Periodic care will ensure that your exotic leather accessories will serve you well for many years and be a source of pride every day. Nature gave reptiles and other primitive species like stingrays, armor-like skins as a primary defense against predators and as an extremely moisture tolerant barrier from their aquatic environments. Compared to cow and other mammals with relatively soft skins (and hair; you don't want a hairy belt or wallet?), the exotic leathers offer significant practical advantages in addition to their beautiful textures, colors and finishes. While a top quality cow leather wallet may serve you for 2 years or so, a premium quality exotic leather wallets should serve you well for at least 5 or 6 years.
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The best way to care for an exotic leather accessory is to simply keep it clean and dry. Do not (repeat; do NOT) use cleaning or conditioning products designed for cow leather; such products will damage most exotic leathers.
Ideally, you should clean your alligator, crocodile or other exotic leather accessory every few months with a clean damp cloth or with a cleaner specifically intended for such exotic leathers. After a cleaning, it is very important to condition the leather to replace the lost emollients and to moisturize and reseal the leather. A great natural product to condition, moisturize and reseal exotic leather is beeswax. A light coating of extra fine beeswax, gently rubbed into the leather and then lightly buffed off, is all that is required to preserve and protect the skin. Some of these beeswax products may include carnuba wax. Several sellers on eBay offer such products, or you can search google for "beeswax leather care".
Reptile skins are fundamentally different and more complex than cow leather, in that a reptile's scales are held together with membranes. While the scales are relatively rigid and armor-like, it is the membranes that allow for the flexibility. It is important to properly moisturize and re-seal these membranes; with proper care your exotic leather can remain flexible and look great for a decade or more.
Note: it is strongly recommended that you test any cleaning or conditioning product on a small inconspicuous area to test for discoloration, before you proceed in using the product.
Quality of Skins and Tanning Procedures is Important
As discussed in our other guide "Alligator & Crocodile Buyers Guide", the underlying quality of the skins is critically important to the look, feel and durability of your exotic leather accessory.
Unfortunately, most of the alligator and crocodile items sold on eBay have overly dry skins(to the point of permanent damage). While these items can look good in photos, the tanning processes in Central and South America leave the skins very dry and prone to cracking. Once the skins become this dry, it is difficult to even partially remoisturize them.
Some of the products from Asia share this problem, but to a much lesser extent.
The only way to know if the skin is flexible and supple, is to hold it and manipulate it in your hands. So, unless the seller of the item has a reasonable return/refund policy, do NOT buy it.
Repairing Damaged Skins
Most good quality exotic leather skins can take a great deal of abuse before they become truly damaged. Beyond scratches and cuts to the external surface, damaged skins can become very dry and stiff. Depending upon the level of damage, some TLC with careful moisturizing and resealing (as noted above) can often fully restore exotic leather.
For extreme cases, drastic steps can rescue damaged leather, however the risk is significant discoloration. If the item is already black or dark brown the level of discoloration is limited; lighter colored skins can become very dark (sometimes almost black). Using neatsfoot oil (or if you cannot find neatsfoot oil, use mineral oil or unscented baby oil), carefully rub a very thin, even layer of oil on your hands before you touch the exotic leather item. Then evenly rub the oil into the leather item. Keep a towel handy to periodically dry off any excess oil. Wait a few minutes before reapplying oil, since the oil soaks in at different rates depending upon the leather's dryness and the scale pattern. After woking the oil into the leather, work the item for flexibility. Use the towel to completely dry off the item, then set the exotic leather aside overnight. Carefully reapply a very light coat of the oil to even out any discoloration, then completely dry the item before use.