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  1. #1
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    Default Vintage leather/canvas preservation, items needing cleaning

    So, I've read over the years, actually a good long time ago, about the preservation of vintage leathers, the main focus of this post, and back then I sort of gave up "collecting" vintage leathers, I had a real mess going on once, a stinky, recurring mold, and dirty leathers I was too afraid or un-read on to clean. I didn't have a modern home unlike now that I could regulate the environment perfectly much past the use of dehumidifiers.
    Of course, I have on order like some years ago, some "pecards" antique leather dressing, and have vintage boots, slings, some spare items. Issue number one is I don't think I made a mistake cleaning some of these items, since from experience years ago, reading other posts, some people like myself would use a luke warm water and barely detergented that water, I now used a non perfumed/allergenic laundry soap. I did wash some leather items that way, including some WW2 boots that had too much dust and some dirt layered on, and I did wash three modern-ish Swiss backpacks with the rubberized top but leather slings and bottoms(did the same with a canvas topped swiss backpack I've used extensively) which had a musty smell I needed eliminated or at least knocked down mostly, and some musty smelling and grunged up surplus austrian ranger pair of boots.
    What I found some years ago is that I believe it is "okay" to do this as long as some of the "washing" is lite in nature and I apply pecards leather dressing afterwards, I've done this with modern work boots but applied hubbards boot grease or plain ole vaseline. Which brings along another "trick" I noted years ago from others, those who would apply Vaseline onto leather products claiming it had the lost oils and the waxes to hold it in. Dunno, seems the vaseline trick seems "okay" for a cheap pair of walmart work boots last month for me, I may apply it on one of my spair swiss backpacks, I mean, that pecards aint exactly cheap and I even ordered a 32 oz'er, it would be nice to know if vaseline was okay and safe for leathers, its cheap especially at the dollar store, it'll just be more risque' to buy in front of other people now that I won't be shopping with my ex-girlfriend, ha, you know how people are, they see you buying vaseline and yer single they think you are buying it for something down low or dirty, never mind if its great for chafing/sun or other burns/cheap work boots/military surplus, much less if yer shopping cart has three or more containers(that's an eyebrow raiser, ha!).
    WHAT DO YOU EXPERTS KNOW. I know I would have had alot more experience, but the recurring mold and stink from leather products was destroying everything else. I'll never forget the box of "collectible turkish leather products" that arrived once, ammo pouches/slings, even a couple bayo frogs, all stinky/moldy/mostly hardened and surely they were stored with horse tack or indeed soaked up 50 years of horse sweat. I learned back then what happens to old leather if too hot a water is applied to one product, also that trying to soften hardened(I mean like it was wetted then baked in the desert sun) leather. Instead of saving it for bringing in the living room in case of jehovah's witness or mormon visitors who were bugging to "help" me after they saw I was temporarily unable to do yard work, I decided to un-stink the whole home of everything "bad" and beyond my abilities to those who needed the experience. By the way, this should interest alot of the bayo collectors, cause as we all know, like for instance older bay scabbords like some I have are leather(sure hope my pecards antique leather dressing arrives soon).

    NOW, THE CANVAS ISSUE.... unsure what to rant on about other I have absolutely no idea or what to use to preserve vintage canvas, other than I've never had a whole lot of those items(but items are building up this year), though I've had some really bad dirty and moldy mosin nagant slings and oh yeah, I washed those canvas items lightly, and only some remolded back, did use some antibacterial dish liquid dish soap that seemed to keep some from not molding back(tried that trick with some cheapo yugo leather mauser slings, unsure if it was the cleaning or the antibacterial dish soap that maybe prevented re-mold, who knows, maybe the whole "anti-bacterial" thing is good). Anything too collectible I left alone, have some various collectible canvas items that are dirty sealed in vacuum pac bags, some dirty WW2 dated items till I figure out how to deal with them properly, maybe dirt and grime and mold is "collectible", in some ways it is, but if it gets into your new homes' walls/etc we're talking about loss of tens of thousands of dollars of home value here, not cool, and bad allergies run in the family especially as age progresses. Technically, I have a enfield No.4Mark1 in a dirty WW2 dated and England marked enfield canvas rifle carrier with other rifles like an idiot, just "asking for it" when it come to not wanting mold to get into the home catastrophically, but it may be mostly dirty, never washed, I got it cheap, and I was thinking about "using it", but it may be valuable, who knows, it is so hard to place value on some of these items.
    Last edited by AndGunsForAll; 08-08-2009 at 08:27 AM.

  2. #2

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    Canvas or web gear? If it is "collectible" or rare, don't wash it - under any circumstances. If it smells, take it outside on a sunny day or two (or three) and hang it on the clothesline and let it air out, that is all it needs. If it is common stuff like more recent gear, wash it if you must, but don't put it in the washing machine, you will tear it up, use a soft brush and a gentle, unscented soap and LOTS of water. When done, go back to the clothesline and hang it up to dry, again, do it on a sunny breezy day with low humidity.

    Leather? That's a little tougher. Do NOT use anything with petroleum products, that includes Pecards, so called mink oil and, most especially, DO NOT use Vaseline. These products will be fine on cheap work boots, user grade leather items and dry rotted Turkish slings but will kill your "collectible" leather items. If the leather item has mold or mildew, clean it with a good quality saddle soap, not the cheap hardware or discount store stuff. When clean, wipe it down well with white vinegar. Then lay it in a shady place outside, not in direct sunlight, or in a warm dry room inside, and allow it to dry until just slightly damp then wipe it down with PURE neatsfoot oil, a light coat, do not saturate it, more is not better, you do not want to drown the leather. Yes, pure neatsfoot oil is expensive but it is worth it, if you are looking for cheap, collect something that will not rot or mildew and stink up the house.

    And always remember, if you can collect the best quality items you can afford, you will want to do as little as possible, the best thing to do is nothing. Keep the leather and webbing gear in a clean dry room, with constant humidity and keep them out of direct sunlight. That will do more to preserve the leather than anything else. Maybe you can return the Pecards and get some good neatsfoot oil? Others will express other opinions....

  3. #3
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    Okay, pure neatsfoot oil, and high end saddle soap(not the grocery store el cheapo stuff), light vinegar...makes sense.

    Oh, I hear ya on the "cleaning/washing", I have not cleaned any valuable items per-se', not especially any canvas items of high value. Mainly anything that "stinks" and seems common. I did wash a very good pair of ww2 double buckle boots I got recently, they were dusty/dirty and worste of all they stank like cigar smoke, and there was some staining inside on the canvas upper liners each boot that was brownish, I swore it looked like dried blood which spooked me and drove me to try to wash them with latex gloves on just in case it was recent blooding, but upon getting it wet it turned out to be a cologne someone applied years ago and turned that color like dried blood.
    As for saddle soap, seems like I read somewhere it is almost as bad as mink oil for supposedly "softening" leather by breaking it down, unsure, been awhile since I read of it and looked at a can, but you are saying there is a higher end version of saddle soap, I'll have to investigate that, either at the local grange that sells horse tac, or with the local leather boot/saddle repairman specialist.
    I would never of course touch the luger or p38 holsters, one has mold even, that is "leather box" stuff, and supposed to be that way of course.
    Pecards Antique Leather Dressing not good? Not good at all? I am a little shocked, I mean, I thought that was the primo stuff to use, by experts and and museums alike? Of course, most people don't have 20-60 plus years to figure out what really worked all those years prior, of course I do know tht supposedly there is really nothing one can do about restoring leather, far as I know as the march of time occurs, there aint nothing to do but to try to make leathers last longer, by keeping out of sun rays, dirt/grime and humidity.
    Of course, when it comes to alot of my leather items, oils of some type were applied previously.
    I asked Pecards" company about my double buckle boots, they indicated it is "okay" to put their product on the "rough out" suede portion of the boots, but why wouldn't they try to make sale, ya know. Frankly, those boots are in danger of being worn by me every so often, not to work in of course, they don't make a repro pair of those boots in my peculiar shoe size except one size up, but that was the first vintage set of items I ever set out to acquire without it being part of a pistol/rifle rig setup.
    Neatsfoot oil huh? I'll have to investigate that. Petroleum products on leather, seems I did read something against the use of anything with petroleum products, I mean, I would try to use motor oil for instance.
    I do wished I never bought the WW2 double buckle boots, it was an accident bidding $150, as for other rare and expensive items, they came with the pistols and rifles I've collected over time, otherwise I wouldn't have valuable leathers, nor valuable canvas items.
    I tell ya, I'm pretty well spooked about this whole leather canvas thing, I get that "oh man I gotta do something/what am I gonna do" feeling everytime I get a vintage item over 50 years old.
    Last edited by AndGunsForAll; 08-09-2009 at 09:58 AM.

  4. #4

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    Quote Originally Posted by AndGunsForAll View Post

    Pecards Antique Leather Dressing not good? Not good at all? I am a little shocked, I mean, I thought that was the primo stuff to use, by experts and and museums alike? ...........
    I've heard that before, but under no circumstances do museums with qualified preservationists use Pecards, nor does Pecards make any such claim in any of their publicity. It does have petroleum distillates as an ingredient and will eventually cause deterioration. It is fine if you are concerned about user grade equipment but for rare or scarce items that should be preserved carefully, do not use it.

  5. #5
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    Lightbulb don't put in direct sunlight, or use vinegar

    :cool:if vinegar acid touches gun metal it can effect blue wet or dry.:eek:
    sun light fades breaks down fibers, no good for canvas.
    cleaning lightly is OK with Murphy's soap sparingly a little water for wood floors has worked at times for me, but may darken.
    all depending on how mush structural damage has already occurred?
    mold is ruff goes into all the cells deeply. and every problem of this type
    will react differently to fixes.
    i once put leather in to black plastic bag, after cleaning ready to dry, added rags "not touching"
    with camphor oil / alcohol/ ammonia/ (alcohol the green mix) on rags in the hot sun closed tight up for a few days.
    this gave the moldy smelling leather a cover smell cutting off oxygen to the remaining mold killing most of it for a while. :cool:
    i applied a little quality neat-foots oil :eek: i got years ago from a flea market by a horse farm. gallon 5 dollars un opened.:D
    apply only enough to coat surface lightly to one color kills/ locks in some of the camphor smell too.
    if the stuffs old, anyway damaged, a little will not hurt or will it save a basket case. but if you soak it it turns to mush stretches, breaks.:eek:

    canvas my absorb the camphor small too, but????? not my forte.

    but if you store them back from which they came it can happen again and again.
    I'm no expert and bad leather storage is unforgiving most of the time. <><DK
    Last edited by DK PHILLIPS; 08-09-2009 at 09:14 PM.

  6. #6
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    You may want to watch keeping the rifles in a canvas carrier as well. I used to keep one of those canvas muzzle covers on my M1 since I had it laying around, and found that it had surface rusted the canvas pattern onto the gas tube. I caught it in time to wipe it off with oil, but just a word of caution.

    On another note, what level of humidity is ideal for these things? I am building my war room soon, and it will have a dehumidifier in it, and will be as climate controlled as possible. I just want to know what to shoot for.

  7. #7

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    Between 40% and 60%, 40% is a little on the low side for leather. Try to keep a steady temperature as well, especially if your dehumidifier is running a lot.

  8. #8
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    :eek: As I recall neatsfoot oil IS PETROLEUM based. As is "Mink Oil". Waiting for replies.

  9. #9
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    Sounds like I'm doing OK now, have some of my things in the basement, and from what you are saying, I'm right on.

  10. #10
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    That pecards antique leather dressing may be great for my work boots, and I have a quantity of surplus boots that I just started using for working in, especially yard work, especially the frenchie double buckle ww2 like boots, very confortable and in good shape for 1955-1956 made(all the dates I can see on five pair), seems they stored these boots with visible "white wax" applied, and they are "waxy", just to let you know, almost as if "wax" is a primo way of storing leather for the long term, it seemed to have worked with these boots. I will experiment with those, and my el cheapo swiss backpacks that value at bout $7.50 apiece.

    When they say some leathers were originally "oil tanned", I kind of wonder what oil they were talking about, petroleum or organic? If anyone is learn-ed on the in and outs of leather production, maybe that would be the holy grail to understanding what leathers really need.
    But of course, I do have some valuable things, pistol "rigs"(the holsters, the few I do own) that stay in darkness, I don't like touching them, and touching them is the key here, cause on alot of my vintage items, and things I have personally owned, I have noticed that where one touches bare handed that it endangers the leather to mold, fungis, and I am sure of deterioration from the looks of it over many decades, maybe less), so I canvas glove touch those items. Have a couple of "fingerprints" on those so called "mint condition" m1943 double buckle boots, where someone pressed in thumbs to pull them on there are little round surface deteriorated spots, which comes to my next point, over the years I don't believe in so called "mint condition" selling words.
    Now on those boots, they were sealed up somewhere out of light for 70 years and the leather bottoms are like new, well especially since I lightly washed those with unscented light detergent water, I lightly washed them of I believe original dirt, and post war cigar smoke stink, I didn't think they were worth utilizing a fancy product to clean them nor even after learning what to use, though I paid bout $160 shipped, though I suppose if they had been ultra rare and ultra valuable, I'd be talking right now how dirty/dusty/cigar smoke stinky they are and stored away out of view, ya know, I aint stupid.
    This whole leather thing, it is frustrating, I wouldn't want to "speculate" on collectible items, frankly I plan on staying away from leather items as much as possible.
    Oh, come to find out I had already removed my enfield from the 1942 dated England stamped carrier. The carrier is dirty, heavy British canvas, and some use damage to a few spots, that I would of course rate an item that should not be cleaned. It is what it is, maybe a collector of the future will be glad to get it, dirty, I have it vacuum packed and stored away.
    Last edited by AndGunsForAll; 08-10-2009 at 03:17 AM.

  11. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by AndGunsForAll975474
    .................................................. .....................seems they stored these boots with visible "white wax" applied, and they are "waxy", just to let you know, almost as if "wax" is a primo way of storing leather for the long term, it seemed to have worked with these boots. I will experiment with those, and my el cheapo swiss backpacks that value at bout $7.50 apiece.
    The white wax is not wax, it is lard.

  12. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by AndGunsForAll View Post
    .................................

    When they say some leathers were originally "oil tanned", I kind of wonder what oil they were talking about, petroleum or organic? If anyone is learn-ed on the in and outs of leather production, maybe that would be the holy grail to understanding what leathers really need.
    Oils used in oil tanning are animal or fish based, not petroleum based.

  13. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by Charlie View Post
    :eek: As I recall neatsfoot oil IS PETROLEUM based. As is "Mink Oil". Waiting for replies.
    PURE Neatsfoot oil is animal based, rendered from the shin bones and feet of cattle. Incidentally, "neat" is the Old English word for cow. What you are thinking of is Neatsfoot Oil Compound which is pure neatsfoot oil cut with mineral oils and other petroleum based products like kerosene - VERY bad for leather that is being preserved. It is cheaper than pure neatsfoot oil and is fine for user grade items like work boots and other leather items that will be used up and thrown away. Cheap work boots from Walmart come to mind.....

  14. #14
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    Well HELL! I have "soaked" all my leather collectibles in Pecards :eek:. Any suggestions . Gotta love these little "guys" :D
    (MISTAKE) A TOOL USED IN BUILDING KNOWLEDGE

  15. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by SONOFAGUN View Post
    Well HELL! I have "soaked" all my leather collectibles in Pecards :eek:. Any suggestions . Gotta love these little "guys" :D
    I don't know..... Live with it? :D (Yeah, they are fun.)

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by TP View Post
    The white wax is not wax, it is lard.
    Lard huh?
    On this saddle soap, any brand recommendations, or saddle soap that has been found to not contain petroleum based products? Man, it kind of angers me to think of that Pecards Antique Leather Lotion coming, all filled with petroleum based products, it would cost more to send back of course, $35 shipped for 32oz's, I found that pure neatsfoot oil is like cheaper or comparable if I had to buy it online.
    I remember some time ago folks were engaging in discussion why most surplus Turk leather items stank so bad, thinking they had been soaked in some sort of animal product to preserve them(of course it didn't work).

    Of course I doubt lard could be better than pure neatsfoot oil but did read that pure neatsfoot oil is sometimes gleaned from some sort of lard, besides, don't think I'd be wanting to lard up leather goods round my neck of the woods, flies are horrendous this year.
    It would be interesting to experiment with some cheapo leather items with pure lard, then some with some pure fish oil, lock em up in a can or vacuum pac them, dunno, I mean there is so much to learn, but KNOWING WHAT NOT TO DO to valuable leather is the layman's best defense to not screwing up good leather products.

    As far as someone who has leather products that already have a petroleum based oil previously applied, I'm rapidly joining the club, now that I am enlightened, I don't even want any petroleum based product on the cheapest of work boots, best I and anyone else can do is use some pure saddle soap to cleans them thoroughly, then preserve them right without, ha, pecards.

    I did do a wikipedia search of neatsfoot oil, there is pure neatsfoot and mixed petroleum "neatsfoot compound"(staying away from compound of course). It seems that neatsfoot oil is preferred for horse tac leather care, seems pretty much exclusively.'

    AS far as my el-cheapo rubberized nylon top and leather bottom Swiss rucksacks, well after restitching by hand all across the front area of the leather bottom and front pocket bottoms, SEWN BACK BY HAND FOR HOURS, with real Swiss thread since the threads were worn away from lots of use, there is no way I am putting a petroleum based product on them, too bad I defiled them slightly with light detergented water. AH, HAND STITCHING OR REPAIRING OF LEATHER PRODUCTS IS LIKELY EITHER A CONTINUATION OF THIS THREAD OR THE GENESIS OF ANOTHER. Now, I have a small theory, I do have around the home an old working treadle sewing machine, I almost suspect I could use it to sew leathers since it may be very strong, too bad I don't have any machine sewing experience past junior high home ec classes bout 30 years ago, ha, that aint gonna help! But I did know machinery, and got that ole sewing machine mechanism unstuck, its probably only little over 100 years old or less with late 1800's patent dates on it, aint worth much, but everythings there for use, bobbins, the other thingies, but really I am sure the best way to restitch items is by hand, using some sort of machine would be for making brand new items it seems, or close copies of some things. All I do know about restitching are there are hand restitchers I don't have, with a wooden handle, I am sure others here have those or have seen them, for restitching items I always do it by hand, needle/thread and cord, and thimble for pushing through, and a pair of small needle nose pliers to sometimes pull a needle through.

    Now, all you folks on farms with horses and saddles, you all likely already know all this stuff, unless you pay someone to do yer maintanence, I can't believe how ignorant I was, probably still am.
    Last edited by AndGunsForAll; 08-11-2009 at 08:41 AM.

  17. #17
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    I did purchase some supposed quality saddle soap and "pure neatsfoot oil" today, used the saddle soap to scrub the heck out fo those oiled "supposed mint" WW2 boots, poor boots gone through two cleanings, and used vinegar on the old cologne applied to the canvas inner upper liner to kill the smell. Anyway, then I notice the supposed quality saddle soap in fine print, sort of, has a clean and shine formula, likely wax is in it, and not for suede or rough out leather, ah, too late, this is so frustrating. At this point I care less, it doesn't say anything about petroleum distillates, like pecards that arrived today does, that "Feibings" is probably okay, there were several to choose from at a local grange store that sells horse tac equipment. Bought some HHP pure neatsfoot oil no problem at all, was $10.50 per quart, one can order these things online for a slight bit less come to find out, even from Amazon.com, no kidding.

  18. #18
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    Jest a quick follow up for all my fellow laymans out there, that neatsfoot oil can soften really hardened leather, like leather shoulder straps on my really worn/used 1968 salt and pepper canvas/leather swiss rucksack, for only being just slightly younger than myself those straps were hardened up on the bends, but now softened up, leather strapping was in bad shape when I bought it, put lots of neatsfoot oil on those, they seem okay now, some swiss soldier must have been regular swiss army instead of reserve.

    Anyway, I was looking over the literature for Pecards Antique leather dressing I had bought before I received advice here, but won't use except on work boots, that it indeed does claim to be used by, quote "museums and collectors everywhere...the gold standard for antique leather conservation", end quote. But like I said, the container says it contains petroleum distillates, as a poison warning for not ingesting. And by the way, vinegar did really kill off most of the former cologne odor applied to the canvas upper liners for sure, would do that like advised for mold or musty smells too likely.
    I'm 50/50 on the Pecards(might use it on low grade militaria as a test, especially user items like swiss backpacks or surplus boots, IF I just don't sell it off un-used to someone who doesn't care), its likely just great for most I'd collect cause nothing I have will likely ever make it to a museum in a hundred years, that includes rare holsters due to political correctness that will be worse, but I already white glove touched those and gave them a lite rubbing across of neatsfoot oil, will I suppose once per year. I would conclude the petrol distillates in pecards are for dissolving the waxes, and likely mostly evaporates, probably akin to kerosene. The main thing is it is a "foolproof" substance, some folk, like myself, kind of failed to heed the warnings of "more is not better" when it comes to neatsfoot oil, seems some of the hard stuff I kind of soaked good, several times, dunno, likely didn't matter, but some folk could really tear apart leather if they soaked too much, I really worked over my WW2 double buckle boots with neatsfoot after I washed them a second time, but with saddle soap, I figured uh-oh, really dry, had that darned petroleum oils still in them, and now really dry of natural oils, well, not now, am wearing them as I type.
    Last edited by AndGunsForAll; 08-15-2009 at 06:30 AM.

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