thus cracking and making the surface abrasive and unsightly.

The same happens with the outer part of the strap, which must be protected by proper treatments to keep it in good "health" at all times. That's why we should use leather conditioning, and to do this, we need to use specific products similar to what we employ for shoes.

Water-resistant leather strap - image from condorstraps.com

How do you clean a watch band without ruining it?

As a watchmaker uses specialized products when performing a manual or automatic watch maintenance operation, we need to use specific products for the wristbands. For example, conditioning products that care for the leather of the bands and keep it soft. To achieve this effect, the leather must be moisturized. Otherwise, the natural fibers of the skin will dry out and crack.

But to do this, you need to follow some good, sometimes unintuitive rules.

1 - Don't go overboard with conditioning

The Latins used to say that "in medio stat virtus," that is, it's is better to stay in the middle, and they were right. So even in caring for leather straps, please don't go overboard with conditioning and polishing because doing it too often could have counterproductive effects. Thus, taking care of leather straps once every three to four months is usually more than enough to keep them in excellent health. Well-tanned leather hardly needs any maintenance, although this helps. The golden rule is that if the leather feels dry and rough to the touch, it probably needs conditioning.

Also remember that certain locations have an effect on leather watch straps. For example, humid climates and sea air are particularly nefarious for wristbands, and you should avoid contact with salt water: in the case, rinse immediately after with fresh water.

2 - Don't use too much product

Go very cautious with the application of conditioning products. Too little is always better than too much. Even if the leather looks very dry, better to apply a light layer and then check its condition after some time. As you know, leather is a living material, like wood, so we should avoid excesses.

3 - Always do a test before applying a product

Not all leathers are the same, precisely because the quality might be different as the tanning, dyeing and finishing treatments. So before applying new conditioning to a strap, test it with an inconspicuous area to rule out any unpleasant interactions. In case there is, contact your trusted shoemaker, who will probably be able to help you in case of need.

Ruined wristband strap - image from strapsco.com

Should I condition my leather watch band?

The answer to this question is yes, absolutely, but preferably using specialized products. There is a wide choice of products for leather watch band care, and indicatively, these can be divided into four main types, so there may not necessarily be a "one-size-fits-all solution" for all your bands! As mentioned above, we suggest you to do some testing because the result may be very different from strap to strap.

Remember that the following cleaning products are almost always mixes. The manufacturers mix and add several ingredients such as perfumes, oils, and more - so each final product often makes its own story.

1 - Conditioning oil

This is a natural oil-based product, usually from mink or ox hoof: it works very well, but you have to pay attention to the manufacturer's directions that that specific product is suitable for fine leather goods because if it is not, it could make the strap sticky.

2 - Conditioning cream

Lighter and less "invasive" than oil, it is more suitable for more refined, thinner straps of exotic skins. It is usually enriched with polish, so in addition to nourishing the leather, it also makes it shinier once polished with a cloth. 

3 - Wax balm

There are various types of wax, both mineral and natural. It is suitable primarily for surface treatment, especially for the outside of the straps, since it cannot penetrate deeply and, therefore, cannot really nourish the leather, but it is perfect for polishing them.

4 - Conditioner for special leathers

Certain leathers possess unique surface finishings - such as suede or nubuck - that require specialized conditioners for that type of leather. In this case, expert advice from a professional is advised.

Taking care of a leather strap - image from bestfixwatch.biz

How do you oil a leather strap?

Whether you use an oil or cream to clean your straps, proper application of the product makes for the best result: take the time to get organized, buy the right products to do so, and avoid DIY solutions.

Lay a clean towel on the surface of the table and place the strap on it, after having removed it from the watch. Next, prepare several soft cotton rags that you will use for the different steps of cleaning and polishing. Wet one of these in warm water, wring it out well, so it is just a little damp, and wipe it over the outer surface of the strap. For the inner one, on the other hand, dab by pressing without rubbing too hard.

When finished, dry the wristband well with a dry cloth. At this point, apply the product you are using in circular motions to the surface of the strap. Once finished, let it work deeply for ten to fifteen minutes, and afterward, polish it with a clean cloth, especially the outer part, and let the strap lie flat in the shade and absorb the product well.

"Exotic" leathers such as crocodile, lizard, ostrich, and the like need more care: they often show whitish stains originating from moisture, which stagnates due to the use of products that are too oily. To protect these more delicate and precious skins, use lighter, gentler creams and products better suited to these types of skins. 

How do I remove stains from my watch band? 

When there are stains, perhaps old ones, on a watch band, the best thing is to rely on a specialist, such as a shoemaker. But if you necessarily want to try a DIY solution, knowing that you could irreparably ruin the band, read on.

There are old home remedies that work on leather surfaces such as couches, and they can also be applied to your straps.

For example, white wine vinegar sometimes works wonders. To remove a stain, thoroughly moisten a rag with vinegar, wring it out and gently wipe over it. Other liquids that can have an effect are alcohol and nail polish remover.

How do you clean a leather watch strap with baking soda?

Not all stains are the same! If the stain is grease-based, try to absorb as much of it as possible by applying a thin layer of baking soda and letting it sit overnight.

The next day you will immediately proceed with a leather conditioning treatment to mitigate the damage such an aggressive product could do to the leather. Remember: baking soda could not be the best choice for other uses while cleaning a watch strap. 

Removing stains and mold from leather - image from originaltuscany.com

How do I stop my leather watch band from smelling? 

Smelling is precisely one of the main reasons why watch lovers regularly apply the conditioning treatment to their straps, not just on the band's outer surface. Our sweat contains bacteria, and some of these are responsible for the foul odor that accompanies us when we wash poorly.

Let us also remember that in the case of certain diseases, our sweat has a more pungent odor than usual, and therefore it is necessary to wash it more, and this also applies to the leather straps that come in contact with it.

A good conditioning treatment should eliminate or at least, highly reduce the problem of strap odor. Remember that some of these specialized products have more or less pronounced fragrances, or these can be added, during the application, with an addition of a tiny amount of essential oils, which will give a pleasant scent to the watch band. 

How long should a leather watch band last? 

A watch band is much like a good pair of shoes: some last a season and others of better quality that seems eternal. And the same goes for watch bands; some are made sloppily or with poor quality leather and, after two years, are thrown away. Others, however, last a lifetime.

Good maintenance of a strap, however, helps to prolong its life. And this is very important, mainly because original straps, if adequately maintained, add value to a watch. So much so that many collectors, once they purchase the watch, replace the wristband with a generic model and keep the original strap disassembled to maintain its value.

Fluco shell cordovan distressed leather strap - image from auntay.com

Main Takeaways

Although it is sometimes necessary to replace the strap, and considering that generic ones, even of good quality, cost ten to twenty dollars, these maintenance tasks prove essential to prolong the watch's life. More importantly, they allow us to have multiple outfits for our timepieces, so we can vary the style according to the occasion we are going to.

Caring for our leather strap watches is similar to caring for our shoes: let us remember the old adage that held that to judge a man, one must look at his shoes. In the case of a watch lover, one must look at his wristband.

Header image from stridewise.com


The Davosa-USA.com website is NOT affiliated in any way with Audemars Piguet, Franck Muller USA, Inc. Richard Mille or Richemont Companies, Seiko, or any other brand which is not Davosa Swiss. Rolex is a registered trademark of Rolex USA. Davosa-USA website is not an authorized dealer, reseller, or distributor for Rolex and is in NO WAY affiliated with Rolex SA or Rolex USA or any other brand besides Davosa Swiss.
October 03, 2022 — Davosa Editor

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