I am a big fan of leather watch straps. They are comfortable to wear and add style to any outfit. Unfortunately, if they are not properly cleaned and maintained they can get stained and start to smell.

In this article I will share some tips for cleaning and maintaining leather watch straps, and show you how to clean your leather watch strap at home.

Before delving into the care and cleaning methods, I would like to share why I am a big fan of leather watch straps and go over some of their advantages:

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 would have.

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.

Read on to learn how to keep your leather watch strap clean and in a good condition.

Materials

Cleaning:

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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. Instead, it is softer to the touch than finished leather is.

Conditioning:

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Make sure to get a conditioner that is suited for wearable leather. Some of the furniture leather conditioners might cause irritation after prolonged contact with the skin.
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Confirm that the leather conditioner you buy is right for the type of leather that your watch band is made of.

Waterproofing:

Tools

For watch straps with spring bar pins (most watch straps):

How to clean a leather watch strap

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.

Detaching the watch 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

A spring bar tool being used to remove the spring bar pin of a black leather watch strap of an Aviator watch.
To detach a leather band that uses spring bar pins, take the spring bar tool and place it in between the band and the watch case. The indent in the spring bar tool should interlock with the groove on the spring bar pin.
After that, move the spring bar tool towards the leather to shorten the pin.
While the spring inside the pin is compressed, the watch band can be lifted out.
A spring bar pin for watch straps held in place by a clamp, while a spring bar tool is placed in the groove of the pin.
A close-up of how the spring bar tool interlocks with the groove at the ends of the pin. The inside of the pin contains a spring that compresses when either end of the pin is pushed down.
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Pay attention to where you place the spring bar pins, so that you do not lose them. If you do happen to lose one, replacements can be found online for a low price.

Removing quick-release pins

A spring bar tool pointing at the quick-release pin button of a leather watch strap of a Garmin Forerunner 245 watch.
Sports and higher-end watches often have straps with a quick-release pin. To remove this pin, simply slide the small button inwards. Then, while holding the button, pull out the watch strap.

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.

A hand using a microfiber cloth to wipe sweat and dirt of off a brown leather watch band.
Start by wiping the leather down with a dry cloth. It is best to use a soft cloth, such as a microfiber cloth or a jewelry cloth. The goal is to remove any dust, dirt and particulate matter from the strap. That way we prevent accidentally scratching the strap with those particles later when we do the more intensive cleaning.
A damp blue microfiber cloth being held in front of a brown leather watch strap and a bowl of water.
Take a new cloth and dampen it. You can do this by allowing it to absorb some water and squeezing out any excess. We do not want the cloth to drip water on the leather band.
A hand applying mild hand soap from a container onto a blue microfiber cloth.
Prepare the cloth by applying a dab of soap to it. The type of soap will depend on the type of leather (see the Materials section). Spread the soap evenly over the cloth. Doing so will make sure there are no blobs of soap that can stain the watch strap.
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Avoid using a harsh soap, as it can contain compounds that dry out and damage the leather.
A hand using a cloth to clean a leather watch strap with circular rubbing movements..
Gently clean the leather using the cloth. Using light pressure, move the cloth with circular movements over the leather. Lightly tapping the leather with the cloth works well too. Be careful not to interact the cloth and the strap too aggressively. Spending some extra time on the spots that are visibly dirty might be required, as these spots are often harder to clean.

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.

A microfiber cloth being used to wipe soap residue from a brown watch strap.
Use a clean damp cloth to remove any soap residue. Gently wipe down both sides of the leather band until you have wiped all soap residue off.
A brown leather watch band resting and air-drying on the corner of a desk.
Allow the leather band to dry naturally. After removing the soap from the strap, it will need to fully dry. It is important to let it air-dry in a cool location. Avoid placing the strap in direct sunlight or on top of a radiator. Do not use a hair dryer to speed up the drying process. Doing so can cause the leather to dry out and crack.

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.

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It is important that the watch band has completely dried before reattaching it. Putting force on the band while it is still damp can cause the leather to deform and become damaged.

A summary of the cleaning process:

  1. Detach the leather watch strap from the watch.
  2. Wipe down the watch strap with a dry microfiber cloth.
  3. Gently clean the strap with a damp cloth and a bit of soap.
  4. Remove any soap residue using a clean cloth.
  5. Allow the band to completely air-dry.
  6. Reattach the leather strap.

How to condition a leather watch strap

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:

  1. Make sure the watch band is clean.
  2. Apply a tiny dab of conditioner to the leather strap and work it in with a microfiber cloth and gentle, circular movements.
  3. Use a new cloth to remove any excess conditioner from the leather.
  4. Allow the leather watch strap to air-dry before reattaching it to the watch case.
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Using a conditioner might cause the leather band to turn a bit darker. To avoid any unexpected or unwanted results, you can apply a bit on a small section on the inside of the band to see what it will look like.

How to waterproof a leather watch strap

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:

  1. Make sure the watch band is clean.
  2. Apply the waterproof spray to both sides of the watch band.
  3. Wait for the leather to absorb the waterproof spray.
  4. Wipe down any excess spray with a clean microfiber cloth.
  5. 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.

Conclusion

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.

If you find this article useful, please share it or leave a comment. I love to hear your feedback and questions!

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