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You just pulled your beloved motorcycle leathers out of storage only to find out they’re full of mold, which terrifies you. What do you do? Well, you ask a Clean Person!

Here’s the latest gross scenario:

I’m somewhat terrified of mold. Probably irrationally so.

Now, once upon a time I raced and rode motorcycles. Then I moved to LA and (surprise!) my motorcycle got stolen out of my carport. It had a gate. I was naive. The bike was rare and expensive. Whatever. Lesson learned.

At any rate, us “serious” types of road riders/racers wear leather to protect our skin and other refinements. Not like Harley Davidson chaps leather but thick, heavy, fabric lined garments with lots of padding and armor sewn in. This isn’t like your super soft and supple thin lambskin, Italian-made jacket you wear out on the town either. These suits and jackets and pants are exposed to rain, tar, road grime, splattered bugs and all sorts of other things you would NOT want on your fancy lambskin jacket.

So my bike gets stolen and space is limited in my apartment and the leathers go in a giant duffel bag, inside of a sealed cardboard box, in a storage unit that is inside my covered and gated carport that no longer houses a motorcycle. I live about a half mile from the ocean. Inside the storage unit my leathers sit for … 6 years? A long time. Too long it turns out.

I open the box the other day, pull out the duffel bag, open it up and my gloves, jackets, pants, everything is covered in white chalky powder. I’m like, for the love of God, WTF!?! As I cautiously dig through the items I also notice white spots. Big ones, little ones. Everywhere. It’s mold or mildew or both or worse? So I google. I’m not the first to experience this apparently. But like all things on the internet, advice runs rampant. So I turn to you for help, dear Jolie.

I’m about to run to the nearest Home Depot, buy some latex gloves, a respirator, goggles, a Tyvek suit, shoe covers, and do ... something? I just don’t know what. Maybe my shopping list is irrational too? But the thought of this mold, which may or may not be limited to the outer parts of the garments, rubbing up against my bare skin is horrifying. Truly. I was too frightened to open up the garments and fully inspect them until my (hopefully possibly unnecessary?) Home Depot trip.

Help Jolie, how do I save my leathers and not die of a weird and as of yet unheard of fungal infection?

That you would hope a trip to the Home Depot is unnecessary is much harder for me to understand than your irrational fear of mold, if I’m being really honest! I mean, people are afraid of all sorts of things—me? Oh, just pigeons and human statuary—and mold is, you know, toxic, so it’s not super weird to fear it.

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So look, given your totally understandable fear of mold coupled with the value of those leathers, I think your best bet here is to send them out to be professionally cleaned.

You’ll want to find a specialty cleaner to do the job; in LA that shouldn’t be too tricky—Racked has a guide to LA’s best fixers that includes a number of leather specialists. (Relatedly/disclosure-y, I wrote the NYC version!) In other cities, use Yelp or Google to identify similar such businesses.

Okay good luck out there, The End! Haha, just kidding, I’m obviously still going to tell you how to do the job yourself.

What You’ll Need for the Job

The process is quite simple, but there are specific tools and products you need for the job. They are:

  • Disposable or household gloves
  • White vinegar
  • Water
  • Two medium-sized bowls
  • A soft-bristled brush
  • Soft cloths (and old t-shirt will work nicely)
  • Leather conditioner

You should also wear an N95 mask, eye protection and launderable clothing to provide coverage for your skin (wash the work clothes, as well as the tools you used for this job, as soon after completing the project as possible, using hot water) because: Mold! Don’t breathe that stuff in. Also: Perform this job outdoors if at all possible.

How to Remove Mold from Leather

Leather is porous, but its porosity varies depending on how it’s been treated. I suspect that, because the leathers in question have been treated so that they can withstand rain, tar, road grime, splattered bugs, etc. they’re on the less porous end of things, which is good, because you’re going to use white vinegar to nuke that mold. Why is that good, given the white vinegar thing? Well, because while vinegar can certainly kill mold, it’s not the strongest solution out there, and the more porous the leather, the more difficult it will be to fully eliminate the mold.

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But white vinegar is safe to use on leather, and here we need to balance what will remove the mold without damaging the material that’s gone moldy. So! White vinegar it is. Rubbing alcohol is also an acceptable choice. It’s also worth noting that you should do a spot test on an inconspicuous portion of the garment to ensure that the cleaning solution won’t cause damage.

The process is actually pretty straightforward, once you’ve got all your supplies together and have suited up in your long sleeves and pants, gloves, mask and eye protection so that you don’t turn into a sniffling, wheezing, rash-y wreck.

Here’s what you’ll do:

  1. Start by brushing away the mold spores using a soft-bristled brush that’s safe on leather. Horsehair brushes are great, but synthetic bristles are okay too. A soft cloth can also be used to brush away spores.
  2. Fill a bowl about a third to halfway up with white vinegar, dip a clean cloth in it and, working in sections, wipe the leather.
  3. Fill the other bowl with water and repeat the wiping process using just water, and a clean cloth.
  4. Optional but recommended: Post-cleaning, leave the leathers outside in the sunshine for a few hours. The sun’s UV rays will kill lingering mold spores.
  5. Give the suit a good going over with leather conditioner and a soft cloth to restore moisture and nourish the hide.

There you have it! Not an overly complicated process, and honestly the most involved part of the whole operation is the donning of all that protective gear. It’s also worth reiterating that outsourcing the job is entirely acceptable.

Before I leave you, I have a question for you fine people: What is your favorite leather conditioner? I use Cadillac, which I quite like, but I’m always keen to hear what other people are using and loving, please and thank you.

Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist. She’ll be here once a month to answer your filthiest questions. Is your car dirty? Email her.