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Proper care will extend the life of your garments

| Friday, Feb. 18, 2005

During the winter, take special care of the skin -- including the kind you wear over your own.

Garments and shoes made of leather and its many types -- including suede and nubuck -- require special care and cleaning year-round. Preventive maintenance is especially important during the colder months, when salt and slush wreaks havoc on wearables made of animal hide.

"Salt will deteriorate leather over a period of time," says Ron Schott, who repairs and cleans footwear at Frank's Shoes in Whitehall. "People don't put the effort into it."

White marks from road salt create an unsightly nuisance on shoes, says Jenn Golling of the South Side.

"Even if you clean it off, it still leaves a shadow of a stain; it's just horrible," says Golling, 27, who sometimes sprays her leather shoes with a protectant but often forgets. "When you're scraping ice off your car, it's something you don't think about."

Perhaps some people neglect proper leather maintenance because of worry about damaging their clothes in the cleaning process -- a legitimate concern, says Chris Mollica, vice president and secretary of M.M. Shoes and Leather Goods Inc. in Greensburg, Westmoreland County.

Products made specifically for leather must be used, and sometimes amateur hands can't do the job right even with the right material, says Dave Rosenblatt, owner of Green Valley Dry Cleaners in North Huntingdon.

Rosenblatt recommends paying about $25 to $50 for a professional cleaning at least once a year for treasured leather garments, such as long coats. Some people operate on a four- to five-year cleaning interval, which can dry out leather. The cleaning process puts oil back in the material.

"You've got to take care of the goods; they're expensive," Rosenblatt says. "If you don't take care of them, they don't last as long as they should."

Leather clothing and shoes might be high-maintenance when cared for properly, but good news to people who may have been lax: With the exception of delicate suede, hide is tough stuff.

"Leather is a very durable material," says Corrine Colberg, manager of Coach in Shadyside. "It takes quite a bit to destroy a material."

Leather tips

For prettier and longer-lasting leather apparel, consider these professional tips from the New York-based Leather Apparel Association.

  • Always hang leather garments on wide or padded hangers to maintain their shape. Likewise, put shoetrees in footwear and stuff handbags with tissue to maintain shape.

  • Never store leather in plastic or other non-breathable covers: this will make it dry out.

  • Allow wet or damp leather to air-dry naturally, away from any heat source.

  • Avoid very humid or dry environments, as well as direct sunlight.

  • Wrinkles should hang out. If you feel you must iron, set iron on rayon setting and use heavy brown wrapping paper as a pressing cloth. Iron quickly to prevent overheating and shine.

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