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Leather clothes, footwear, and accessories are known for their comfort and durability. Premium quality leather apparel may last decades, but not without proper care and maintenance, which includes protection from extreme weather elements. So, can you wear leather in the rain?
You can wear waterproof leather in the rain. Full grain leather is water resistant to varying degrees, so you can wear it in a drizzle or short spell. Top grain leather can repel water, albeit conditioning or a protectant is recommended, but you can’t wear suede in the rain.
Natural leather is porous and thus not waterproof, irrespective of the tanning and other standard treatments in processing. Also, the current condition of leather influences its water permeability and moisture permeance. Keep reading to know everything about wearing leather in the rain.
Will Rain Ruin Your Leather Clothes?
Rain may ruin your leather clothes if they are unconditioned and unprotected from water, but the extent of damage depends on many factors. These include the type of leather, its condition, whether it has a protective coating, the level of exposure and the after treatment.
Here is a detailed list of the most important factors:
- Leather type, grade, and finish, including pretreatments, if any.
- Leather conditioning, including any protective coating you may use.
- The present physical or structural condition of the leather clothes.
- The extent of exposure to rainwater and the severity of the downpour.
- How you treat the leather after it gets drenched or soaked in the rain.
While natural leather is at risk of damage, washable and waterproof varieties are immune to water. Faux leather isn’t made of animal hide, even if some clothes contain scraps, so it will not get ruined in the rain. As for natural leather, you must consider the type to know its vulnerability.
Natural Water Resistance of Different Types of Leather Clothes
You are probably familiar with these popular varieties of leather:
- Full grain
- Top grain
- Split grain
- Bonded leather
Full grain leather boasts maximum water resistance because the outer hide is intact. This type of leather is expensive and the most durable. Still, full grain leather isn’t waterproof unless it is pretreated and routinely conditioned though a temporary drizzle may not damage this leather.
While top grain leather is the second most durable variety, its water resistance is not as great as full grain leather. Pretreated and regularly conditioned top grain leather will repel or resist water to a degree, but it will not endure as much exposure to moisture or rain as the full grain variant.
Both full and top grain leather varieties can hold water droplets on the surface, like blobs. This means water won’t permeate or seep into the material immediately. However, extensive rain and exposure to water, as well as moisture, will eventually be too much for these leather varieties to endure.
Besides, leather clothes have seams and stitches, which can facilitate water permeability and moisture permeance. You can condition your leather clothes to counter these weaknesses, but the protection may also wear off in the rain, so the material won’t be adequately water resistant.
These facts about full grain leather and, to an extent, top grain don’t apply to genuine and split grain. Genuine leather uses the intermediate layers of animal hide without the top grain. Hence, genuine leather clothes don’t have the same water resistance as those with top or full grain.
Split grain leather is suede, made of the soft underside of animal hide. Suede doesn’t have any natural water resistance. Likewise, bonded leather made of hide scraps and often blended with other materials can have some water resistance only if the finished product is pretreated.
There are many labels and terms used for different types of leather, but the above varieties are the base or source material. So, you must consider their characteristic attributes and any finish or treatment a manufacturer has used for its clothes. This applies to the following classifications:
- Double sided
The Difference Between Aniline and Semi Aniline Leather
Aniline leather is dyed without color. Semi aniline leather has a pigmented coating, which makes this variety slightly more resistant to stains and water. However, aniline leather can also sport a clear treatment for water resistance. Pure aniline leather isn’t as water resistant as semi aniline.
That said, all the following varieties may use premium leather, i.e., full grain or top:
- Pure aniline
- Semi aniline
Hence, if you have naked or pure aniline leather, it is the least protected classification, so keep such expensive clothes away from the rain.
Other Varieties of Leather Used in Apparel
Many other varieties of leather are used in different types of apparel, including clothes. You may have heard or read about the following types:
These varieties are usually premium leather because they use the full grain or the hide’s outer top layer. Nubuck often feels like suede, but it isn’t made of the underside layers. All these types of natural leather need to be pretreated for distinct levels of water resistance or waterproofing.
The only type of leather that you can wear in the rain is a washable or waterproof variety. These terms appear interchangeable, but waterproofing doesn’t necessarily mean you should wash the leather how and when you want. Washable variants are a specific type of waterproof leather.
You can not only wear washable leather clothes in the rain but also clean them in the washer without any detergent or as instructed by the manufacturer. Washable leather is used in many types of apparel, including but not limited to the following:
The following materials can be waterproof, but they aren’t real leather, even if some grades or types use blends or scraps:
- Faux leather
- Patent leather
- Pearlized leather
- Polyurethane leather
- Synthetic leather
- Vinyl leather
- Vegan leather
How Rain Can Affect Your Leather Clothes
Your leather clothes are unlikely to be waterproof unless they are labeled as such. This applies to most hides or skins used in the apparel industry, including but not limited to those from these animals:
Even leather made from alligator hide isn’t waterproof or resistant, unlike shark skin. Consequently, you need to be familiar with the following facts about wearing leather in the rain:
1. Leather Clothes Will Likely Be Stiff After Drying
Rain will inevitably expose your leather clothes to moisture or vapor and water, regardless of the downpour’s severity. Prolonged exposure to water will soak or wet your leather clothes. Eventually, leather will absorb some or a lot of water, then your clothes will subsequently dry.
However, leather clothes will likely be stiff after getting wet and drying. Any moisture and water penetrating the leather will dissolve some or all of these components in your clothes:
- Natural oils
- Soluble dyes
As the excess moisture and water evaporate in due course, the conditioning agents and natural oils will be carried by the bonded molecules to the surface of your leather clothes. Thus, the leather won’t be as soft or supple as it was after losing the conditioning chemicals and natural oils.
The resulting brittleness and stiffness after drying can qualify as ruining your leather clothes.
2. Rainwater Can Stain Most Types of Leather
Rainwater carries various airborne contaminants that shower down on your leather clothes during precipitation. Also, puddles and splashes will likely expose your clothes to dirt, grime, or other materials that can stain the leather. Even the dyes, oils, and chemicals are an issue.
Rainwater dissolving the substances in and on your leather will change their composition. These materials will disperse and displace erratically, potentially leaving behind subtle or visible stains on your leather clothes. Of course, some immediate cleaning and conditioning may mitigate this.
3. Leather May Rot if It Takes a Long Time to Dry
The relative humidity is always high when it rains. The humidity levels remain high even after the rain because as the water evaporates it adds moisture to the air around you. Naturally, your leather clothes may not dry quickly during a wet spell.
Slow drying can cause the leather to rot. I’m not saying your leather clothes will definitely begin to rot if you wear them in the rain. However, if enough water seeps into the organic material and doesn’t escape or evaporate soon, rotting is a natural consequence. Rotting leather will certainly ruin your clothes.
4. Leather May Crack if Exposed to Heat To Dry
Suppose your leather clothes get drenched in the rain, and they aren’t drying naturally. You must not subject leather to heat, whether in the dryer or another source, such as direct sunlight. Heat will extract all the moisture from the leather, not just the rainwater that has seeped into it.
Leather can crack if it loses all the oils and moisture in the conditioning agent or protectant and other materials, including dyes and pigments. You can salvage cracked leather, depending on the severity, but do you want to risk ruining your leather clothes to that extent after the rain?
5. Moist or Wet Leather May Harbor Fungal Growth
Microbial growth is common in natural hides or skins and unprocessed or untanned leather. But bacterial growth isn’t likely in or on finished leather after chemical tanning and treatments. That said, fungal outbreaks are likely on moist or wet leather and mildew and mold can thrive on the leather too.
Rain isn’t the only causal factor for mildew or mold growth on leather clothes. If you keep leather clothes in a moist and warm environment with little to no fresh air circulation, you may discover some mildew or mold on them with time. Rain can easily aggravate or facilitate this problem.
6. Rain Might Ruin Unconditioned Leather Clothes
Don’t wear old and unconditioned leather clothes in the rain unless they are waterproof. Even waterproof leather clothes and other apparel, such as boots and handbags, require occasional conditioning. Poorly maintained leather may not be able to endure a drizzle, forget downpours.
7. Suede Will Likely Be Damaged and Stained in Rain
Suede is naturally soft and not as water resistant as full grain leather. While suede can also be treated to have some degree of water resistance, it is rarely waterproof. Plus, suede is much more vulnerable to staining than full or top grain leather.
You shouldn’t wear suede leather in the rain, even if it is conditioned and protected to an extent. Rainwater and the subsequent staining can ruin suede, and the damage may be irremediable.
8. Premium Leather Clothes May Endure a Light Rain
The highest quality of natural leather is the full grain variety, irrespective of the treatments accorded to it. Top grain leather is considered a premium variety, too. However, genuine leather isn’t classified as high or premium quality. Also, while suede is a premium quality material, it cannot endure much rain.
Only full and top grain leather clothes may endure a drizzle or light rain even without conditioning or protective coatings. Nonetheless, these varieties won’t be fine if you drench, soak, or submerge them in water unless they have waterproof treatment.
9. Faux Leather Won’t Suffer Any Damage in the Rain
Faux leather is synthetic, so clothes made of these types of materials can endure the rain. You can wear faux leather clothes in any type of rain, from drizzles to torrential downpours. Even if synthetic clothes contain some natural leather, they are typically treated to be waterproof.
10. Washable or Waterproof Leather Will Be Fine in the Rain
Washable leather is waterproof and will be fine in the rain. You can also wear waterproof leather clothes when it’s raining without worrying about ruining them. Still, don’t presume they are washable in a washer unless the manufacturer says so. Also, follow the cleaning and washing instructions.
How You Can Wear Leather Clothes in the Rain
There are several ways to condition and protect your leather clothes, not only in the rain but in different weather conditions, including snow. You may use the following materials based on your preference and relevance:
- Leather conditioners
- Leather waxes
- Lotions and sprays
- Natural oils
- Waterproof coatings
Some people use beeswax to prevent leather from hardening, albeit it doesn’t soften brittle and tough leather apparel. Likewise, a few natural oils can condition leather clothes and moisturize them. However, any protection in the rain or actual waterproofing effect depends on the conditioner.
Note that not all conditioning methods are recommendable. For instance, neatsfoot oil may discolor leather clothes and degrade the stitching. Besides, you need to choose a solution based on the type of leather and the clothes’ specific finishing and pretreatment, if any.
Ideally, you should refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning, conditioning, drying, and protecting leather clothes. To be safe, go for branded and proven conditioning and waterproofing products for the specific type of leather clothes you need to protect in the rain.
You can wear leather clothes in the rain if they are waterproof. Washable leather will also be fine in any type of rain. However, all other leather clothes must have a conditioning agent or waterproof coating to prevent the many probable adverse effects caused by prolonged exposure to rainwater.