Leather holsters are an old-time favorite for gun owners. Leather products are beautiful and durable, and provide a comfortable holster and a neat fit on your gun belt. They are favorited by shooters because they tend to be more comfortable than synthetic holsters. However, with the quality comes some maintenance. Leather holster care is very easy to maintain so there’s no reasons your firearm should be resting in a cracked holster.
Holster leather is exposed to many factors that can wear it down and dirty it over time. That’s why holster maintenance is so important. Especially if you are a constant carrier, your leather will get dirty and will be exposed to sun, rain, snow, you name it. All these things can ruin your leather goods faster than you might think; leather care is important to preserve the functionality of your leather item.
When Should I Clean My Holster?
Just like everything else you own, your clothes, your counters, and even your handgun, your holster needs to be cleaned periodically too. If anything, your holster is essentially just another clothing item. Especially when you concealed carry, your holster is constantly being worn and is exposed to your body and other conditions that can get it all gunked up over time. An IWB holster is more prone to getting smelly because it soaks up a lot of your sweat and other grime that might get rubbed off your skin. If anything, you’ll want to clean your holster to keep it sanitary too.
Just think of it this way. You have to clean your gun to make sure it functions well, right? You wouldn’t want to put your shiny, newly cleaned gun into a dirty holster, would you?
Here’s the good news. You don’t have to clean your holster every day like you brush your teeth. Typically, it’s best to clean it every 2 weeks or so, just to keep it in generally good conditions. Once a month, you should disassemble the holster and go over it with some oils and leather conditioner to keep it in top shape.
First, we’ll talk about general cleaning. General cleaning is something you should do every 2 weeks to keep your holster clean and sanitary. Doing a quick wipe down will ensure that your leather product will be less prone to wear and tear in the future. This is especially important if you have an old leather holster; older products are typically more worn down already, so it’s important to keep up on maintenance to preserve its life as long as possible.
For this type of cleaning, using a soft cloth with some warm water to clean it. This will generally suffice. If you want to clean deeper or there’s some tough grease that won’t seem to come out, you can use glycerin soap to give it a good shine. Glycerin soap, also known as saddle soap, is specially formulated to be a leather cleaner and will leave your holster with a smooth and shiny finish.
Saddle soap is for general leather so it can also serve as a cleaner for leather boots, a leather belt, and a leather sheath. While leather friendly, it’s pretty concentrated since it’s pure glycerin soap, and should be used accordingly. A small amount will do wonders for your holster.
Now, it’s pretty common for people to ask if you can use vinegar to clean your leather goods. Unfortunately, while it is a great cleaning liquid, it can dry out your leather holster and leave it cracked or even ruined. So it’s best to stay away from vinegar when it comes to any type of leather item.
To use the soap, gently rub it into the leather holster with a soft cloth. Once you’ve covered the whole thing, set the holster aside until it’s completely dry.
If you’re just doing a general cleaning, then that’s all you’ll have to do for now. You can go back to using your holster just like normal. If you’re wanting to do a deep clean, let’s talk about the steps to take for that.
Deep cleaning leather involves much more than just using glycerin soap. It also involves leather maintenance and conditioner, and even care for the kydex parts of your holster. While you might have a 100% leather holster, a lot of more modern holsters come with edges or spots that might be reinforced with kydex for extra strength and durability. Kydex is no different; it should be taken care of with the same attention as the leather.
Once your leather has been cleaned with saddle soap and dried, you’ll want to grab some leather conditioner. Make sure your product is formulated specifically for holsters; too much conditioner or products that aren’t right can soften the holster too much and it will lose it’s functionality.
Your leather conditioner will be some type of oil. Neatsfoot oil, mink oil, and olive oil are some good choices if you don’t have an actual leather care product on hand. However, just remember: use them sparingly. Too much oil will soften and ruin your holster. A lot of leather holsters are actually shipped with a small bottle of leather conditioner or oil that will last you the entire time that you use your holster.
This is the important part. You should ONLY apply the oil to the gun side of your holster. That part of the leather is the section that takes the most wear and tear and is the only side that will be needing oil treatment. The outer part of the leather holster is already constantly being conditioned by the natural oil from your skin; applying oil to this part can make it too soft. If you don’t have an IWB holster and feel that the outside of your leather is becoming brittle or dry, that’s when you can apply a small amount of the oil to it.
I can’t stress this enough. A small amount will go a long way. Massage the small amount of oil into your holster where it needs it and give it some time to soak in.
Now, if your holster has any kydex components, those are pretty low maintenance. Just take a damp cloth and give the kydex material a good solid wipe down; that’s all you’ll need to do.
Besides that, just do a general examination of your holster. Most holsters have some sort of metal parts or clips, just like your belt, that should be checked for rust or other forms of wear.
You’re done! For deep cleaning your holster, you only need to do it about once a month. That includes cleaning, conditioning, and checking the other parts for rust or dirt.
Let’s go over some products that are well known for their quality and reliability.
A favorite of a lot of leather holster owners is Renaissance Wax. Renaissance Wax is a leather conditioner that is made to be more of a protectant. You can apply to wax to your leather holster or any other leather goods you have and it will form a protective film over the surface of your leather, preserving the shine and the functionality.
Leather Lightning is another good product to know about. This leather conditioner is geared more towards breaking in a new holster. You can apply the Leather Lightning to the inside of your leather holster where you will draw your weapon from. This will allow a smoother draw and will also help speed up the breaking in of your leather holster. The Leather Lightning itself is not going to magically break in the holster though. It’s just an aid when it comes to doing what you normally do to break it in.
If you’re still struggling to break your holster in and get the perfect fit, there’s also another trick you can try. Usually most leather holsters come with a custom fit to your firearm. More times than not, it will fit but it will be tight and hard to draw and replace. To fix that, just wrap your firearm in a plastic bag and place it back into your holster. This will mold the leather fibers around your gun, keeping the fit but also stretching the leather fibers, leaving just enough room for you to draw your weapon with no issues.
Another good brand of leather conditioner is the Lexol Leather Conditioner. This brand is well known for all sorts of leather products and is good for use on all of them. Whether that’s a belt, a knife sheath, or your leather holster, this product has many uses. Just like the others, apply the Lexol Leather Conditioner to the inside (and outside if needed) of your gun holster.
Brian Belko is a freelance writer and blogger. His primary areas of focus include the outdoors and shooting sports. In addition to his freelance work, Brian also writes for Wide Open Spaces and is on the Pro Staff at Military Hunting and Fishing. When he isn’t busy writing, Brian enjoys fishing farm ponds for bass and hitting the spring woods during turkey season.