Leather care is often on everyone's mind when they are buying new leather goods. It would make sense to protect that new investment.
Leather Care #1: Philosophy
This may be the only blog ever that doesn't start leather care with cleaning or protecting. After all, a new leather handbag is like a new car. However, these two thoughts diverge slightly because people like the aged, broken in look of leather more than they like a care with a few dents. In all honesty, leather is a bit more like a new pair of jeans. Sure, you want to keep them as nice as possible for as long as possible. However, at some point, the character of your jeans sort of become the jeans. Therefore, it's best to figure out your leather care philosophy so that you can continue to view this in the proper perspective.
Leather Care #2: Cleaning
The first rule of cleaning is to do no harm. But, if you've adopted the philosophy that the character of leather adds to its appeal, then there is little harm that you can do. I always start dry. Take a soft brush and lightly remove dirt. If that doesn't work, start mild and work your way up: water, water and a little dish soap, and then on to commercial products like Fiebings or Lexol saddle soaps. Make sure to follow all directions, spot check, and make sure that you are using soap on the type of leather for which it was designed.
The problem with soap, more so than water, is that soaps are made to break up oil. When oil is broken up, either in your cast-iron skillet or your new leather bag, it is more easily removed. No soap treatment should go without a conditioning treatment.
Leather Care #3: Conditioning
For leather, conditioning and protection are really important. Leather needs its tannin and oil to keep it from rotting and drying out. There are all sorts of conditions, dressings, and protectors out there. Basically, anything with an oil is a type of conditioner or dressing. Anything with a wax is a protector or finish. I stay away from anything with a dye.
The oil WILL darken leather. But again, with the right philosophy, this should be fine in most cases. Try not to over-saturate, as almost all oils, as an organic product, can promote the growth of bacteria and fungi. Personally, I like Montana Pitch Blend. This has three things that work for me. The first is mink oil. This adds a suppleness back into even some pretty brittle leather. The second is that the pitch acts sort of like a tannin. The third is just enough wax to add a little protection but not build up a huge layer of wax that would need to be stripped away. You still want the leather to breathe.