Patent Leather

By Avery Taylor

An Expert’s Guide to Wearing and Caring For Patent Leather

Here at Mikoleon, we are fans of all kinds of well-made leather goods! Today we want to talk about patent leather, a gorgeous material known for its glamorous mirror-like shine and surprisingly easy care. Patent leather is the perfect option for adding a bit of extravagance to any ensemble. We commonly see patent leather in men’s tuxedo shoes, women’s heels, statement boots, ballet flats, trench coats, handbags, wallets, belts, and even wrestling shoes!  

Patent leather is famous for its distinctive look and depending on the quality, it can sometimes be quite an investment. But no worries! We’re here to give you a complete rundown on patent leather: the history of patent leather, the difference between the two types of patent leather, and how exactly to clean and care for your prized patent leather items to maintain their shine and quality.

Mary Janes Classic Strap Patent Leather

Mary Janes Classic Strap Patent Leather


So what is patent leather? Is it real leather? Is it vinyl? How is patent leather made? 

The invention of patent leather actually dates all the way back to 1793 in England, but it wasn’t until 1818 when Seth Boyden began to experiment with the idea of using patent leather to make dressy work boots and other leather goods that didn’t lose their luster after use and wear. Boyden created a process of coating a piece of leather in a varnish made of linseed oil, ground pumice stone, and turpentine that resulted in a durable and waterproof high-gloss sheen. Patent leather shoes and goods quickly became a popular option to complement formal attire, and the rest is history! For over 200 years, patent leather has been a fashion staple of every era.

Mary Janes Classic Strap Patent Leather [Children's Leather Shoes]

Mary Janes Classic Strap Patent Leather 

Different Types of Patent Leather

Did you know that there are two very different types of patent leather? We want to share the secret so that you’ll be able to identify the difference and make sure the price tag adds up with the quality you’re getting.

Full-Grain Patent Leather

If you’re familiar with our products, then you’re familiar with full-grain leather. (We did a post about the process of sourcing and treating our sustainable full-grain leather here if you want to find out exactly how we consciously craft our full-grain leather goods!) For full-grain patent leather, the high-gloss finish that patent leather is famous for is added to a piece of real, natural animal hide as a final step after the tanning process is completed. 

After tanning, there is an extra step called “finishing,” which transforms the leather into the iconic patent leather look by adding a thin coating of polyurethane or acrylic – not the original linseed oil, turpentine, and pumice stone mixture that Seth Boyden invented in 1818! In the past, the finishing coat was performed by spraying on the polyurethane/acrylic layer, but because of air pollution concerns, contemporary finishing coats are now applied in a machine known as a flow coater. In the flow coater, the leather item passes under a liquid waterfall of the finishing material on a conveyor belt and then is sealed in a drying tunnel using ultraviolet or infrared light. A patent leather item will go through the flow coater and drying tunnel three or four times to add layers of colored dye and a final clear topcoat of the renowned glossy shine. What’s the final product? A gorgeous, high-quality full-grain leather product with an extra durable outer layer that’s perfect for both formal occasions and rain puddles! 

Faux Patent Leather

Though full-grain patent leather exists, faux (or fake) patent leather has unfortunately become much more common than full-grain patent leather due to the low cost of production, and subsequently the lower cost for the consumer. Faux patent leather, which is sometimes called vinyl leather, is made by applying a vinyl/plastic coating to strong polyester fibers to create the look and feel of real patent leather.


So why bother with full-grain patent leather if faux patent leather looks the same and costs much less? The three main differences are sustainability, durability, and overall feel. Since faux patent leather is made synthetically, there is typically much more waste created when the products are being made. Full-grain patent leather uses organic materials with a synthetic finishing coat, which generates a lower waste profile and less toxic pollution. Moreover, though both kinds of patent leather are waterproof and easy to care for, full-grain patent leather can last years longer, due to the higher quality inner core of real animal hide. Finally, full-grain patent leather also offers a smoother and more flexible feeling on the foot than that of faux patent leather.

Chelsea Hawks Boots Patent Leather [Children's Leather Boots]

Chelsea Hawks Boots Patent Leather [Children's Leather Boots]

Chelsea Hawks Boots Patent Leather

How to Clean Patent Leather

Both full-grain and faux patent leather goods are surprisingly easy to clean, so we whipped up a fool-proof guide to keeping your favorite patent leather items looking their best!

Step 1: Use a soft-bristled brush dust off your item and remove dirt that might’ve built up in the creases and seams.

Step 2: With patent leather, a bit of soap and warm water goes a long way! Take a soft washcloth and gradually add small amounts of mild soap and water. Don’t submerge your item or get it soaking wet, simply add enough water to softly buff away any dust or cloudiness that might be dulling the shine of the patent leather. 

Step 3: If there are scuffs left after washing your item with soap and water, dip a microfiber cloth into a couple drops of olive oil or a dab of unscented petroleum jelly (like Vaseline) and gently rub it into the scuffed area. Let the item sit for ten or fifteen minutes and then simply wipe the oil/jelly away and the scuffs should be completely gone!

Step 4: Though patent leather is naturally stain-resistant, it’s still possible to get a tricky stain once in a while. If there are any stains left after treating your leather item with soap and water, use a small amount of rubbing alcohol on a soft cloth in smooth circular motions to erase any leftover stains. 

Step 5: Grab a polishing cloth and dry your item immediately after cleaning and let your item sit for 24 hours to ensure that it has dried completely.

Step 6: After drying, apply a good leather conditioner to maintain that iconic patent leather shine.

Mary Janes Classic Strap Patent Leather

Mary Janes Classic Strap Patent Leather


How to Get a Wrinkle Out of Patent Leather 

If your patent leather item gets a wrinkle or crease, don’t fret! Follow our instructions and your item will be looking like new in no time!

Step 1: Turn on your iron and let it sit.

Step 2: Once your iron is hot, unplug it and let it cool down for about 10 minutes, until the point that it’s only warm to the touch.

Step 3: Put an ordinary brown paper bag (a grocery bag works great) on top of the wrinkle and gently guide the iron over the bag on top of the wrinkled spot. Don’t let the iron sit in one spot for more than a second – keep it in constant motion to loosen the wrinkles and create a smooth surface.

There you have it: our expert’s guide to everything you need to know about patent leather! 


Mary Janes Classic Strap Patent Leather [Children's Leather Shoes]

 Chelsea Hawks Boots Mocca